The Index points out the hazards of poor planning like this 2009 rockslide on I-40

The Mountain Resources Commission along with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, the USDA Forest Service and the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center at the University of North Carolina at Asheville have created a Western North Carolina Vitality Index. The purpose is to provide local governments, various interest groups and the public with easy-to-understand data specific to the western end of the state to promote more informed decisions with regard to resource use and community planning. The Index expands and enhances the USDA Forest Service’s Western North Carolina Report Card on Forest Sustainability.

According to the website: “The Western North Carolina Vitality Index reports on the 27 counties of Western North Carolina through the perspectives of the region’s natural, social, built, and economic environments. Designed to assist local governments, interest groups, and the public in furtherance of the Mountain Resources Commission’s overall mission to ‘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.’”

Goals of the Vitality Index include preserving the heritage and culture that defines our communities while strengthening public health, improving the region’s local economic activity and expanding its influence’ promoting development that accommodates healthy growth, protecting our region’s abundant and unique natural resources and comparing the western region’s status to the rest of North Carolina and the nation.

The Vitality Index is composed of four categories. The Natural Environment reports on the vitality of the region’s vast and myriad natural resources including topography, geology, biological resources, weather and climate plus water and air quality.

The Human Environment focuses on the unique heritage and cultural values of the region. It targets the area’s population, human health, education and culture.

The Built Environment looks at land use, housing, transportation, water supply, energy, natural stressors, hazards and risks. The idea is to minimize environmental impacts to ensure a lasting and productive community.

The Economic Environment targets the region’s income and poverty, employment, agriculture, forestry, and tourism with a focus on promoting a locally healthy and resilient economy.

The Index tries to shine a light on the inter-relationships and ties among economic conditions, public health, tradition and culture and environmental integrity. These ties can often be overlooked when narrowly focused short-term goals drive decisions and or actions that actually permeate throughout the region and have some impact on all or most of the above categories.

The Mountain Resources Commission hopes that gathering this (what may seem at first) diverse data together in a one-stop-shopping format will further its overall mission to, “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.”

It’s a really interesting website. I encourage everyone to take some time poking around at