Dec. 17, 2013. Conservation groups reached an agreement with the Forest Service that will allow the agency to move forward with the controversial Courthouse Creek timber sale. The agreement reduces the size of the timber sale, removing logging from significant ecological areas and steep slopes in the headwaters of the French Broad River.
The agreement resolves an administrative appeal filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Wilderness Society, Wild South and the Western North Carolina Alliance. The project attracted considerable public concern, reflected in the volume of comments submitted to the Forest Service. Under the agreement, those aspects of the project focusing on ecological restoration, habitat creation, and old growth designation remain intact.
“We are pleased to find a way forward that protects the integrity of this special place,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Today’s resolution will provide lasting benefits for this ecologically, recreationally, and culturally significant area.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the project involved logging in a state-recognized Significant Natural Heritage Area, widely recognized to be important habitat for rare plant and animal species. As a result of changes to the project under this agreement, logging previously planned for those areas will be significantly reduced.
“I could go on about how important the area is ecologically. The bottom line is people in Western North Carolina understand that some places are just too special to log and develop” said Josh Kelly, biologist with the Western North Carolina Alliance. “We’ve been asking the Forest Service to leave this area alone for years. Today we made important steps towards protecting this Significant Natural Heritage Area.”
A key piece of the agreement involves decommissioning approximately five miles of Forest Service Road that ran through the State Natural Heritage Area. Decommissioning includes returning the road to a more sustainable state by removing culverts and artificial stream crossings, re-grading the road to a more natural contour and seeding the roadbed. This work will be completed by the Forest Service in a partnership with the Western North Carolina Alliance who, along with partners, will explore opportunities to provide recreational access.
“Roads are one of, if not the primary cause, of water quality problems on the forest,” said Hugh Irwin, conservation planner with the Wilderness Society. “Decommissioning the road just makes sense. It saves the Forest Service money by reducing the size of its road system, protects important trout habitat around Courthouse Creek, and ensures that this road stops causing environmental damage.”
“We want people to experience the beauty and ecological richness that this area provides,” said Ben Prater, associate executive director of Wild South. “Our goal was to preserve that experience for future generations by protecting this area. Today we think we met that goal.”
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of more than 50 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
About the Wilderness Society:
Since 1935, the Wilderness Society has been the leading national organization working to protect our nation’s shared public lands and to inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Through our conservation and public engagement efforts, we work to preserve our nation’s rich natural legacy for future generations.
About Wild South:
For over 20 years Wild South has inspired people to enjoy, value, and protect the wild character and natural legacy of the South. As a conservation leader on public lands we have protected over half a million acres, numerous species and counting.
For 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. WNCA empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.