The mountains of Western North Carolina are among the world’s greatest natural treasures, thanks to their vast forests, their abundant wildlife, and their scenic rivers.

Yet our mountain communities are challenged with protecting this very special natural heritage in the face of increasing development.

For more than 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant.

Utilizing a combination of policy advocacy, scientific research and community collaboration, the Alliance and its chapters throughout Western North Carolina unleash the power of citizens’ voices to protect the natural heritage of our region so that people and the environment can thrive.

Today, we focus on a core set of issues – sensible land use, restoring public forests, and improving water quality – that have high impact on the environmental health and long-term prosperity of our region.

Mission

Western North Carolina Alliance empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.

History

WNCA is the only grassroots environmental advocacy group focused solely on conserving Western North Carolina’s natural heritage. We were founded in 1982 by citizens in Macon County who organized to protect their local national forests from oil and gas leasing. After that successful effort, WNCA went on to help defeat proposed nuclear waste dump in Buncombe County (1984), launch a campaign to stop clear-cutting in the natural forests, help develop successful rural recycling programs in Macon, Madison, Jackson, and Yancey counties (1989), and lead a four-year campaign to stop the City of Asheville from clear cutting in the Asheville Watershed (1990, the City later placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed).

On the heels of those early accomplishments, in the 1990s WNCA fought the construction of I-26 through the mountains and helped to create a new state-wide transportation reform group, the North Carolina Alliance for Transportation Reform, that still exists. In 1994, WNCA claimed victory in its nine-year campaign to stop clear-cutting in the national forests when the Forest Service released a new Management Plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests that eliminated clear-cutting as a management tool and reduces overall logging levels. During that decade, we also

  • Opened a field office in Franklin, NC (1991);
  • Defeated BHP’s efforts to prospect for copper in the national forests (1995);
  • Exposed the devastating impacts of chip mills on forests, leading North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt to initiate a three-year study of the issue (1996);
  • Helped defeat a U.S. Forest Service proposal to build eight miles of roads and sell 480 acres of timber on Bluff Mountain in Madison County (1997); and
  • Campaigned to establish the Jocassee Gorges Park in Transylvania County (1998).

In the 2000s, WNCA expanded its reach into energy, air quality, and development issues, launching the first annual Southern Environmental and Energy Expo (2001), leading a successful campaign in the North Carolina legislature to pass the Clean Smokestacks Act (2002), and sponsoring a Buncombe County regional Transit Forum, which led to improved mass transit options (2002). During that decade, WNCA also

  • Co-chaired the Community Coordinating Committee to help develop citizen consensus around design issues related to I-26 in Asheville (2000);
  • Helped form Citizens for the Preservation of Needmore to protect the outstanding Needmore Tract in the Little Tennessee River watershed (2001);
  • Organized local citizens to fight construction of North Shore Road—also known as “the Road to Nowhere”— into the Smoky Mountains (2001). We celebrated victory  in 2007;
  • Conducted a landmark survey of old growth on national forest lands (2002);
  • Helped develop Land for Tomorrow, a statewide land conservation funding initiative (2002);
  • Helped establish the Buncombe County land conservation program (2003);
  • Again successfully led citizen opposition to City Council proposals to log in the Asheville Watershed (2004);
  • Initiated a program to protect native plants from non-native invasive species, with particular attention to the hemlock wooly adelgid (2004);
  • Won the statewide Community Ties Innovation Award for invasive exotic plant species control and habitat restoration program from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (2009);
  • Secured an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contract to put 12 people, including 10 members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to work on a five-year project to control invasive plants along nine miles of the Cheoah River (2009);
  • Launched Blue Ridge Blueprints, a community visioning and land planning program (2009);

Current Focus

In May 2009, WNCA adopted a new Strategic Plan (.pdf) that focuses our work over the coming years in three primary areas:

  • Leading citizen advocacy on growth management;
  • Involving citizens in public lands protection; and
  • Protecting the region’s water supply.

Read our strategic plan (.pdf) for more details on how we will achieve each of these objectives, and click on the Program button to see what is happening in each of these areas.

Guiding Principles

We value the integrity of natural systems – air, land, water, and native plants and animals – and believe in protecting and restoring them for the benefit of all generations.

We value mountain communities that are vibrant, livable, and respectful of their connection to and dependence on the region’s natural environment.

We value the unique environment of the Western North Carolina mountains and believe our regional perspective enhances both regional and community-based solutions to shared problems.

We value citizen and community engagement in principled advocacy and believe both sound public policy and responsible individual actions are needed to protect our natural environment.

We value collaboration and believe working with diverse constituencies is fundamental to WNCA’s success.

We value integrity, expertise, flexibility, accountability, and transparency in all activities and operations.