Dear MountainTrue members – a letter on race and equity

Dear MountainTrue members – a letter on race and equity

Dear MountainTrue Members and Supporters

Julie Mayfield & Bob Wagner

Like many organizations, we have begun taking a hard look at the role MountainTrue should play in the new national dialogue on race and equity. To be clear, equity has been a focus for us for several years now, mostly in terms of training and awareness for our board and staff, but the death of George Floyd and the ensuing outcry for racial justice has pushed us to ask what else we can and should do.

You might ask, why should MountainTrue do anything? We are an environmental advocacy organization, not a social or racial justice organization, right? Sure, it would make sense for us to work on environmental issues that impact communities of color, but why should we go beyond that? Shouldn’t we let other groups that are focused on racial issues fight this fight?

These are good and understandable questions. And we have answers to them – answers that we will be rolling out to you over the next few months. For now, the short answer to those questions is this: the fight for racial justice and equity is not separate from the fight for a clean and healthy environment. Indeed, racial discrimination and the environment have been linked for decades through the disproportionate placement of polluting industries, highways, and other harmful developments in and through communities of color; through urban renewal that destroyed black communities, often for city parks and green space; through the de facto exclusion of people of color from our national parks and forests because they don’t feel safe; through the willingness of regulators to overlook harm to communities of color that they would never accept for white communities (think Flint, Michigan). And these are only a few examples.

We have come to understand that, as a successful, influential organization, we have a role to play in dismantling the institutional and structural systems in our country that perpetuate racism and discrimination. We can no longer ignore the fact that our work exists within a much larger, complex system that sees some people as less important and expendable. Fighting for a clean environment and truly healthy communities demands that we no longer accept that framework, and fighting that framework means addressing racial discrimination outside of the narrow confines of traditional environmental advocacy.

Critical to the work of dismantling systemic racism is first understanding how each of us individually and how MountainTrue as an organization have benefitted from systemic racism – our staff is largely made up of privileged, well-educated, white people and our funding comes from foundations, businesses, and individuals that have accumulated wealth within a system of discrimination and, sometimes, at the direct expense of people of color. That is not to say these are bad people or businesses or foundations. They, like all of us, exist within a system of discrimination that has been created over centuries. It is long past time for that system to end, and our job now is to understand exactly the role we should play in breaking that system and advancing equity.

We invite you to join us in this journey. As mentioned above, we will be publishing a series of articles that discuss environmentalism and environmental advocacy in the context of race. We will also be scheduling virtual, small group discussions with us and our staff for those who want to dive in more and ask questions. We realize this will be a new conversation for many of you, and, while it may be uncomfortable, we hope you will remain open and engage with us on this critical topic.

Bob and Julie

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

Join North Carolina’s Riverkeepers in calling on state regulators to modernize its public notification system.

Millions of people across North Carolina take to our beaches, rivers and lakes to cool off, swim, paddle, and fish, but most are unaware that nearly 16 million gallons of untreated sewage has spilled into our waterways during a two and a half month period (May 17 to July 30) according to data collected by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

North Carolina desperately needs to update its public spill notification system. Current state law requires operators of wastewater collection and treatment systems to notify DEQ of spills of over 1,000 gallons into surface waters and to send a press release to local media within 24 hours. For spills of over 15,000 gallons, operators are required to place a notice in the newspapers of counties impacted by the spill within 10 days (NCGS 143-215.1C). Spills of other pollutants have similar reporting requirements to DEQ.

North Carolina should not be depending on ads in print newspapers to get the word out about dangerous spills. Newspapers are not mandated to run the press releases, and many local newspapers are only published in print on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which is not frequent enough to warn river users of water quality problems in a timely manner.

The public has the right to know about major pollution spills that impact our waterways as soon as possible, and through the technology the public uses today. Join North Carolina’s Riverkeepers in calling for a better, more modern system that would:

  • Publish spill data to an online database and interactive map and on agency social media channels
  • Send email and text alerts to interested parties.
  • Allow the public to sign up to receive these alerts for the watersheds that they are interested in.

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

16 Million Gallons of Sewage Flowed into NC Waterways This Summer With Little Notification To Paddlers, Swimmers and Beachgoers

16 Million Gallons of Sewage Flowed into NC Waterways This Summer With Little Notification To Paddlers, Swimmers and Beachgoers

North Carolina’s Riverkeepers are calling on state regulators to modernize its public notification system.

North Carolina — Millions of people across North Carolina take to our beaches, rivers and lakes to cool off, swim, paddle, and fish, but most are unaware that nearly 16 million gallons of untreated sewage has spilled into our waterways during a two and a half month period (May 17 to July 30) according to data collected by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Call on NCDEQ to Update North Carolina's Spill Notification System

The sewage enters waterways from overflowing manholes and pump stations and leaking sewer pipes, but the public is left largely unaware due to antiquated public notification requirements. North Carolina state law requires operators of wastewater collection and treatment systems to notify DEQ of spills of over 1,000 gallons into surface waters and to send a press release to local media within 24 hours. For spills of over 15,000 gallons, operators are required to place a notice in the newspapers of counties impacted by the spill within 10 days (NCGS 143-215.1C). Spills of other pollutants have similar reporting requirements to DEQ.

“We’re living in the year 2020, and the state of North Carolina is still depending on ads in print newspapers to get the word out about dangerous spills,” says French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “Sending press releases to local papers is not much better. Many local newspapers are only published in print on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which is not frequent enough to warn river users of water quality problems in a timely manner — if they’re published at all.”

North Carolina Riverkeepers have launched an advocacy campaign at ILoveRivers.org to clean up North Carolina’s waterways and to update the state’s public notification system. “We’re asking the state to adopt a more modern approach, where DEQ would publish spill data to an online database and map as well as on the agency’s social media channels and through email and text alerts to interested parties,” explains Emily Sutton, the Haw Riverkeeper. “People should be able to opt in to receive email and text alerts for their watersheds. We also encourage DEQ to provide water quality notifications on their social media platforms. An improved notification system would help ensure that this critical information gets to the people that most need to know when the river is unsafe.”

E. coli bacteria levels in many North Carolina waterways frequently spike well above the EPA’s safe standard for recreation after rain events. E. coli and other forms of pollution are caused by agriculture and urban stormwater runoff, failing septic systems and overflowing sewer infrastructure. These issues are exacerbated by the effects of climate change, as more frequent and heavier rain events create more storm runoff and overwhelm outdated sewer systems.

Matt Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper explains that “notification is just the first step, but what we really need are improvements in our state laws that increase fines when sewage is dumped in our waterways. We can’t keep treating our waterways as a sewage disposal system if we ever hope to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act to have all waters be fishable and swimmable.”

Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Region

Gallons of Sewage Spilled into Waterways
Asheville 3,214,626
Winston-Salem 3,260,987
Raleigh 2,800,681
Washington 2,616,516
Fayetteville 2,087,348
Mooresville 1,620,989
Wilmington 380,102
TOTAL 15,981,249

Chart represents DEQ regions and the amount of gallons of sewage that reached waterways between May  17, 2020 and July 30, 2020.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Update: City of Asheville Agrees to Stormwater Task Force!

Update: City of Asheville Agrees to Stormwater Task Force!

Update: City of Asheville Agrees to Stormwater Task Force!

UPDATE: Great News: More than 800 of you took action and helped make a difference for the French Broad River!

Asheville City Staff have committed to working with local clean water advocates to set up a Stormwater Task Force. The task force will analyze where and how the City’s stormwater infrastructure can be improved, and will put together an action plan to fix the problems.

This is an important step for the French Broad and the communities and businesses that depend on it. Please take a moment to thank members of City Council and City Staff for being responsive to the public. It’s important for them to hear that we appreciate them taking action, but that we also expect them to honor and work toward implementing the recommendations of the task force.

Prior Action Alert

Call on Asheville City Council to do its part to clean up the French Broad River, starting with the establishment of a Stormwater Task Force to address the City’s water pollution problems. Not only does the City have a legal obligation to protect water quality, Council’s commitment to racial equity demands action to protect residents of the Southside neighborhood from the highest pollution levels in the city.

Throughout the spring, summer and fall, MountainTrue conducts weekly bacteria sampling along the French Broad River and posts the results at swimguide.com. In 2019, this program made headlines as more than half of the sites (53%) failed to meet the EPA’s E. coli standard for safe recreation. This year, the results are even worse, with 69% of the sites failing. With climate change causing heavier and more frequent storms, this problem will only get worse.

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson taking water samples from Nasty Branch, a stream that flows through the Southside neighborhood that has, on average, the highest E. coli levels in the French Broad River Basin.

Our river is a public resource, and tens of thousands of people recreate on the French Broad every year. However, none of the testing sites within the City of Asheville pass the EPA’s safe limit on average, and the worst site that we test is Nasty Branch, which drains over half of downtown Asheville and flows through the historically African American Southside neighborhood, before discharging into the French Broad River in the River Arts District.

High levels of E. coli also indicate the presence of other, more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Heavy rains and storms often result in spikes in E. coli contamination, increasing the risk to human health. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and low-grade fever.

Asheville City Council has a moral and legal responsibility under the Clean Water Act to protect our river and water quality for all city residents. City of Hendersonville staff* has already committed to establishing a Stormwater Task Force, Asheville should too.

* We previously incorrectly said that Henderson County was setting up a Stormwater Task Force. We have corrected this page and the letter to Asheville City Council to reflect the fact that City of Hendersonville staff has committed to establishing a task force and tacking storm water pollution issues. 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

On July 27, MountainTrue followed up on a public complaint of sediment flowing into White Oak Creek from the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TEIC). Video showed a significant discharge of muddy water flowing off the site into the creek — a tributary of the Green River. MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan then reported the issue to the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources (DWR).

Two days later, on July 29, DWR sent an inspector to the equestrian center where they witnessed site contractors flushing sediment into the center’s stormwater drainage system, and failures in their stormwater management system. In all, DWR cited Tryon International Equestrian Center with four water quality violations that must be “abated immediately and properly resolved.” These violations, failure to resolve them quickly and remediate damage to the environment could result in civil penalties up to $25,000 per day for each violation.

“Tryon International Equestrian Center has been a repeat violator of water quality.” explains Gray Jernigan. “They were first cited in 2014, and it only got worse as they rushed to build new facilities ahead of the World Equestrian Games in 2018. They took shortcuts and chose not to employ standard best management and construction practices to keep sediment on site, and the problems persist.”

The Green Riverkeeper shared the video of the illegal discharge on its Instagram account where it sparked a public outcry, and elicited a response from Sharon Decker, President of Tryon Equestrian Partners, the owners and operators of the center. Decker assured the public that “we share the same concerns you do about the environment, water quality and strong stewardship.”

The Equestrian Center has received numerous violations from the NC Department of Environmental Quality over the years dating back to 2014, amassing tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

“They’ve made assurances to the community to clean up their act, but their efforts have fallen well short of what is expected of someone who professes to care about the environment,” says Gray. “I’ve offered to meet with them to discuss steps they can take to undo the damage done and protect our public waters, and I look forward to having a conversation with the leadership at TIEC.”

Media contacts:
Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper
C:828-423-0578 E: gray@mountaintrue.org

Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
C:415-535-9004


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Laurel Creek Inholding now part of Nantahala National Forest

Laurel Creek Inholding now part of Nantahala National Forest

Laurel Creek Inholding now part of Nantahala National Forest

by Callie D. Moore, MountainTrue Western Regional Director

On June 17, 2020, the U.S. Government purchased a 49.33-acre in-holding at the headwaters of Laurel Creek, in Clay and Cherokee counties, making the land public and part of Nantahala National Forest! The purchase from the Mainspring Conservation Trust closes the loop on a 12-year battle by the former Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, MountainTrue and several other partners to prevent private landowners from building a road through the National Forest and cabins at the top of pristine headwaters of Fires Creek.

The long journey to public ownership began back in 2008 when the Forest Service released a scoping notice for a proposed road-building project in the Fires Creek watershed of Nantahala National Forest in Clay County. Through the scoping letter, we learned that in March 2006 some people had collectively purchased an almost 50-acre inholding (piece of private land completely surrounded by public land) on the rim of the Fires Creek watershed with no vehicular access and they were requesting to build a road to it. The preferred route was following a very old logging road, turned horse trail, for 3.5 miles up the Laurel Creek and Hickory Cove Creek drainages, and then constructing 0.34-miles of new road at the very top.

The potential environmental impact of this project was extreme. Of the 3.84 miles of proposed road, 57% (including all of the new road construction) lies within the Nantahala (geologic) Formation. As was reported in the Environmental Assessment, “The Nantahala Formation is one of many formations known to the North Carolina Geologic Survey as posing a high risk of generating acid runoff because of the abundance of iron sulfides in the rock.” Additionally, there are 13 stream crossings and 1.44 miles (37%) lies within 100 feet of perennial streams.

Fires Creek is classified by North Carolina as an Outstanding Resource Water (ORW). There are only nine ORWs in WNC! Yet, despite this and a state Significant Aquatic Natural Heritage Area designation, as well as the area’s popularity for a wide variety of recreational activities from hunting, fishing and horseback riding to hiking, swimming and nature study, and the potential environmental impacts, the Forest Service continued to favor and would ultimately approve the Laurel Creek route for the road.

Over a 10-year period, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, MountainTrue and our partners advocated for water quality protections related to the road-building activity though comments, objections and appeals. After five revisions to the Environmental Assessment, the final decision included many provisions that made the project cost-prohibitive for the landowners. In 2018, they sold the inholding to Mainspring until the Forest Service could acquire the funds to purchase it.

This is a major victory for clean water, public lands and outdoor recreation. And it’s a victory that would not have been possible without the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Without the requirement for the Forest Service to solicit and consider public input, there would likely be a 4-mile road (open for vehicular traffic only to the inholding landowners and their guests) right beside Laurel and Hickory Cove Creeks in the heart of the pristine Fires Creek watershed! There would probably be private homes up on top of the rim and a superb 3-day backpacking loop permanently severed. Without NEPA, we probably wouldn’t have even known about the project until construction and water quality violations began.

Project partners in alphabetical order:
Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition
NC Wildlife Federation
Mountain High Hikers
MountainTrue (and Western NC Alliance before that)
Southern Environmental Law Center
The Wilderness Society
Trout Unlimited NC Council
Wild South


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Support Backcountry Recreation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan

Support Backcountry Recreation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan

Support Backcountry Recreation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan

Help protect our forests and our backcountry areas by submitting your public comment today. The deadline for public comment is June 29, and this is our last significant opportunity to win better protections and influence how our public lands are managed for the next 15-20 years.

There’s no better way to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization than to head out into the backcountry. The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests provide us with a myriad of ways to get away and spend time in the wild such as hiking and backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, camping and whitewater kayaking.

These are wonderful pastimes that so many people in our region enjoy as ways to keep fit and clear our minds from the stress of everyday life. Our abundant backcountry areas are also an incredible economic resource for local businesses because people travel here from around the country and the world to vacation in our national forests. More than 10 million people visit our national forests every year, many of them for backcountry recreation pastimes. The Outdoor Alliance estimates that paddling, climbing and mountain biking generate $83.3 million in visitor spending. If it were a national park, it would be the third most visited park in the country.

To keep the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests an amazing place for backcountry recreation, the next management plan must protect our wild and special places and ensure that trails and other recreation resources are well maintained in the next forest management plan. Here are our recommendations:

1. Protect old-growth forests and Natural Heritage Areas.

The old-growth forests of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests are hot spots of biodiversity and wonderful places to hike through and observe nature. Unfortunately, they are also very rare. Less than 1% of forests in the Eastern U.S. are believed to be in old-growth condition, but in the Blue Ridge Mountains, up to 3% may be existing old growth. Approximately 9% of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests is known to be in old-growth condition; however, not all of these rare forests are currently protected.

Our recommendation is for the Forest Service to place all of the established old-growth — plus areas identified by ecologists and conservation experts — in the Designated Old Growth Network and into protective management areas to prevent logging, as recommended under Alternative C. However, any restrictions to adding old growth stands that have yet to be identified to the Designated Network should be lifted.

Similarly, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program Natural Areas were identified by biologists with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, and contain the best examples of natural communities, species diversity and rare species in North Carolina. These areas are very beautiful and represent the best examples of ecosystems and biological diversity in our landscape. Our recommendation is to also place these natural heritage areas in management areas where they will not be used for timber rotation, and instead be managed to restore, maintain, and enhance their natural qualities.

2. Extend Wild & Scenic Rivers protections to more of our forest’s classic paddling rivers and streams.

Western North Carolina is home to an incredible array of rivers and streams that are paddling classics and draw whitewater kayakers from around the world. However, only three streams in our region are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Draft Plan recognizes nine additional streams as eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, bringing interim protections to a total of 12 streams across the Forest.

MountainTrue recommends that the North Fork of the French Broad River (6.5 miles); Panthertown Creek, Greenland Creek, and the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River (totaling 8.6 miles); the East and West Forks of Overflow Creek (totaling 5 miles); and nine additional miles of Fires Creek, also be found eligible for Wild and Scenic designation.

3. Expand protections to more of our wild places.

Wilderness Inventory Areas (WIAS) comprise the wildest and most remote places in Nantahala and Pisgah and, by extension, some of the wildest places in the East. WIAS were identified during this planning process because they were large (generally greater than 4,000 acres) and had very few roads. Smaller WIAs are adjacent to existing Wilderness Areas and comprise part of a larger wild landscape.

About 350,000 acres of WIAs were identified in the planning process, which is a testament to the ruggedness of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the wild character of the Nantahala and Pisgah. In the draft plan, the maximum amount of Recommended Wilderness identified from the WIAs is 126,000 acres. The remaining areas are allocated differently in the three Alternatives. MountainTrue recommends placing all Wilderness Inventory Areas into Management Areas that are “unsuitable” for timber rotation, and road construction should be limited to maintain their wild and remote character.

4. Expand and maintain the trail system and recreation infrastructure by partnering with recreation groups.

Due to lack of federal funding the Forest Service, the majority of trail maintenance these days is performed by organized, trained volunteer groups. There is huge demand for new trails and facilities but barely enough funding to maintain what already exists. That demand has resulted in the creation of an informal network of user-created “social trails” that range from informal paths which lead to places like scenic views, fishing spots, climbing areas, swimming holes, boater put-ins and other destinations to longer old roads and trails that are well-worn and well-known treads. The draft plan takes a binary approach to trail maintenance: maintaining the official trail system and shutting down user-created trails. Because the Forest Service doesn’t have the budget or resources to significantly expand the official trail system, this would cut off access to many river access points, climbing areas and beloved mountain biking trails.

Maintaining our trail system to prevent erosion is important, but MountainTrue supports a more recreation-friendly approach. We join recreation user groups in calling for a comprehensive trail inventory to see which trails are most needed by mountain bikers, horseback riders, climbers, anglers and other trail users. The Forest Service should add those priority trails to the official system, and partner with user groups to ensure that they are maintained and made sustainable.

Help us keep the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests wonderful natural places for all of us to play and enjoy the great outdoors. Comment today!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

The Great American Outdoors Act Passes The Senate, Reinvests In America’s Public Lands

The Great American Outdoors Act Passes The Senate, Reinvests In America’s Public Lands

The Great American Outdoors Act Passes The Senate, Reinvests In America’s Public Lands

Photo by Kirk Thornton on Unsplash

In a big victory for our public lands, The Great American Outdoors Act (SB 3422) was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 17 with bipartisan support and a vote of 73 yeas to 25 nays.

The bill would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year and allocate $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the maintenance backlogs in America’s National Parks, National Forests, and other public lands.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress in 1964 with the purpose of investing earnings from oil and gas leases into projects that were meant to “safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.” The fund has been used for water conservation and habitat restoration projects, to support wildlife refuges, and has been accessed by local governments to fund recreation infrastructure and public parks. 

The fund has made a great impact in Western North Carolina, with money from the LWCF funding projects in every county. “[The LCWF has] purchased land for ball fields, boat launches, greenways, state parks, all the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and inholdings in our national forests,” says Jay Leutze, board member of the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy, as quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Though the LWCF has been authorized at $900 million per year, Congress has regularly diverted these funds for other purposes. With this bill, Congress would finally put an end to that practice and fulfill the original promise of the LWCF. 

The part of the Great American Outdoors Act that is meant to specifically address the maintenance backlog for our public lands is called the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund. Through the act, Congress would fill the coffers of the Legacy Restoration Fund with up to $1.9 billion for each of the next 5 years, for a total of $9.5 billion. The fund is split between the National Park Service (70% or up to $6.65 billion), the Forest Service (15% or up to $1.4 billion), the Fish and Wildlife Service (5% or up to $475 million), and the Bureau of Indian Education schools (5% or up to $475 million). The Legacy Fund is a great and necessary first step in restoring the glory of our public lands; over the next five years, it would cut the combined $20 billion backlog nearly in half. 

The Senate deserves a big round of applause for coming together across party lines to pass the Great American Outdoors Act. North Carolina’s Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr were both co-sponsors, as was Senator David Perdue of Georgia. Now, a companion bill is up before the House of Representatives, which is anticipated to vote on the bill in July.  


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Stand Up Against the Asphalt Plant Proposed for East Flat Rock!

Stand Up Against the Asphalt Plant Proposed for East Flat Rock!

Stand Up Against the Asphalt Plant Proposed for East Flat Rock!

Take Action Now.

Take action today and submit your comments to the Henderson County Board of Commissioners in opposition to rezoning that would allow the construction of a dangerous and unnecessary asphalt plant in East Flat Rock.

SE Asphalt wants to build an industrial asphalt plant at the intersection of Spartanburg Highway (US-176) and US-25, across the street from a low-income mobile home park and surrounded by hundreds of single family homes, small farms, and the Green River Game Lands. The site drains directly to Laurel Creek, which flows into the Green River.

The developer has applied for conditional rezoning for 6.5 acres to a conditional district to construct the new asphalt plant. MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and hundreds of local residents oppose this rezoning and the construction of the new asphalt plant because:

The asphalt plant is too close to residential areas, homes and businesses.
The proposed site is across the Spartanburg Highway from a mobile home park and is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The parcel is currently zoned for Community Commercial. By seeking conditional rezoning to allow for the asphalt plant, the developer is effectively trying to rezone a site — that is bordered by residential areas — for industrial use.

A study by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) showed 45% of residents living within a half mile of a new asphalt plant reported a deterioration of their health, which began after the plant opened.

Asphalt plants are a source of harmful air pollution
Asphalt fumes are known toxins and contain pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics can cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems, and skin irritation.

The asphalt plant could harm our natural environment
The proposed site is dangerously close to the Green River Game Land and borders the headwaters of Laurel Creek. Air pollution and water runoff of pollutants from the site would impact the Game Lands and Laurel Creek, which flows into the Green River.

The East Flat Rock asphalt plant is an environmental justice issue
The site is across the road to a low-income community that would bear the brunt of air and water pollution, dust, noise, truck traffic, and exposure to harmful toxins. Low income communities are disproportionately impacted by industrial facilities across the nation, and that’s not right.

What you can do:

1. Submit your comments to the Henderson County Board of Commissioners in opposition to the asphalt plant.

2. Attend this upcoming meeting:

  • Henderson County Board of Commissioners on October 1 at 6 PM: Technology Education and Development Center at Blue Ridge Community College, 49 E. Campus Drive, Flat Rock, NC

3. Stay informed and get involved with the local community organizing group Friends of East Flat Rock:

  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/251151092979467/about/
  • Website: https://friendsofeastflatrock.org/

Now is the time to stand up, speak out, and put a stop to this pollution factory before it even gets started! Join us in the fight!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Protect the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest — Our Region’s Natural Carbon Sink

Protect the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest — Our Region’s Natural Carbon Sink

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are a tremendous resource in the battle to slow climate change. A 2011 Forest Service assessment estimated that these forests store more than 72 million metric tonnes of carbon, and that number continues to rise as our forests grow.  

Help protect our publicly owned, 1.1 million acre carbon sink by taking action today!

June 29 is the deadline for public comments on the Draft Management Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. Now is our last significant chance to make our voices heard on a plan that will determine how our forests are managed for the next 15-20 years.

The Forest Service takes climate adaptation and mitigation into consideration when drafting its plan, but with your help we can make the plan even more climate friendly by:

1. Protecting old-growth forests from timbering

As trees grow they capture carbon, and they slowly release it as they die and decompose. With old-growth forests, the equation favors carbon capture. More than other forests, old-growth forests store and accumulate more carbon than they release through decomposition. That’s why we support a forest management plan with the most inclusive definition of old-growth forests and the widest protections.

The Forest Service should place all of the established old-growth — plus areas identified by ecologists and conservation experts — in the Designated Old Growth Network and into protective management areas to prevent logging, as recommended under Alternative C. However, any restrictions to adding old growth stands that have yet to be identified to the Designated Network should be lifted.

2. Defining “old growth” for more consistent forest management

The term “old growth” was coined by foresters in the early days of logging, but the lack of consensus around a single definition creates room for interpretation at the project level. It also makes building consensus among forest user interest groups, such as timber companies, recreationists, and conservationists difficult if not impossible. The forest service must not allow the lack of a single definition to endanger old-growth stands and create a pathway for increased logging. The Forest Service should set a definition in the final management plan that best protects these crucial carbon stores.

3. Mandating sustainable timbering practices

Timbering can be done in a manner that is sustainable and beneficial to the overall health of the forest. Our moist and fertile forests are resilient to timber harvest and can quickly rebound.However, if they are being grown for future timbering, whether they continue to store carbon after they’ve been cut down is a crucial question. As such, we support:

  • Our mountain forests are not suitable for commercial biomass electricity production. Though byproducts of restoration activities could be used for firewood or artisanal uses, our public forests should not be cut down just to be burned. Though, biomass energy production is not currently a concern due to the lack of a biomass wood pellet factory in our region. Limits should be placed on what types of wood could be available for biomass harvest should that change during the term of this management plan.
  • Preference should be given to timber companies that provide quality timber for furniture making, construction and other durable goods so that the wood’s carbon continues to be stored.
  • The use of specialized equipment should be required on sustained steep slopes of over 40% to guard against increasing erosion and landslides due to the effects of climate change. The type of logging methods should be outlined in the project’s environmental review documents.
  • Unused forest roads in backcountry areas should be decommissioned or repurposed for trails. This would help prevent erosion and sediment pollution and extreme flooding in forest rivers and streams due to the heavier rains and storms brought on by climate change.

4. Protecting our forests and vulnerable species from the effects of climate change

To ensure the long-term health of our forests and the native species that call the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests their home, the Forest Service should strengthen their climate adaptation. This includes:

  • Increasing the number of streams occupied by native brook trout in the highest elevation, highest flow cold water streams to compensate for losses in other warmer streams.
  • Increased use of controlled burns to reduce forest density and prevent larger wildfires that would damage native habitats and reduce our carbon stores.
  • Because non-native invasive plant species (NNIPS) spread in part due to our warming climate and land disturbances such as timbering, the plan should include an objective that all new harvest units and associated roads (including a 100-foot buffer) should be monitored for new infestations of priority NNIS and treated, if found. Also, the Forest Service should include a desired condition that priority NNIS are not spreading.
  • Habitat connectivity should be maintained and increased for migratory species and species whose habitat may shift due to climate change

Do your part to fight climate change: help protect the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests and ensure that they remain healthy and effective carbon sinks for our region.

Comment below or check out our Forest Plan Resource page for our full analysis of the entire Draft Forest Management Plan.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.