The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission held a special meeting on the future of the Pond Mountain and Three Top Mountain game lands on Monday, Feb. 17 at the Ashe Arts Center.
Approximately 50 people from the area were in attendance to address their main concerns and ideas for the area game lands.
“The response was outstanding,” said Gordon Warburton, the mountain ecoregion supervisor with the Wildlife Commission. “We are tickled that we filled the whole room. It shows how much folks care about these lands.”
After an introduction where Wildlife Commission officers provided a basic overview of what the game lands are and how they are used, they formed the audience into four groups to receive input from the public with seven different questions over the use of the two game lands.
During the introduction, Wildlife Commissioner representatives Kip Hollifield and Dean Simon focused on the land’s history, N.C. Wildlife’s allocations, and how the Commission manages the forest, waters, research and management.
Throughout both game lands, the Commission tries to maintain a balance of new-growth, medium-growth and old-growth forests. Right now, Pond Mountain Game Land is 70 percent forest and 30 percent open, while Three Top Mountain Game Land is almost completely forested.
“As wildlife managers, we try to have a diversity of habitiats so we can have a diversity of wildlife,” Hollifield said.
During the breakout session, one of the questions which garnered several responses was the ease and level of access for the two game lands.
For Pond Mountain Game Land, the roads on the game land property were said to provide great access and praise was given for recent graveling that occurred on the property. The main concern for attendees was the access from roads maintained by the state’s Department of Transportation.
Simon said DOT roads were out of the Wildlife Commission’s jurisdiction.
Access issues for the Three Top Mountain Game Land focused on having problems with access from Warrensville on N.C. 88 and the lack of signage at the access points.
For Pond and Three Top Mountain game lands, attendees addressed protecting the rare native species, including the Carolina northern flying squirrel, and also preserving the water quality of the two game lands.
In terms of protecting the Carolina flying squirrel, Simon said the commission is “going to be looking for new ways to add spruce,” to the Pond Mountain Game Land.
Simon said 500 acres of the Pond Mountain Game Land is devoted to Christmas trees. That lease agreement will expire in 2016.
Users of the game lands, according to responses from the groups, include hunting and hiking for both game lands. Others also use the Pond Mountain Game Land for horseback riding and sightseeing.
For those who were unable to attend the meeting, Warburton said public comments for the two game lands will still be accepted online. Go to www.ncwildlife.org and search for online comments.
“It is real important to show public support for us during this time,” he said.
The comment period will be available until the end of March, and a draft will be sent to Raleigh in July.
“We are going to have a draft into our Raleigh staff by July 1,” Warburton said.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.