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Executive Summary

The Mountain Resources Commission (MRC), a non-regulatory organization established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2009, identified the need to provide local governments with easy-to-understand data specific to the western region of the state in order to encourage more informed decisions with regard to resource use and community planning, and to help the general public understand linkages that may not be readily apparent. They established a partnership with the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, and the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center at the University of North Carolina at Asheville to expand the existing Western North Carolina Report Card on Forest Sustainability to include all 27 western counties, incorporating metrics that describe the natural, built, human, and cultural environments that are unique to the western region. The result is the Western North Carolina Vitality Index, a web-based product that is easy to use and free of charge, and that allows users to see either a regional picture or focus on a particular county’s vitality status on a wide variety of issues.

The WNC Vitality Index will enable the Mountain Resources Commission and many public and private decision makers in the western region to understand the current conditions of our communities and make strategic choices to encourage continued sustainable growth. The metrics illustrate the inter-relationships between our economic conditions, public health, regional traditions, and environmental integrity. Understanding those connections will assist the MRC and others in fulfilling the Commission’s overall mission: “Take care of our natural resources to enhance and sustain quality of life and ensure the long term health of our region and our people."

The WNC Vitality Index will provide elected decision makers with a “one stop” source of respected, objective, and current information about our region’s economic conditions, ecological health, and cultural tradition status. By using this index in regional or local modes, elected officials can chart a policy path that is both sustainable and fair to all residents. The ability to review this raw information will help local and regional communities understand what benchmarks and likely consequences of policy directions chosen by local officials. The WNC Vitality Index will be kept up-to-date, interactive, and able to be broken into information on regional subgroups like cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities. I am looking forward to using this treasure trove of good information, charts, graphs, and other visuals to deal with our responsibilities as good stewards of our natural and business communities.
– David Gantt
Chairman, NC Mountain Resources Commission
The Forest Service is excited to see the Mountain Resources Commission expand the report card in two dimensions, adding both counties and new data. This will be an extremely useful tool for local planners, providing information needed to help grow business while protecting the natural resources so important to the area.
– Susan Fox
Assistant Director, USDA FS Southern Research Station
The WNC Vitality Index will give us a baseline study of the health of our natural and cultural heritage resources in Western North Carolina. As a result, we will be able to identify strengths and weaknesses and better focus our programming to protect, preserve, and sustainably develop our heritage assets for future generations. In addition, by looking at our entire region through several different data sets, we can see how all sectors of our region connect together to create the distinct culture we have here.
– Angie Chandler
Executive Director, Blue Ridge National Heritage Area