People Joined Together, and the Work was Done

People Joined Together, and the Work was Done

People Joined Together, and the Work was Done

By Mary Jo Padgett, Co-Founder of Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO)

As a way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of what’s now known as MountainTrue, I’ve been asked to reminisce with you about the “old days” of ECO. The Environmental and Conservation Organization, popularly known as ECO, was one of the three organizations that merged together in 2015 to become MountainTrue. What comes to my mind as I surf through my mental movie of those early years are the things that made it exciting then and now – the intelligent, creative people, progressive ideas, and responsible, thoughtful action that was ECO and continues as MountainTrue.

It started as an idea while chatting around the kitchen table in 1987. My husband, David Malpass, and I were doing just that – discussing, as we frequently did, local political issues that seemed to us to have negative impacts on the environment. Among the topics of the day: a county-wide discussion about building an incinerator in Fletcher as a way to dispose of garbage; an attempt to build an asphalt plant in Rugby on land that was a recognized wetland; and NCDOT’s unpopular idea to cut down several trees on Four Seasons Blvd. (which had been planted as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s national beautification program) for no better reason than to allow better visibility of billboards. In Henderson County, where we lived, there was no shortage of environmental concerns.

David and I were average, employed, concerned citizens – he was a high school vocational ed. teacher; I was an associate editor at The Mother Earth News magazine. We decided we wanted to connect to the folks we saw and heard speak about environmental issues at the many County Commissioner meetings we attended. We also wanted to find people who wanted to get outdoors and explore our locale. So, we decided to call a meeting to see if anyone would show up to watch a video and talk about wetlands. We issued a press release to invite like-minded citizens to attend a gettogether. And they did! The 35 hiker-environmentalists who attended that first meeting on September 23, 1987, became the backbone of what grew to become the Environmental and Conservation Organization. They brought good ideas, a propensity for action, and more people to the next meetings.

We called it the Outing and Environmental Group, which for two years was managed from our kitchen table. Newsletters, program agendas, speakers, news announcements, projects, and finances were handled by us, the “founding couple.” Right away, the group had a big idea — build a Jackson Park Nature Trail. By 1990, the 1.5-mile trail was done (dedicated and officially opened on Earth Day that year). This was a growing group that liked to learn, hike, participate in political decision-making, and do environmental projects. It became clear to me that his organization needed an official structure.

Key folks hunkered down with us to hash out bylaws and create a nonprofit organization with a board of directors. In the process, the name became the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO), and by 1992, the 501(c)3 incorporation papers had been written, submitted, and approved by the State of North Carolina. Membership dues were established.

By 2007, ECO had nearly 500 members in Henderson County and beyond. Political advocacy and outdoor-oriented programming were plentiful and fruitful. Action was so profound that an army of ECO volunteers had received awards and recognition from the Governor; state, national, and local environmental agencies; and businesses. All efforts were focused on the goal of conserving the land that sustains us, keeping it safe, healthy, and productive. Our motto: take care of your own backyard.

David Malpass was a major force with ECO until our divorce in 1993. As co-founder, I served in various capacities over a 20-year span, from organizer to president of the board, PR chairman to interim executive director, and then as executive director from 1995 to 2007. I retired as executive director in 2007 and passed leadership on to others.

By 2015 a merger with other environmental groups in WNC seemed a good next step so that the productive meetings, exciting projects, and intelligent leaders could keep citizens engaged and the ideas and action continuing to flow. MountainTrue was born.

Photo: ECO volunteers do a presentation on recycling and composting for local school children

Dupont State Forest: Making a Hidden Treasure a Public Resource

Dupont State Forest: Making a Hidden Treasure a Public Resource

Dupont State Forest: Making a Hidden Treasure a Public Resource

Once a private, hidden treasure, DuPont State Recreational Forest is now beloved by millions thanks to MountainTrue and a broad coalition

By Jeff Jennings, MountainTrue member and director of Friends of DuPont Forest

When I first moved to Western North Carolina more than 30 years ago, a colleague took me on a memorable drive through the deeply forested acres surrounding the DuPont company’s Brevard film plant. It was not a small patch of woods — the company owned 11,000 acres and used it to ensure water supply, entertain customers and offer employees amazing outdoor opportunities. I remember when we stopped to look at Triple Falls, it seemed unbelievable that such a jewel was basically our very own to enjoy.

Today, with visitation surging to about 1.3 million last year, DuPont State Recreational Forest has established itself as one of Western North Carolina’s top draws for both tourism and local outdoor recreation. With approximately ⅓ of its 12,000 acres dedicated as NC Nature Preserve, the property protects numerous endangered plants and animals while contributing to clean water, public health, and the local tax base.

An extremely broad-based coalition of individuals and groups is to thank for saving this significant land from becoming yet another private golf course after the DuPont company left the area. While some groups in the coalition are well known, many people may be unaware of MountainTrue’s role in establishing the public forest, which lies in both Transylvania and Henderson Counties.

In 1995, I was working as an engineer in the DuPont’s Research and Development group when DuPont announced that it was selling the X-ray film plant to a private equity company while putting 7600 acres of its more remote forest on the market. Most people assumed that this land would turn into housing developments sprawling along the roadways. Hooker Falls was part of this tract, but the iconic High Falls, Triple Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls remained with the X-ray film plant as a private “donut hole”.

I was also President of the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO) at that time. Established in the late 1980s, ECO served as the leading local conservation advocacy group in and around Henderson County. Founded by Mary Jo Padgett, the organization was a forerunner and founding partner of MountainTrue, which was formed in 2015 when several regional groups consolidated.

When I heard the news about the film plant’s sale, I was in a perfect position to see if there was a way to conserve the property and open it to all. I made calls to corporate headquarters and learned that DuPont had a Land Legacy program that could facilitate this. I contacted Chuck McGrady, former executive director of ECO and then president of what is now Conserving Carolina, who brought in contacts at the national Conservation Fund, which facilitated the sale of this original tract to NC for less than $300/acre in 1996.

At that time, most local people had heard of the private forest around DuPont but only insiders were familiar with what a spectacular resource it was. The public learned about DuPont State Forest primarily through the ECO website, which hosted virtually the only source of information about the forest for the first eight years. Maps, photos, and trail guides were available online. Hand-drawn trail maps were color copied and sold at the local Visitor’s Centers to raise funds for ECO. The trails were wildly popular with adventuresome backcountry hikers and equestrians and (eventually) mountain bikers. But the parking and accommodations were extremely limited, and the crowds were only a tiny fraction of what we have today.

In the year 1999, the new owner of the X-ray film plant decided to sell to yet another company, but this time the spectacular waterfalls were being sold to the highest bidder in a private sale. A major Asheville golf course developer appeared to have the inside track during private negotiations and was able to outbid the State of North Carolina. No final bid was offered to the State, even though it owned the surrounding forest and had funds to match the bid.

In 2000, a band of conservationists, hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and outdoorsmen formed Friends of the Falls to advocate for the legal condemnation of the property in the public interest. The group, which included several ECO leaders, utilized ECO as the fiscal agent to receive contributions. The effort to save the waterfalls from private golf course development was highly controversial, and it was by no means clear that we would be successful. We fought this battle primarily through the internet, with the informal DuPont State Forest Home Page being hosted on ECO’s website. The website funneled email, faxes, and phone calls to the Governor, generating the largest number of communications to the Executive Branch in NC history.

The campaign culminated on October 23, 2000 when Governor Hunt and the Council of State voted to condemn the 2700-acre donut hole, forcing a sale to the State. This added the majestic three waterfalls to the Forest, while dramatically upgrading trail connectivity and increasing acreage. The forest opened to the public two months later in December.

In April, 2001, Friends of the Falls evolved into the 501(c)3 Friends of DuPont Forest (FODF). I served as the founding president, along with several ECO and Conserving Carolina leaders. FODF volunteers served significant roles in the early years of the Forest. 21 years later, FODF has grown to 800 members with the mission of maintaining trails, protecting delicate habitat and biodiversity and encouraging sustainable public enjoyment of the forest. MountainTrue cooperates with FODF in projects such as invasive plant removal and water quality monitoring, and advocates in the General Assembly for funding for the Forest.

While names have changed, MountainTrue members should reflect on the contributions that their organization has made for DuPont and other projects throughout the region. Today, it is difficult to imagine Hendersonville or Brevard without access to High Falls, Triple Falls, Cedar Rock or Fawn Lake. For me, working with others to protect these gems for the future and share them with all people has been one of the most significant honors of my life.

ECO Blazing the Path to Environmental Change in Hendersonville

ECO Blazing the Path to Environmental Change in Hendersonville

ECO Blazing the Path to Environmental Change in Hendersonville

By David Weintraub, former executive director of ECO

The Year Was 2007. The Hendersonville Times-News had just completed an explosive series on “The Building Boom” alerting the public to the major changes coming if developers continued to call the shots. According to the series editor then Managing Editor, Bill Moss, the county was slated to add hundreds of new subdivisions constituting over 3,000 new homes which would eventually put the rural character of the county in the dustbin of history.  

Most folks in Henderson County did not support the loss of the county’s natural heritage, quality of life, and historical roots but most folks weren’t considered stakeholders by county commissioners. ECO, the Environmental and Conservation Organization wanted to change that and they realized the first step was for citizens to build their voice loud enough to be heard above the din of trackhoes, skidders, and wood chippers that were disassembling the native forest.

The first step was organizing residents to pack county commission hearings and Hendersonville City Council meetings to make it loud and clear to public officials that the county’s remaining open space was not a pie to be divvied up by Florida developers. The public needed a voice and it was time for it to be heard.

The county had a freshly minted Comprehensive Plan which had a pretty good Growth Management Plan declaring that 1) growth should be directed where infrastructure like water and sewer already existed, that 2) public utilities should not be brought into rural communities because it would become a lightning rod for development that would destroy the rural nature of those places and 3) farmland should be protected. ECO thought all of those elements of the plan were a good thing. The problem was that when development decisions were actually being made, it wasn’t the Comp Plan that was pulled out and applied. Instead, the Planning Board, heavily stacked with members of Beverly-Hanks, Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker, and the rest of the real estate community called the shots with little opposition from commissioners.

But commissioners under pressure for years from the League of Women Voters, ECO, and other groups, finally agreed to put a development code into place. Even they realized it no longer made sense to continue the “anything goes” approach to growth which was rapidly turning our beautiful county into Any Town, USA. When the development community got wind of the plan to create land rules, like blood in shark-infested waters, a feeding frenzy took off, leading to hundreds of developers applying for “vested rights” claiming that they already had development plans and wanted their development to follow the old “rules” rather than be forced to follow more restrictive guidelines.

As a result, the commissioners were forced into the position of holding weekly vested rights hearing while they were planning to develop new rules. ECO thought that put policymakers into a schizophrenic position, so we floated the idea to commissioners to pass a temporary building moratorium so that they could focus on the future without being saddled with the development frenzy pounding on their doors.

ECO began a series of town hall meetings in many communities targeted for increased development. We launched a petition drive to demand that commissioners pass the moratorium and we packed commission hearings. The meetings were flooded with public comments from natives to newcomers, putting pressure on policymakers to listen to what the rest of the community was demanding. The culmination of this effort was when ECO delivered over 4000 signatures to the commissioners on the eve of a critical Board of Commissioners meeting that would decide the fate of Crab Creek, a very rural community that would have been decimated had the plan to build a massive country club development called Glen and Highlands gone forward. In the first of many such decisions, the commissioners found their backbone (with ECO’s guidance as to their environmental chiropractor) and denied the development plans.

Over time, many harmful developments were deterred through this process. A Land Development Code was passed through citizens’ input and then strengthened to require that large developments set aside open space. It also stopped the practice of bringing waterlines to large developments and more. Additionally, a local erosion control ordinance was passed.

These all serve to be guideposts for current efforts to create a new Comprehensive Plan that can better meet the challenges of today. One of the greatest lessons that were learned in these battles of the past is that it only takes a small number of people to make a substantial difference. But also, planning rules today can easily be dismantled tomorrow if citizens don’t continue to be vigilant. They’re not making a new land. We have to protect what we have for ourselves, our kids, and the other critters who call our community home.

Get Your Gardening Gloves on Our New Native Planting Guide

Get Your Gardening Gloves on Our New Native Planting Guide

Get Your Gardening Gloves on Our New Native Planting Guide

MountainTrue has published a brand new guide to help you replace harmful non-native invasive plant species with native alternatives that benefit wild birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wildlife. This beautifully designed and durable guide conveniently folds up to fit in your wallet — perfect for your next visit to the garden center or nursery. 

How can you get one? Guides are available for free at invasive plant workdays and events.

  1. Sign up to volunteer for one of our workdays or join us for a hike
  2. Meet us at a tabling event.
  3. Buy one for $5 and get it mailed to your door by filling out the form below.

Want free copies for your neighbors, gardening club, or organization? Contact bob@mountaintrue.org to arrange for one of our Resilient Forests staff to present to your group and bring free copies for all.

Want to purchase multiple copies for personal use? Contact members@mountaintrue.org.

MountainTrue is Objecting to the Revised Forest Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests. These are our Reasons.

MountainTrue is Objecting to the Revised Forest Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests. These are our Reasons.

MountainTrue is Objecting to the Revised Forest Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests. These are our Reasons.

After over eight years of work and more than 25,000 public comments, the United States Forest Service (USFS) has released its Revised Forest Plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Comprised of a 360-page plan, a 738-page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), and more than 1,000 pages of appendices to the FEIS, the Forest Plan provides a strategic framework for the next 20 years of management in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. We offer this critique of the Revised Forest Plan so that our members and the general public can better understand the plan and its implications and why and on what grounds MountainTrue is filing formal objections to the plan.

MountainTrue is a longtime advocate for the sustainable management and conservation of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Our members led the successful campaign to stop the practice of clear-cutting in the forests, and our staff conducted the first inventory of old-growth stands in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. MountainTrue’s Public Lands Team members are intimately involved in protecting these public lands: monitoring timber sales to ensure old-growth forests, water quality, and sensitive habitats are protected, restoring and protecting native habitats by treating invasive non-native plants and pests, and helping the Forest Service design and implement restoration projects.

Our views are influenced by our intimate history with these national forests, but also by our membership in the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership (Partnership) and our endorsement of the Forest Plan Alternative provided to the USFS by the Partnership in June 2020.

Protect Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests

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The Partnership consists of 27 active member and affiliate organizations representing conservation, economic development, forest products, recreation, water, and wildlife interest groups. The Partnership worked collaboratively to negotiate the outcomes presented in the Forest Plan Alternative. The Partnership hoped the heavily negotiated compromise would resolve the Draft Forest Plan’s key issues, streamline its implementation, and reduce future conflicts with the Forest Service and between user groups.

There were two key innovations in the Partnership’s Forest Plan Alternative. First, the group identified the largest broadly supported area for timber production — approximately 500,000 acres or nearly half of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, where timbering could be done without impacting important recreation and conservation areas. The second innovation was the linking of objectives that are in tension with one another. For example, the Partnership Alternative required that roads and trails in a geographic area be well-maintained before the Forest Service constructed new ones, and base levels of timber harvest would have to be accomplished before any new Wilderness designation was sought. These innovative ideas would have incentivized collaboration.

The Partnership’s Forest Plan Alternative was a painstakingly negotiated road map that included maps and specific consensus recommendations that would have achieved:

  • the protection of old-growth stands, natural heritage natural areas, backcountry wilderness, and other sensitive recreation areas;
  • the protection, maintenance, and expansion of recreation areas and trail systems;
  • the creation of new young forest habitats at biologically significant levels for the benefit of wildlife and hunters alike;
  • and, at the same time, meet the Forest Service’s goals to increase timbering.

The Forest Services’ previous management plan suffers from some of the same issues as the proposed plan, namely inefficient management area allocation, and its implementation resulted in public controversy and conflict. Forest interests groups — such as timber companies, hunters, recreators, and conservationists — often perceived themselves to be in competition with one another when timber harvest was proposed in areas with multiple high values. The result was gridlock and damaged ecosystems: the Forest Service trampled on biologically sensitive areas without meeting their timbering goals, and forest interests groups blamed each other.

This was supposed to change with the 2012 Planning Rule adopted by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, which sought to modernize forest management by addressing the “evolving scientific understanding of approaches to land management, changing social demands, and new challenges such as changing climate.”

At the core of the new planning rule was a commitment to a collaborative process that would ensure transparency and effective public participation. In its preamble, the Department of Agriculture states that the new rule “emphasizes providing meaningful opportunities for public participation early and throughout the planning process, increases the transparency of decision-making, and provides a platform for the Agency to work with the public and across boundaries with other land managers to identify and share information and inform planning.” In this spirit, the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership was established and painstakingly negotiated its consensus Plan Alternative.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service declined to adopt or even fully analyze the Partnership proposal as an alternative. Instead, the Forest Service has proposed a plan that offers vague assurances while placing important conservation areas in areas designed for timbering, expanding the road network without providing plans to maintain it, and establishing loopholes that undermine the protection of the conservation areas that are established by the plan. Many of our concerns relate to the potential for poorly conceived timber harvest to impact water quality, steep slopes, and areas critical for the preservation of biodiversity. We want to emphasize, though, that we fully support meeting the timber harvest goals agreed to by the Partnership, even going so far as to compromise in supporting rotational timber harvest in the consensus suitable timber base.

While there are some bright spots in the Forest Service’s Revised Plan — such as an increase in active fire management, recommendations for Wild and Scenic Rivers, and a recommitment to adequate streamside zones — they are far outweighed by its shortcomings:

Land Allocations Unnecessarily Prioritize Timber at the Expense of Conservation Areas

The Forest Services divides the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests’ 1.045 million acres into 17 unique management areas with specific management needs in the Revised Forest Plan. Because many ecological communities exist at various elevations, the Forest Service’s management approach must be specialized and place-based to support each management area’s abundant biodiversity.

Ensuring the efficacy of the Forest Service’s proposed place-based management area allocations was a primary objective of the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership as it negotiated its Forest Plan Alternative. Instead of adopting these recommendations, the Forest Service puts the ecological well-being of more than 100,000 acres of important conservation areas at risk. These conservation areas include North Carolina Natural Heritage Areas, existing old-growth forests, and potential Wilderness Areas.

In the chart below, you will see that the Partnership identified 501,646 acres (or roughly half of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests) to be included in Matrix and Interface — the two management area designations where the emphasis is placed on timber harvesting/production. This is more than sufficient for the Forest Service to meet its goal of harvesting up to 3,200 acres per year.

*The difference in acreage is not significant
**While the Forest Service did not include a specific Management Area for the proposed Craggy Mountain National Scenic Area, it does recognize the scenic value of an approximately 10,000-acre core.
***The Middle Creek Research Natural Area was included in the Black Mountains Recommended Wilderness by the Partnership
****Special Interest Areas are largely composed of North Carolina Natural Heritage Natural Areas. The Partnership recommended that most of these areas either be allocated to management areas not suited for timber production or protected through Forest Plan Standards.

The Forest Service’s Revised Plan includes an additional 108,723 acres in their Matrix and Interface allocations. All but roughly 8,000 (7,823) acres come from conservation areas that include North Carolina Natural Heritage Areas, existing old-growth forests, and potential Wilderness Areas.

As it currently stands,  at least 12,000 acres of inventoried, existing old-growth forest, more than 45,000 acres of Natural Heritage Natural Areas ranked “High” to “Exceptional” by the NC Natural Heritage Program, and over 100,000 acres of important conservation areas have been designated for “regularly scheduled timber harvest” within the Matrix and Interface allocations. Not all of the important conservation values designated to suitable management areas will be proposed for logging, but some certainly will.

This regrettable management area allocation prioritizes commercial timber harvest projects that will negatively impact these important conservation areas, making timber harvest unnecessarily complicated, controversial, and damaging.

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The Old-Growth Network Shell Game

Old-growth forests are vital for native species, scientific study, aesthetic and spiritual reasons, and are crucial for sequestering and storing carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change. Before the industrial age, most of the forest in the Southern Blue Ridge were old-growth forests with complex structures and a vast diversity of tree sizes and ages. A wave of logging for national and international markets from 1880-1940 removed most of the original forest, and today only 10% of Nantahala and Pisgah and just 3% of the region as a whole are believed to be in old-growth condition. The analysis in the Revised Forest Plan acknowledged that approximately half of the tree canopy of Nantahala and Pisgah would have been in old-growth condition prior to European colonization.

The Forest Service has touted the Revised Plan as an improvement for old-growth forests because it designates approximately 265,000 acres for old-growth management (ROD p.22). While this is a big number, it’s important to note that all but 44,000 acres of old-growth designations are already protected at a higher level, such as by the Wilderness Act, the Inventoried Roadless Rule, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Research Natural Areas, and others. So, these are primarily designations of convenience — in the sense that they are already off-limits to logging rather than because of their outstanding values.

MountainTrue and our predecessor organization, the Western North Carolina Alliance, began mapping the old-growth forests of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in 1994. Through that work, we have documented over 90,000 acres of old-growth on Forest Service lands. We shared that inventory with the Forest Service, and unfortunately, over 12,000 acres of field-verified old-growth remains in timber production management areas, where the plan direction is to create young forest through timber harvest.

What’s more, 110,000 acres of the designated old-growth network in the plan is relatively young — less than 100 years old, according to Forest Service Records. The Forest Service claims that by designating middle-aged forests, they are ensuring the development of old-growth in the future, even though they are leaving much more worthy forests unprotected.

The network of old-growth designations begins to look like a shell game when you realize that thousands of acres of small patch old-growth designations made in the last 28 years were not included in the Revised Plan. The Forest Service seems to be setting up a precedent where they can open up more mature, lucrative forests that had previously been “designated old growth” to logging now, and only protect middle-aged forests until the next plan — when they could theoretically open up some of those more mature stands to timbering. Examples of this dynamic include very high-quality designations that were made and subsequently discarded in the Upper Santeelah and Shope Creek Projects but have now been allocated to a timber production management area.

Another major concern is that the Forest Service is providing project staff and district rangers with too much flexibility and decision-making power to cut the last remnants of existing old-growth forests under their stewardship. The Record of Decision states:

“The District Ranger, or the Forest Supervisor for multi-district projects, will retain the option of how to manage old trees, old stands, or old growth forest patches in the project itself, depending on the management area direction, site-specific conditions, and ecological needs in the area” (ROD pp. 44-45, emphasis added)

In recent years, we have provided input on numerous projects where the Forest Service proposed to cut existing old-growth forests and only relented under vigorous public pressure (see the Globe Project, Big Choga Project, Haystack Project, Harmon Den Project, Mossy Oak Project, Buck Project, and more).

Old growth takes centuries to develop, and the fact that the Forest Service discarded thousands of acres of designations from the last plan, so casually and without analysis or effort to include them in the new plan, needs to be corrected. And protecting existing old-growth forests should not be up to the discretion of Forest Service staff at the project level. It is crucial that the Forest Service not just manage for future old growth but also protect the old-growth forests we have now. To be meaningful, old-growth designations need to be nearly permanent.

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The “such as, but not limited to” Timber Loophole

The USFS has historically focused on cutting and growing trees, emphasizing active forest management that prioritizes timber harvest revenues over economic activity and public benefits derived from outdoor recreation, wildlife, and clean water. This emphasis is reflected in the binary designation of Management Areas as either “suitable” or “unsuitable” for timber production:

TIM-DC-06 Lands identified as suitable for timber production have a regularly scheduled timber harvest program that contributes to forestwide desired conditions. Rotation ages needed to meet restoration and habitat objectives for young forest and future middle-aged mast producing forests are also compatible with the production of sawtimber and pulpwood products.

TIM-DC-07 Land identified as not suitable for timber production, but where timber harvesting could occur for other multiple-use purposes, has an irregular, unscheduled timber harvest program. Harvest meets management direction and desired conditions for the area while providing services and benefits to the public.  

(Forest Plan Page 91)

Now, let’s consider the Forest Plan’s definition of what is allowed in management areas classified as “not suitable for timber production.” The sections we have bolded create a loophole big enough to drive a logging truck through.

TIM-S-02 While timber harvest can occur on lands both suitable and not suitable for timber production, unless otherwise specified in management area direction, it can only occur on lands not suitable for timber production when it is determined that timber harvesting activities are needed for salvage or to protect multiple use values other than timber production, such as, but not limited to:

(1) addressing issues of public health or safety; 
(2) reducing hazardous fuels and managing wildfire; 
(3) restoring or maintaining a terrestrial or aquatic ecological system or wildlife habitat over time; 
(4) restoring or maintaining habitat for federally threatened and endangered animals or plants and SCC; 
(5) harvesting dead or dying trees due to fire, natural disturbances, insects, and disease; (6) restoring or maintaining recreation, scenery, or transportation management; 
(7) accommodating special use permits and outstanding rights; or
(8) for research, demonstration, or education purposes.

(Forest Plan page 91, Emphasis added)

The use of “such as, but not limited to” negates the purpose of the list that follows by allowing timbering for any reason that a ranger or project manager may contemplate in the future. As close observers of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest know, every single timber sale in the past 40 years has purported to “restore or maintain terrestrial wildlife habitat.”

There is a common thread throughout the Forest Plan of delegating most decision-making to individual rangers at the project level with overly broad language. As it stands now, the binary distinction between what management areas are suitable and unsuitable for timber harvest is rendered moot by a set of criteria that neglects to exclude much of anything. Essentially, this makes no part of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests off-limits to logging. For there to be a distinction between the suitable and unsuitable management areas, the Forest Service must strengthen this language.

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Nantahala National Forest is Treated as a Second-class Forest by the Forest Service

Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest have equivalent acreages, physical features, biological values, and both are beloved by the public. Why then is the Forest Service proposing to manage the two forests so differently based on their management area allocations?

The USFS plan places approximately half (50.3%) of Pisgah National Forest in the Interface and Matrix designations, where active timber production is a primary or secondary goal. Nearly two-thirds of Nantahala National Forest, on the other hand, is open to rotational logging.

Of the two forests, Nantahala National Forest is certainly the more remote, and more of its acreage qualifies for the backcountry management allocation. Why then, is so much more land dedicated to timber production in Nantahala National Forest versus Pisgah National Forest? The USFS is proposing to only place 8.9% of the Nantahala National Forest in Backcountry designation (where logging is not supposed to happen) compared to an already modest 16.5% in Pisgah National Forest.

There is no analysis in the Forest Plan to support this discrepancy. We are concerned that this is the result of arbitrary decision making on the part of the Forest Service and, once again, a desire to delegate the decisions that should have been made by the Forest Plan, such as whether or not to cut old-growth forest, to District Rangers at the project level. If the Forest Service had adopted a more balanced plan, similar to the Partnership alternative, the land allocation would be more equitable for Nantahala National Forest.

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Highly Rated Natural Heritage Natural Areas Remain Vulnerable to Timbering

Every state in the United States has a Department of Natural Heritage whose mission is to catalog and preserve the natural diversity within the state’s boundaries. North Carolina has had a better-than-average Natural Heritage Program, though at times, protecting natural resources has been politically controversial, despite being overwhelmingly popular.

North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program has inventoried Natural Areas in 97 of the state’s 100 counties. Many of North Carolina’s very best Natural Areas are situated within the boundaries of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has historically been ambivalent, at best, about these important areas. More recently, the Forest Service has acknowledged that some of these areas deserve special attention.

Natural Heritage Areas have a five-tiered ranking that categorizes natural values as General, Moderate, High, Very High, and Exceptional. In one of the bright spots of the Revised Plan, the Forest Service chose to place most of the acreage of Natural Heritage Areas rated as Exceptional in Special Interest Area Management. Unfortunately, over 45,000 acres of Natural Heritage Areas rated as High, Very High, and Exceptional were placed in timber production management areas, ensuring that some of these areas will continue to be proposed for timber sales. To reduce the potential for project-level conflict, the Forest Service should place these remaining highly rated natural areas in protected management areas.

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Water Quality at Risk from Logging without Steep Slope Protections or Adequate Road Maintenance

The Forest Plan is a mixed bag when it comes to protecting water quality. On the positive side, the new plan maintains the 50’ buffers on intermittent streams and 100’ buffers on perennial streams introduced in 1994. In these areas, trees must be retained and heavy equipment is excluded to prevent erosion and sediment pollution from stormwater runoff.

On the other hand, the Forest Service is proposing to remove the prohibition on ground-based logging for steep slopes, providing only vague assurances that new technology would prevent harm. In the previous plan, logging on slopes over 40% required aerial logging systems that lifted trees off the ground and negated the need to build logging roads on steep slopes. The revised plan proposes to remove this requirement. There may be new technologies that would be as protective as aerial logging methods, but the plan should continue to prohibit the creation of harvest roads on steep slopes and have stronger standards as to how logging methods on steep slopes are chosen.

Finally, sedimentation from forest roads is the primary threat to water quality and aquatic wildlife, and the Revised Plan should have made meaningful progress towards decreasing sedimentation from roads. Instead, the Forest Service is projecting 6 miles of road construction annually to meet Tier 1 timber harvest goals and an additional 4 miles to meet Tier 2 goals, while declining to produce a plan for meaningfully maintaining the 2,200 miles of roads already under Forest Service management. It would be more logical and more protective of water quality to require road maintenance goals from Tier 1 to be met before moving to Tier 2 levels of road building.

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Forest Service Drew Management Areas Around Controversial Projects

If the forest plans are the map given to Forest Service personnel to manage the land and water, then the projects proposed by Forest Service staff are the vehicles to get to the destination or the “desired conditions” identified in the Forest Plan. For the past 40 years, the Forest Service has struggled to propose vegetation management projects within the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests that have been broadly acceptable to timber, recreation, and conservation interest groups alike.

Such controversial projects can damage important conservation areas, as occurred in the Pisgah Ridge Natural Heritage Area in the Courthouse Creek Project. In Courthouse Creek, logging on steep slopes caused severe erosion that led to a landslide during Tropical Storm Fred and turned Courthouse Creek the color of chocolate milk during the average rainy season of 2017. Such projects also tend to be less efficient and require a large amount of planning and analysis time. Only one-third of the approved timber harvesting at Courthouse Creek was ever accomplished.

Erosion and logging at Courthouse Creek. Photos by Nicholas Holshouser.

There is a spate of recent projects that were approved under the old forest plan but will be implemented under the new plan. Some like the Twelve Mile Project had consensus support and approved over 1,800 acres of timber harvest and wildlife habitat while protecting old growth and Natural Heritage Natural Areas. Others, like Buck and Southside, were very controversial because they proposed logging old growth, areas inventoried as potentially suitable for Wilderness Designation, and Natural Heritage Natural Areas, while also building miles of roads across steep slopes. Some projects, like Crossover and Lickstone, are still in development but have a high potential for controversy because of these same issues.

Reviewing the Forest Plan, it appears that the Forest Service has drawn management area boundaries in all of those projects that would support the controversial steep slope logging and excessive road building (8 miles) of Buck, the old-growth logging of Southside, and potential logging of old-growth and backcountry areas in Crossover. We believe that the Forest Service should not be building the new plan around poorly designed old projects, but instead, create a new plan that is consistent in its application and leads to more broadly supported and efficient projects.

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Curious Omissions Among the Designations

Wilderness Designations

There are several categories of designation requiring an act of Congress that the Forest Plan addresses. The first is Wilderness recommendation. The designation of new Wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act of 1964 requires an act of Congress and the Signature of the President. The first step in that journey is the recommendation of suitable areas by the Forest Service during the forest planning process.

The Revised Plan allocates just over 49,000 acres in 14 areas to Recommended Wilderness. Compared to the current Forest Plan, that is an increase of 33,000 acres. While over 100,000 acres were both suitable and had collaborative support, the Revised Plan offers more for those that appreciate Wilderness than any time since the RARE II process of the late 1970s.

Despite being an improvement over the old plan, there are some curious omissions in the Revised Plan’s designations and some strange logic in those omissions. For example, the Black Mountains were disqualified because you can see sights and sounds of human development from the area, but Mackey Mountain was included despite I-40 being in the foreground view and very audible. A portion of the Chunky Gal is recommended for addition to Southern Nantahala Wilderness, but about 1,000 acres of the Inventoried Roadless Area was not recommended — again due to claims that sound from US Hwy 64 disqualified the area. The truth is that all of these areas are suitable for Wilderness recommendation, and the Forest Service should acknowledge that, regardless of whether they decide to recommend them for designation.

Wild & Scenic Rivers

The second major type of designation is the identification of streams eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The primary benefit of Wild and Scenic designation is to keep streams free-flowing and free of impoundments. There are three categories of Wild & Scenic Eligibility: recreational, scenic, and wild. Recreational is the least protective category, and Wild is the most protective. All three categories prevent eligible river segments from being impacted by dams once they are Congressionally designated.

The old plan recognizes 10 streams as eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, and the Revised Plan adds another 8 streams to that total. We were disappointed that the Forest Service did not find the North Fork of the French Broad, Panthertown Creek, and Greenland Creek eligible, and we believe the Forest Service should correct that error when the plan is finalized.

National Scenic Areas

The final designation opportunity in the Revised Plan is National Scenic Area (NSA) designation for the Craggy Mountains. This is perhaps the designation most likely to succeed in the next year because the people and government of Buncombe County support the protection of the area. Senators Burr and Tillis have indicated that they will not support federal designation without the endorsement of local governments. That box has been checked for the Craggy National Scenic Area.

The Forest Service has also designated over 10,000 acres of Big Ivy as a Forest Scenic Area. There is some ambiguity about the final boundaries of the Craggy NSA, as Buncombe County has endorsed a 15,000-acre area composed of all Forest Service Lands in the Craggy Mountains, while Forest Service has excluded Coxcombe Mountain, Snowball Mountain, Ox Creek, and Shope Creek from their recognition and placed them into areas where timber production is an emphasis. MountainTrue believes this should be corrected when the plan is finalized, and all these areas should be allocated to more protective management such as Ecological Interest Areas.

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Sensitive Wildlife Could Be Impacted by Faulty Assumptions

The Revised Forest Plan has laudable goals for wildlife and wildlife habitat. The Plan emphasizes the creation of young forest and open woods for the wildlife that benefit from those conditions, and also includes strategies and standards for protecting more disturbance-sensitive species like green salamanders, bats, northern flying squirrels, and dozens of rare habitats that support an abundance of rare species.

The new plan aims to create more of this young forest through timber harvesting, but the top levels of allowable harvest, while being three to four times higher than current levels, are no higher than what is allowed in the old plan. As discussed above, we believe that the timber harvest goals will be counterproductive until the Forest Service has consistent direction regarding Natural Heritage Natural Areas, old-growth forests, and potential Wilderness Areas that are currently allocated to timber production. As far as strategies for increasing timber harvest, we fail to see how the Revised Plan is an improvement over the status quo.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the plan content on wildlife is that the Final Environmental Impact Statement fails to show any benefits or costs to the management strategies and objectives in the Forest Plan. As a rhetorical question, why manage the forest for wildlife at all if there will be no benefits? We suspect that there will be costs and benefits for the management the Forest Service is proposing and that the Environmental Analysis is either too flawed or lacks the sensitivity needed to detect the changes that will occur. We also suspect that increased levels of young forest habitat would benefit associated species and cause declines in disturbance-sensitive species, but the Final Environmental Impact Statement shows neither trend. In general, we have serious concerns that the Forest Service is relying on flawed assumptions and inaccurate analysis for many of the decisions (and in some cases, the absence of a decision) in the Revised Forest Plan.

On the other side of the coin are dozens of rare species, many of them unique to this region, that the Forest Service analyzes with a coarse filter and without plan content to protect them. In particular, disturbance-sensitive species reliant on closed-canopy forest, old trees, and down wood are presumed by the Forest Service to be well protected by the 40% of the Forest that will remain lightly managed in this Forest Plan, again, partly due to faulty modeling, and partly due to not making assumptions from the models (for example, that old-growth forests will not be cut), management standards, or guidelines in the plan. So the Forest Service is assuming that old-growth forest-associated wildlife will not be impacted because the models assume no old growth will be cut. All the while, the Forest Service is asserting the right to cut old-growth forest in the plan.

The Forest Service should address these issues by improving their environmental analysis, and making the assumptions in their analysis translate into management strategies.

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Recreation: Improvements to Trail Access but Too Restrictive to Other Activities

The Forest Service’s Revised Plan is an improvement over its own Draft Plan in terms of trail access. Two of the potential draft alternatives severely limited the potential to expand the existing trail network. Limiting opportunities for new trails would have been draconian considering the increasing demand for outdoor recreation, the already high use of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, and the social and economic benefits of outdoor recreation to our region.

The Revised Plan allows existing user-created trails and new construction to be added to the official trail system. However, the addition of any trails requires collaborative planning processes that consider supply and demand issues and have committed resources for long-term maintenance.

Overly restrictive limitations on other recreation resources — like rock climbing — lack the specificity needed to protect those resources and provide equitable public access. The Forest Service did not adopt Partnership’s suggestions regarding limitations on rock climbing as a recreation resource, nor is there a process for rock climbers or other recreationists to engage in collaborative management like there is for trail users.

The Forest Service should treat all user groups as potential partners and extend opportunities for collaborative management in the text of the plan to all interest groups.

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Support Healthy, Resilient Forests

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Team tracks and analyzes every timber project in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests to protect old-growth forests, sensitive habitats, and rare species. We help protect the places we share to ensure they stay healthy and beautiful for future generations. Support this work by making a donation to MountainTrue.

Raleigh Report: With District Maps in Place, We Preview the Primary Election

Raleigh Report: With District Maps in Place, We Preview the Primary Election

Raleigh Report: With District Maps in Place, We Preview the Primary Election

Now that the months-long political mud wrestling match known as redistricting is over, it’s a good time to take a look at what the state’s new legislative and congressional maps mean for Western North Carolina. 

We won’t go over the legislature’s – and the courts’ – torturous path to finalizing districts maps. Suffice to say that the process reached its inglorious end with decisions by both the NC and US Supreme Courts. The House and Senate maps will remain in place for a decade, but the congressional map will be redrawn next year because it was imposed by a court rather than adopted by the legislature. 

By far, most media attention has focused on the adventures of Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who has been a politician in search of a district in which to run. With congressional districts finally settled, Cawthorn decided to run in his current district in the state’s westernmost – and GOP-leaning – counties, where he faces a crowded field of other Republicans in the primary, including state Senator Chuck Edwards and Michele Woodhouse, both of Henderson County. 

Whatever his prospects in the congressional race, Edwards’ departure from the legislature has to be judged as a loss for WNC conservation interests. A staunch conservative, Edwards is the chair of a key Senate appropriations committee and has used his influence to direct millions of dollars in conservation, restoration, and water quality protection to our region. We will miss his strong work in Raleigh. 

While the new maps have altered many legislative districts, they have not produced many newly competitive districts. One of the exceptions is state Senate District 47, where two GOP Senate incumbents – Ralph Hise and Deanna Ballard – will battle it out in the primary for the right to run in the general election. This newly drawn district includes Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey counties. The district leans strongly Republican, so the primary winner is very likely to win the general election. Both Hise and Ballard are strong legislators who chair important committees in the Senate, so this race is being billed as a sort of clash of Senate titans. 

Aside from Ballard vs. Hise, there is surprisingly little political drama left in the WNC primary season in either the GOP or Democratic races. Rep. Tim Moffit will run unopposed in the GOP primary to fill Edwards’ seat in the state Senate in a district that leans heavily Republican. In the Senate’s far west District 50, incumbent GOP legislator Kevin Corbin is unopposed in the primary for this conservative district. Barring an upset, Corbin will also return to the legislature in 2023. 

Buncombe incumbent Senator (and MountainTrue co-director) Julie Mayfield faces a primary challenge from Asheville City Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore and two-time candidate in other races, Taylon Breeden, in a district that leans heavily Democratic. 

In House District 93, which includes Ashe and Watauga counties, incumbent GOP Rep. Ray Pickett and Democratic challenger Ben Massey are both running unopposed in the primary. This seat has changed hands between the two parties in recent years and is expected to be a bit of a dogfight again this fall. 

In House District 113, two incumbent Republicans – Rep. Jake Johnson of Polk County and Rep. David Rogers of Rutherford County – face off in the GOP primary for another conservative-leaning district. 

In House District 114, which includes a portion of Buncombe County, Eric Ager is running unopposed in the Democratic primary to replace his father John, who is retiring his liberal-leaning House seat. 

In another Buncombe House seat, District 115, Lindsey Prather will run unopposed in the Democratic primary for the right to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Brian Turner in a district that favors Democrats. 

And in Buncombe House 116, Democrat Caleb Rudow will run unopposed to hold the Democratic-leaning House seat he was appointed to when long-time Buncombe Rep. Susan Fisher retired in January. 

Over in Henderson County, two Republicans – Jennifer Balkcom and Dennis Justice – are running to fill Tim Moffit’s House seat, which is likely to remain in GOP control. 

Farther west, incumbent GOP House members Mark Pless (District 118) and Mike Clampitt (District 119) are running unopposed in Republican primaries. Barring unexpected upsets in the general election, both are likely to return to the legislature in these safely conservative districts. Likewise, incumbent GOP House member Karl Gillespie in District 120 is running unopposed in the primary and will have a free ride in the general election as no Democrat filed to run in the opposing party’s primary. 

For a complete list of House races and candidates, click here. Senate races and candidates can be found here. 

So the upshot is that in WNC, most of our delegation will remain solidly Republican, with most incumbents likely to return. Known exceptions are our primary GOP environmental champion, Sen. Chuck Edwards, either Sen. Ralph Hise or Sen. Deanna Ballard, and either Rep. Jake Johnson or Rep. David Rogers. Democrats are likely to win all of the Buncombe County legislative races, with new members in all of the county’s three House seats. 

Again, most of these races will be won in the primary, so we will be back in touch after May 17 to report on these races again.

Thank You for Supporting the Work of MountainTrue

Thank You for Supporting the Work of MountainTrue

It’s hard to believe that it’s already nearly the new year. Looking back over the past twelve months, it’s been a remarkable year full of great times on the river, beautiful hikes through the woods, and significant environmental victories. None of which would have been possible without your participation, support, and passion for the unique place we call home.

This year we worked with local community leaders to defeat a proposed asphalt plant that would have polluted neighborhoods of East Flat Rock and the headwaters of the Green River. Through our involvement in the WaysSouth coalition, we won a better plan for the Corridor K highway project that protects the Snowbird Mountains and the Appalachian Trail and provides a new forested land bridge for wildlife. In Asheville, we secured more green infrastructure and better urban design by ensuring that the Bowen Bridge section of the I-26 expansion project better connects West Asheville to Downtown with pedestrian and bike pathways. Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill accomplished a longtime conservation goal by working in partnership with American Rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others to remove the Ward Mill Dam, reconnect 35 miles of the Watauga River, and restore native aquatic habitats. Lastly, French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson conducted groundbreaking research identifying the sources of bacteria pollution with the first eDNA study of the French Broad River.

Thank You for Supporting the Work of MountainTrue

It’s hard to believe that it’s already nearly the new year. Looking back over the past twelve months, it’s been a remarkable year full of great times on the river, beautiful hikes through the woods, and significant environmental victories. None of which would have been possible without your participation, support, and passion for the unique place we call home.

This year we worked with local community leaders to defeat a proposed asphalt plant that would have polluted neighborhoods of East Flat Rock and the headwaters of the Green River. Through our involvement in the WaysSouth coalition, we won a better plan for the Corridor K highway project that protects the Snowbird Mountains and the Appalachian Trail and provides a new forested land bridge for wildlife. In Asheville, we secured more green infrastructure and better urban design by ensuring that the Bowen Bridge section of the I-26 expansion project better connects West Asheville to Downtown with pedestrian and bike pathways. Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill accomplished a longtime conservation goal by working in partnership with American Rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others to remove the Ward Mill Dam, reconnect 35 miles of the Watauga River, and restore native aquatic habitats. Lastly, French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson conducted groundbreaking research identifying the sources of bacteria pollution with the first eDNA study of the French Broad River.

Partnering with Communities to Stop an Asphalt Plant

“Our partnership with MountainTrue took us from hopelessness to hopefulness.” – Shannon Nicholson, Friends of East Flat Rock

MountainTrue and Friends of East Flat Rock teamed up to block a proposed asphalt plant’s application for rezoning near a surrounding residential area and near the Green River Game Lands. This grassroots effort forced the developer to withdraw his application not once but twice. Beyond rezoning, we documented the developer polluting nearby Laurel Creek — resulting in a Notice of Violation against SE Asphalt. Your support allows us to oppose future rezoning attempts and to continue to monitor for environmental violations.

Working in Coalition to Protect the Snow Bird Mountains

“We hope we’ve set a better example for the region on how you can build better highways and improve the safety for wildlife and automobile traffic.”
– Melanie Mayes, WaysSouth Board Chair

Protecting Stecoah Gap and the Snow Bird Mountains took nearly 10 years, but the results were well worth it. A proposed road would have cut through pristine wildlife habitat, the Appalachian Trail, and Cherokee historic sites. Due to the efforts of MountainTrue and the WaysSouth coalition, no new roads will be built. Instead, the existing Corridor K will be improved for better traffic flow and response times for fire trucks, ambulances, and police. To enhance this area for hikers and wildlife, the coalition successfully proposed a forested land bridge that would serve as a wildlife and Appalachian Trail crossing. Protecting our mountain region means staying vigilant year after year. That’s why we need your support. 

Removing Dams and Reconnecting Aquatic Habitats

“Thanks to this dam removal, we celebrate a healthy, free-flowing Watauga River. Free-flowing rivers are the lifeblood of thriving communities, healthy ecosystems, and clean water for people and nature.”
  Erin McCombs, American Rivers’ Southeast Conservation Director

The Ward Mill Dam removal was a three-year effort but well worth the wait. Working in partnership with American Rivers, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, Watauga County Soil and Water Conservation District, and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, this $1.2 million project reconnected 35 miles of aquatic habitat in the main stem of the Watauga River and 140 miles of streams across the watershed. Now, native fish such as the tangerine darter and threatened salamanders like the hellbender are reunited and will benefit from an improved cold-water habitat.

Making Advancements in Pollution Monitoring

“What better way to get information out to the public at large? MountainTrue is trying to find the source of a problem. Not blowing a whistle and walking away. I really like the holistic nature of what you do.”
– Ben Gainey, MountainTrue Member

In 2021, MountainTrue made dramatic advancements in the sophistication of our clean waters program. We conducted our first eDNA study and drone-assisted heat source tracking — which showed that agricultural waste is the highest contributor of E. coli in the French Broad River. We launched our plastics study in three regions, documenting that microplastics are now a major issue across our mountains. The Western Regional Office celebrated their first year participating in SwimGuide bacteria monitoring — giving the public weekly water quality results for popular recreation areas from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends. With these advances, supported by members like you, we can better advocate for the changes needed to tackle pollution at its sources.

Fighting for Healthier Communities through Better Planning

“The victory of alternative B is worth crowing about. It is vastly superior to everything that went before it.”David Nutter, Volunteer Planner with the Asheville Design Center (a program of MountainTrue)

MountainTrue rallied the community and empowered Asheville City Council to push back against alternatives to the I26 Connector that would negatively impact community members. We successfully convinced NC Department of Transportation to eliminate one lane of traffic on each side of the Bowen Bridge and create pedestrian and bike pathways connecting Downtown to West Asheville. This new design offers a level of connectivity not yet seen in Asheville. Supporting MountainTrue’s work means supporting projects that can dramatically improve quality of life for future generations. 

These are just the highlights.  These accomplishments are the results of sustained, multi-year campaigns. Most were achieved by partnering with local communities or with broader coalitions. Others relied on our ability to leverage scientific know-how to drive our advocacy. These are our strengths: collaboration, technical expertise, and the staying power to see campaigns through until we win.

Next year will be our 40th anniversary, and we’re proud of our long list of institutional accomplishments. However, we’re also humbled because none of this would be possible without the generous contribution of our members, the vigilance of our advocates, and the enthusiasm of our supporters.

Please consider a donation today.  Your ongoing support gives us hope and the capacity to do good. With you at our side, we’ll continue the fight into 2022 and beyond.

Sincerely,

The MountainTrue Team

 

Front row (left to right): David Caldwell, Broad Riverkeeper; Mara Chamlee, SRO Water Quality Administrator, Amy Finkler, Development and Operations Coordinator; Anna Alsobrook, French Broad Watershed Outreach Coordinator; Susan Bean, Engagement Director; Sarah Ogletree, Creation Care Alliance Director; Callie Moore, Western Regional Director.

Second row: Ellianna McLaughlin, Forest Keeper Coordinator; Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper; Tony Ward, Western Regional Program Coordinator; Hannah Woodburn, High Country Outreach Coordinator; Katie Breckheimer, Interim Southern Regional Director; Bob Wagner, Co-Director.

Third row: Josh Kelly, Public Lands Field Biologist; Andy Hill, High Country Regional Director and Watauga Riverkeeper; Adam Bowers, Development Director; Chris Joyell, Healthy Communities Director; Bob Gale, Public Lands Director; Gray Jernigan, Southern Regional Director and Green Riverkeeper; Savannah Lytle, Outings and Education Coordinator; 

Maddy Watson, Communications Associate.

Not pictured: Julie Mayfield, Co-Director; Karim Olaechea, Communications Director. 

 

These are just the highlights.  These accomplishments are the results of sustained, multi-year campaigns. Most were achieved by partnering with local communities or with broader coalitions. Others relied on our ability to leverage scientific know-how to drive our advocacy. These are our strengths: collaboration, technical expertise, and the staying power to see campaigns through until we win.

Next year will be our 40th anniversary, and we’re proud of our long list of institutional accomplishments. However, we’re also humbled because none of this would be possible without the generous contribution of our members, the vigilance of our advocates, and the enthusiasm of our supporters.

Please consider a donation today.  Your ongoing support gives us hope and the capacity to do good. With you at our side, we’ll continue the fight into 2022 and beyond.

Sincerely,

The MountainTrue Team

 

Front row (left to right): David Caldwell, Broad Riverkeeper; Mara Chamlee, SRO Water Quality Administrator, Amy Finkler, Development and Operations Coordinator; Anna Alsobrook, French Broad Watershed Outreach Coordinator; Susan Bean, Engagement Director; Sarah Ogletree, Creation Care Alliance Director; Callie Moore, Western Regional Director.

Second row: Ellianna McLaughlin, Forest Keeper Coordinator; Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper; Tony Ward, Western Regional Program Coordinator; Hannah Woodburn, High Country Outreach Coordinator; Katie Breckheimer, Interim Southern Regional Director; Bob Wagner, Co-Director.

Third row: Josh Kelly, Public Lands Field Biologist; Andy Hill, High Country Regional Director and Watauga Riverkeeper; Adam Bowers, Development Director; Chris Joyell, Healthy Communities Director; Bob Gale, Public Lands Director; Gray Jernigan, Southern Regional Director and Green Riverkeeper; Savannah Lytle, Outings and Education Coordinator; Maddy Watson, Communications Associate.

Not pictured: Julie Mayfield, Co-Director; Karim Olaechea, Communications Director. 

 

MountainTrue Weighs in on Henderson County 2045 Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue Weighs in on Henderson County 2045 Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue Weighs in on Henderson County 2045 Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue has sent an open letter to the Henderson Country Planning Board that lays out our priorities and goals for a comprehensive plan that will guide future growth and development in a responsible and sustainable way for Henderson County. The letter (included below) addresses public participation in the process, smart growth principles, land preservation, protection and expansion of public lands, protecting clean water, and advancing clean energy.

Over the past several months, MountainTrue has been busy meeting with groups in Henderson County to increase public participation in the 2045 Comprehensive Planning Process. Every 20 years, comprehensive planning offers residents the opportunity to weigh in with their vision for the future. We need everyone’s voice represented as this key initial public input and engagement phase winds down. Here are some links with information about how to get involved:

December 13, 2021

Henderson County Planning Board
100 North King Street
Hendersonville, NC 28792

Via email

RE: MountainTrue’s Principles for Henderson County 2045 Comprehensive Plan

Dear Henderson County Planning Board Members:

On behalf of MountainTrue, a nonprofit organization that has worked to champion resilient forests, clean waters, and healthy communities in Henderson County for over 30 years, and our local members, we appreciate the process that you are beginning of formulating a new 2045 Comprehensive Plan that will serve as the vision and guide for growth and development in the County for the next quarter century. As we embark on this important task together, we would like to convey the following principles and issues that we believe the comprehensive plan should address:

Public Participation – Overall, we believe that communities should play a central role in planning for their future growth and development. We advocate for a design process that invites diverse voices, including those that have traditionally been excluded or ignored. The process should be equitable and inclusive of all communities and people regardless of class or clout.

We encourage the County to engage in targeted outreach to people in historically underrepresented communities. Surveys were mailed to all property-owning residents early in the process and, while we understand that there are many other input opportunities and that anyone is welcome to participate in the process, no such targeted outreach has been planned for renters and residents of housing authorities — who are disproportionately low-to-moderate income households. And although a Spanish language survey is available, Stewart consultants reported at the October 22nd Planning Board meeting that few if any of these have been returned. We encourage the County to work with organizations that serve these communities to target outreach and solicit participation to ensure that there is equitable participation and representation of all County residents regardless of wealth. Advertising should also be expanded and conducted in multiple languages on various media outlets.

Smart Growth – MountainTrue supports economic vitality and growth in Western North Carolina without compromising our mountain ecosystem. We champion our cities and small towns, which function as economic, cultural, and residential centers. We encourage public and private development in areas where adequate infrastructure already exists. At the same time, we discourage the expansion of infrastructure that induces sprawl into natural areas or the rural landscape. We advocate for a wide variety of housing choices and multiple modes of transportation.

According to our analysis, the County can accommodate projected growth within existing urban areas by focusing on increasing density without any zoning changes. To accomplish this, the County should confine industrial uses to specifically defined areas so that communities are protected from potential impacts. The County can also discourage urban sprawl by resisting developers’ calls to expand water and sewer service beyond the urban service area. The County should also streamline the permitting and approval processes so that development decisions are more timely, transparent, and predictable for developers and residents alike.

The County has made great strides in recent years around multi-modal transit options and connectivity between communities. The Ecusta Trail, Oklawaha Greenway Feasibility Study, and Greenway Master Plan are all efforts that should be included in future planning.

Land Preservation – We support planning for development in a way that protects valued natural resources. Planning can identify critical landscapes, like agricultural lands, wetlands, forests and steep slopes, and identify strategies for preserving those resources from destruction or degradation by development. There are a wealth of resources available to planners including landslide hazard maps, the National Wetland Inventory, NC Natural Heritage Program areas, the National Land Cover Database, and others that should guide development restrictions and define priority preservation areas.

Our rural and agricultural heritage are important to our communities and the economy of Henderson County. Therefore, the County should invest in preservation by establishing a funding mechanism that is dedicated to protecting open space and agricultural and forested lands and is replenished annually.

Public Lands – MountainTrue advocates for the protection of our national and state forests in addition to our national, state, county and city parks and trails. We believe the management of public lands should maintain and restore their ecological integrity and promote recreational opportunities.

The County has a wealth of public land resources including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Recreational Forest, Green River Game Land, privately conserved land that is publicly accessible, and many county and municipal parks and trails. The County should encourage and expand access to these resources through increased public transit options and greenway connectivity. The County should create buffers and transition zones between development and public resources, and manage these areas in a way that protects them from encroachment and reduces the threats of wildfire to surrounding communities.

Clean Water – We work to preserve and restore waterways as healthy ecosystems as well as recreational and aesthetic resources. MountainTrue supports the development and enforcement of standards and regulations to protect surface and groundwater from pollution, litter, and the negative impacts of development.

MountainTrue has been monitoring and sampling water quality in the County for decades and will be glad to share our data with planners to determine impacted waterways deserving of increased protection, development buffers, and stormwater runoff reduction measures. As climate change drives increased frequency, intensity, and quantity of rainfall in our area, it is imperative that we reduce impervious surface cover and encourage infiltration and stormwater best management practices to reduce impacts from urban and agricultural runoff on water quality. Development standards around sediment and erosion control should be updated to account for increasing rainfall. Impacts from litter, especially from single-use plastic products, should also be considered and addressed.

Clean Energy – MountainTrue supports the development of clean, sustainable, locally-produced energy. We are dedicated to helping communities transition to renewable energy. We work with local community members, policymakers, and utilities to bring our region sustainable solutions for our energy demands and to promote energy efficiency.

County facilities should incorporate renewable energy generation features, and design standards for all government buildings should promote this. New development approved by the county should similarly be encouraged to incorporate renewable energy features. Housing, especially for low-income residents, should be audited for energy usage and retrofitted to maximize energy efficiency.

Thank you for your consideration of these principles and issues as the Comprehensive Planning process moves forward, and we look forward to working with you to realize a vision for growth in Henderson County that continues an upward trajectory for economic development, preserves our rural and agricultural character, enhances our quality of life, and respects our natural resources for decades to come.

Sincerely,

Gray Jernigan
Southern Regional Director

Katie Breckheimer
Interim Southern Regional Director

CC: Henderson County Board of Commissioners
Jake Petrosky, Stewart, Inc.
Henderson County Manager and Planning Staff

Tell DEQ to Clean Up The Cottages of Boone

Tell DEQ to Clean Up The Cottages of Boone

Tell DEQ to Clean Up The Cottages of Boone

The Cottages of Boone has discharged tens of thousands of gallons of sewage and untreated wastewater into Laurel Creek, which flows into the Watauga River. Call on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to make The Cottages clean up their act and stop polluting our rivers.

MountainTrue has been closely monitoring this facility’s illegal discharges, including large overflow events in April and September that dumped 70,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into Laurel Creek, which flows into the Watauga River. In August, DEQ levied a $38,000 civic penalty against The Cottages’s treatment plant, and now DEQ is currently considering whether to renew its discharge permit. We need you to speak up and help us hold this egregious polluter accountable and prevent future wastewater spills.

While we are not asking DEQ to deny the permit outright (displacing 900 households), we are requesting that DEQ make monitoring data publicly available online, and the permit stricter and conditional upon The Cottages cleaning up their operations.

Fill out the form below and sign on to our letter to DEQ asking that they:

  1. Reduce the term of the permit from five years to a term of two years to make it easier to hold The Cottages accountable if they don’t clean up their act.
  2. Increase monitoring of The Cottages of Boone and make monitoring data from all Sewage System Overflows — including those from The Cottages of Boone — publicly available in a timely manner and easy to find online.
  3. Make any approval of the permit conditioned on The Cottages cleaning up their act. DEQ should promise to change or revoke the permit if The Cottages illegally discharge more than 2,500 gallons within any 3-month period of time.

UPDATE: Thank you to all who have responded to our action alert and signed our letter to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) demanding better monitoring and a stricter wastewater discharge permit for The Cottages of Boone. We surpassed our goal of 1,000 signatures, and we emailed a copy of the letter to DEQ on the afternoon of Monday, December 13.

 

Join our sign-on letter in support of a Plastics-Free WNC

Join our sign-on letter in support of a Plastics-Free WNC

Join our sign-on letter in support of a Plastics-Free WNC

Let your elected leaders know that you support taking action to reduce plastic pollution in western North Carolina. Add your name to the open letter below and we will take this as a petition to towns, cities, and counties across Western North Carolina.

To: the elected leaders of western North Carolina

Plastic pollution is a threat to North Carolina’s environment and to human health. I urge you to adopt new policies and programs mandated by the North Carolina Solid Waste Management Act to reduce plastic waste and stop its introduction into our environment.

Plastic bags, styrofoam cups, and other single-use plastics litter our forests and trails and clog up our rivers and streams. These plastics don’t biodegrade. Instead, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces over hundreds or even thousands of years. These “microplastic” films, fibers, and fragments are consumed by aquatic animals and bio-accumulate up the food chain. Over time, they become so small that they can travel by wind. According to a study published by the World Wildlife Federation, plastics are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat — we ingest approximately one credit card-worth of plastic every week.

These plastics and the additives used to make them leach into our food and environment and can be harmful to human health. Phthalates — which make plastics soft and pliable and are used in food packaging — are known endocrine disruptors, have been linked to higher rates of childhood asthma, and are potentially harmful to the reproductive and nervous systems. Styrene — the main ingredient in styrofoam cups — is classified by WHO, NIH, and National Research Council as a “likely” or “probable” human carcinogen.

MountainTrue, a regional conservation organization, conducts water sampling in rivers and streams throughout western North Carolina to assess the prevalence and likely sources of the plastics polluting our rivers and streams. So far, they’ve found plastics in every body of water they’ve tested. In the French Broad River, MountainTrue found an average of 15.5 pieces of microplastic per 1-liter sample of water, with nearly 40% of that being plastic films derived from plastic bags, candy wrappers, and food packaging. In the Watauga River, they’ve documented 11 microplastics per liter.

The North Carolina Solid Waste Management Act doesn’t just give local governments the authority to act. Because the presence of a pollutant that is harmful to both human health and the environment has been documented in our region, the law mandates that local governments must act.

I urge you to join the more than 400 local governments across the country that have already passed plastic reduction laws. Act now to reduce plastics pollution before it enters our environment.

Sincerely,