MountainTrue and Conservation Groups prepare for lawsuit over Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

MountainTrue and Conservation Groups prepare for lawsuit over Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

MountainTrue and Conservation Groups prepare for lawsuit over Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

Photo  of a Virginia big-eared bat by Larisa Bishop-Boros – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32046949

MountainTrue has joined a coalition of conservation groups in sending a letter to the U.S. Forest Service, signaling our intent to sue over glaring flaws in the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan.

MountainTrue Statement: 

The US Forest Service’s management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests is deeply flawed. The Forest Service put commercial logging first, ignored the best science available, and is needlessly putting several endangered bat species at risk of extinction. The endangered species that would be affected are the northern long-eared bat, Indiana bat, Virginia big-eared bat, and the gray bat. Two species that are being considered for the endangered species list — the little brown bat and the tricolored bat — would also be adversely affected. 

From the beginning of the drafting process, we’ve tried to work in partnership with the Forest Service and many other stakeholders to develop a responsible win-win plan for the environment, our economy, and the people of our region. MountainTrue and our experts remain ready and willing to help the Forest Service fix its plan and make it more ecologically responsible and more responsive to the needs of our communities.  

Our incredibly diverse ecosystems deserve a better plan. The people who love and use these forests deserve a better plan. And MountainTrue and our litigation partners are willing to go to court to win a plan that we can all be proud of. 

Read the 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue for Violations of the Endangered Species Act Related to Consultation on the Nantahala-Pisgah Land Management Plan.

Our members and supporters power our Resilient Forests program. Donate today, so we can continue to protect our old-growth and mature forests, which are critical habitats for many endangered and threatened species.

Press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity:

For immediate release: July 26, 2023

Media Contacts:
Southern Environmental Law Center: Eric Hilt, 615-921-9470, ehilt@selctn.org
MountainTrue: Karim Olaechea, 828-400-0768, karim@mountaintrue.org
Sierra Club: David Reid, 828-713-1607, daviddbreid@charter.net
The Wilderness Society: Jen Parravani, 202-601-1931, jen_parravani@tws.org
Defenders of Wildlife: Allison Cook, 202-772-3245, acook@defenders.org
Center for Biological Diversity: Jason Totoiu, 561-568-6740, jtotoiu@biologicaldiversity.org

Conservation Groups prepare for lawsuit over Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan 

ASHEVILLE, N.C. —A coalition of conservation groups sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service signaling their intent to sue unless officials fix the glaring flaws in the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan that put endangered forest bats at risk. 

On Tuesday, The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of MountainTrue, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity, sent a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue, which is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act. The letter explains how the Forest Service relied on inaccurate and incomplete information during the planning process, resulting in a Forest Plan that imperils endangered wildlife.

At its most basic level, the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan outlines where activities like logging and roadbuilding are prioritized and where they are restricted. The Plan, published in 2023, will have a significant and lasting impact on the beloved forests and the rare animals and plants that live there.

But even though these forests are a critical refuge for hundreds of rare species, the Plan prioritizes logging in the wrong places, even when it threatens endangered wildlife. For instance, some of our most critically imperiled bats are harmed by logging and need intact mature forests to survive. However, the Forest Plan aims to quintuple the amount of heavy logging, including in parts of the forest that are vitally important for forest bats. The Notice of Intent to Sue alleges the Forest Service had information showing increased risks to endangered species but withheld that information from the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees endangered species protection.

At every step of the planning process, the Forest Service ignored public concerns and the best available science about the new Plan’s harms to endangered species. Instead, the agency used misleading and inaccurate information to downplay the impacts this huge increase in logging in sensitive habitats will have on sensitive wildlife. The agency now has 60 days to reconsider its decision.

Below are statements from the Southern Environmental Law Center, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity:

“The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are home to an amazing diversity of animals and plants, including some of the most critically endangered species in the country. We cannot sit back while this irresponsible Forest Plan ignores the science, breaks the law, and puts these remarkable species at risk.” Sam Evans, leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program, said. “Forest plans are revised only every 20 years or so, and our endangered bats won’t last that long unless we get this Plan right.”

“The Forest Service’s management plan for the Nantahala Pisgah National Forests is deeply flawed. The Forest Service put commercial logging first, ignored the best science available, and is needlessly putting endangered species at risk of extinction. Our incredibly diverse ecosystems deserve a better Plan. The people who love and use these forests deserve a better Plan. And MountainTrue and our litigation partners are willing to go to court to win a Plan that we can all be proud of,” said Josh Kelly, Public Lands Field Biologist for MountainTrue.

“The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests serve as anchor points for sensitive habitat that protects a marvelous array of plant and animal species, which are increasingly under pressure. The recently released Forest Plan misses the boat for protecting key species by emphasizing activities that fragment and degrade habitat, especially for species that rely on mature and undisturbed forests. The N.C. Sierra Club will continue to work to protect the wildlife and habitats that we cannot afford to lose,” David Reid, National Forests Issue Chair for the Sierra Club, said. 

“It is unacceptable that the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan puts imperiled wildlife at even greater risk of extinction. The Forest Service has blatantly ignored the best available science and shirked its legal duties to protect forest resources at nearly every step of the way in this planning process, leading to a Plan that prioritizes logging in the wrong places and trivializes intact mature and old-growth forest habitat,” said Jess Riddle, Conservation Specialist at The Wilderness Society. “At a time when wildlife species face unprecedented threat from the climate crisis, we must do everything we can to protect the biodiversity that we have. We need to use every tool in our toolbox to safeguard healthy, connected nature, including litigation, if necessary.”

“The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are home to several endangered bat species that have already taken a terrible hit from white nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that infects them while they’re hibernating,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “These bats rely on intact, mature forests to forage and to rear their young. Heavy logging in some of their last and best habitat on the East Coast may tip the populations over the edge. We must hold the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service accountable for violating their Endangered Species Act duties to get the science right in the forest planning process.”

“It’s outrageous that this forest plan greenlights a fivefold logging increase in important bat habitat even as our bat populations plummet from disease, habitat loss and climate change,” said Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This misguided Plan will destroy tens of thousands of acres and jeopardize species like the Indiana, northern long-eared, Virginia big-eared and gray bat. We will ask a court to step in to protect these highly imperiled animals.” 



Take Action: Manage Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in line with our Climate Reality

Take Action: Manage Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in line with our Climate Reality

Take Action: Manage Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in line with our Climate Reality

Public Comments Due by July 20, 2023

Our national forests are public treasures and should be managed to maintain the health of our environment and best serve our communities’ current and future needs. The Forest Service is soliciting public feedback on how it should adapt current policies to protect, conserve, and manage mature and old-growth forests on public lands for climate resilience. 

Climate change will significantly impact our region, our uniquely bio-diverse ecosystems, and our watersheds. Yet, here in Western North Carolina, the Forest Service has maintained an outdated focus on exploiting our forests for commercial logging, and this year they finalized a new Forest Management Plan that could allow logging on 60% of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests’ one million acres, including thousands of acres of old-growth forest. 

Please provide public comment to the Forest Service asking that they update their policies to prioritize the preservation of old-growth and mature forests, which provide critical functions as wildlife habitats, carbon sinks, and pristine watersheds and sources of clean drinking water.

Need help drafting public comments? Try Nick’s Comment Generator. 

MountainTrue Board Member Nick Holshouser has developed a Comment Generator Tool that uses OpenAI to generate a short, meaningful, and unique comment. By selecting from a menu of topics, you can easily generate a first draft that you can review, edit, and further personalize. Then, all you have to do is copy and paste your comment into the Regulations.gov comment portal.  

Try the Comment Generator Now. 

Public comments are due by July 20, 2023. (Note that the original June due date is still listed on the public feedback page, but the comment deadline has been extended.)

2023 Craggy Mountain Bioblitz

2023 Craggy Mountain Bioblitz

2023 Craggy Mountain Bioblitz

Barnardsville, NC — In order to shine a light on the outstanding qualities of the Craggy Mountains, MountainTrue organized an in-person Bioblitz on June 10, during which 20 expert naturalists and 52 citizen scientists teamed up to explore the Craggies and identify as many plant and animal species as possible. The event was hosted by the Big Ivy Community Center, and participants submitted photos of their findings on the online iNaturalist platform. MountainTrue’s extended virtual Bioblitz — which concluded on June 25 — saw an additional 35 people sign up to further document the abundant biodiversity of the Craggy Mountains. 

Amanda Lytle, a biologist and herpetologist with Western Carolina University, said, “MountainTrue’s 2023 Bioblitz was my favorite activity of this summer so far! Being immersed in the beauty of the Pisgah National Forest is always a treat, but being there while surrounded by naturalists who are experts in their field is something special. I loved learning from the other group leaders who pointed out unique flora and fauna that can otherwise be easily overlooked. The Craggy Mountains are a biodiversity hotspot that should be protected for all to enjoy – from endemic salamanders to slime molds, this area has something for everyone.”

1,603 organisms were photographed during the MountainTrue Bioblitz, and 647 species have been identified. Notable finds include the northern pygmy salamander, Canada honeysuckle, deer-hair bullrush, Goldie’s fern, round-leaved orchid and a remarkable abundance of diverse moth species. The information collected by Bioblitz participants certainly documented the special character of the area and will be crucial in helping the Forest Service to better protect it by demonstrating to Congress that the Craggies should be designated as a permanently protected National Scenic Area. 

The Craggy Mountains are one of the mightiest sub-ranges of the Southern Blue Ridge, with at least nine peaks over 5,000′ and Craggy Dome topping out above 6,000′. The Craggies also have one of the greatest concentrations of old-growth forest and rare species in North Carolina; 32 species on the NC rare species list have occupied habitat in the Craggies. Due to their natural beauty and biological diversity, the Craggy Mountains have been proposed for permanent protection as a National Scenic Area. Doing so will require an act of Congress and the signature of the President. 

MountainTrue and its organizational partners have had several meetings with Congressman Chuck Edwards, Senator Thom Tillis, and Senator Ted Budd and their staff to discuss the creation of the Craggy Mountain National Scenic Area. The idea has been favorably received. MountainTrue encourages folks to stay tuned for more news about the proposed Craggy Mountain National Scenic Area. “We are hopeful that the future is bright for permanently protecting this special area,” says MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist, Josh Kelly.

MountainTrue’s Statement on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

MountainTrue’s Statement on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

MountainTrue’s Statement on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

On March 20, after 10 years of public input and planning, the Forest Service will adopt its new management plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests — a disappointing document that is significantly worse than the current plan and contradicts an executive order issued by President Biden that would protect and expand our nation’s old growth forests. 

The new plan does have a few bright spots: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will have more influence over forest management, new recommendations for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations are welcome, and the plan implements more prescribed fire and wildfire protection activities. On other key issues — like tackling our massive road maintenance backlog, developing a plan to maintain and expand our trail networks and recreation infrastructure to meet current user demand, and drafting a monitoring plan to evaluate their own management practices — the Forest Service has failed to deliver, instead putting these critical concerns on the back burner for at least the next three years. 

However, for MountainTrue, the most egregious shortcoming is that the Forest Service has placed significant old-growth forests, rare species habitat, and roadless backcountry into zones that are open to commercial logging. The Forest Service has also relaxed rules to allow ground-based logging on steep, hard-to-reach slopes — where many of our old-growth forests remain.

To be clear, MountainTrue is not against commercial logging, and we’re not concerned about the amount of logging permitted by the new forest plan. It’s essentially the same amount allowed by the old plan. Regardless of how much logging occurs — whether it’s the modest 800 acres annually of today or the eyebrow-raising 3,200-acre annual maximum, what matters most is where logging occurs. MountainTrue has provided detailed maps of existing old-growth communities and filed formal objections, and despite our best efforts, the Forest Service chose to expand the footprint of where logging can occur to 600,000 acres, more than half of the land of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. This includes 100,000 acres of natural heritage areas, roadless areas, and sensitive habitats where we will vigorously oppose any future logging projects. 

It doesn’t need to be this way. Logging is a critical part of Western North Carolina’s economy and can play an important role in establishing the kinds of wildlife habitat desired by local hunters. Half a million acres can provide more than enough timber harvests and early-successional habitat while still protecting our most treasured natural areas and recreational resources. A detailed blueprint for accomplishing this was provided to the Forest Service by the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, a coalition that brought together recreation, conservation, civic, and business interests — including timber and paper industry representatives. 

Instead, the Forest Service devised a forest plan that seems designed to pit user-interest groups against each other by allowing logging in some of our most diverse forests and pristine backcountry areas. The agency also wants the right, as it is pushing through in the Southside Project, to cut existing old-growth forest, even though the Environmental Impact Statement for the planning process discloses that there is a minimum of a 300,000-acre deficit of old-growth on Forest Service Land alone, making it the most under-represented age class in the region compared to the average over the last few millennia. 

To paper over this egregious management strategy, the Forest Service has devised its own “designated old-growth network” which fails to include existing and well-documented old-growth areas and can change significantly from plan to plan. This scheme allows the Forest Service to place relatively young trees in the old-growth network until they are old enough to log profitably decades from now. It also flies in the face of President Biden’s executive order 14072 of April 22, 2022, which, in part, seeks to “conserve America’s mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands” and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to “define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands […]” That inventory is due this April, and, if done correctly, will include tens of thousands of acres that this Forest Plan leaves open to logging.

According to executive order 14072, it is the policy of the Biden Administration to “manage forests on Federal lands, which include many mature and old-growth forests, to promote their continued health and resilience; retain and enhance carbon storage; conserve biodiversity; mitigate the risk of wildfires; enhance climate resilience; enable subsistence and cultural uses; provide outdoor recreational opportunities; and promote sustainable local economic development.” That’s a vision of forest management that we wholeheartedly support and that this Forest Plan quite simply fails to accomplish. 

The Forest Service had the chance to unify the public behind a well-balanced Forest Plan. Instead, they sided with more narrowly aligned interests inside and outside the agency and, despite a 10-year planning process, kicked many difficult decisions down the road. But the fight for our forests is far from over. You can count on MountainTrue to continue working to protect the places we share.

For media inquiries, contact: Karim Olaechea, Deputy Director of Strategy & Communications 
Phone: 828-400-0768 | Email: karim@mountaintrue.org

Helping A Member Save the Trees of the Asheville Muni Golf Course

Helping A Member Save the Trees of the Asheville Muni Golf Course

Helping A Member Save the Trees of the Asheville Muni Golf Course

On Saturday, December 3rd, 2022, I got an email from Nancy Casey, a MountainTrue member, about a proposal to cut 157 trees from the Asheville Municipal Golf Course. Nancy Casey is a resident of the Beverly Hills neighborhood and is active with the Blue Ridge Audubon. Nancy frequently walks and birds around the golf course. She can tell you what birds to expect at various times of the year at each hole and has documented some rare species, like brown-headed nuthatch and pine siskins, using the trees on the course, and knows where the local hawks nest there.

Nancy Casey

The Asheville Golf Course is a local treasure. It was constructed in 1927 and was the first golf course in the southeast to integrate in 1954. It remains an affordable and accessible course today. The old trees that line the golf course add historical significance. Trees over 100 years are common on the course, and some are over 200 years old. 

In addition to golf, the Municipal Course is a wonderful place to take a walk along shaded streets in the Beverly Hills neighborhood and is used by walkers, runners, and birders. I know the Asheville Golf Course as a nice place to forage for mushrooms amid the mature oak trees that line the course, so I was concerned when I looked into the details of the proposal. There were some very large trees on the list, and from what I know of the Municipal Golf Course, I suspected that some of them probably didn’t need to be removed. 

With a comment deadline looming on Dec 5th, I wrote a letter to the City Council and the Urban Forestry Commission asking for them to reconsider the plan. I also watched a recording of the December 5th Urban Forestry Commission meeting to learn more about the specifics. I then emailed Mark Foster, the Arborist for the City, and Chris Corl, general manager of special facilities for the City, and requested a site tour. Chris and Mark obliged, and Nancy, Bob Gale, and I met them for a tour on December 13. 

On the tour, we learned that the previous concessionaire for the Municipal Golf Course had been negligent with the grounds. The paved paths were in bad condition, and many of the greens and fairways were eroded with compacted soil and lacked grass. The city had received a large grant to spruce up the course, and part of that was to do needed tree work. Where reasonable minds differed on the proposal was that some of the trees were to be cut to allow more light for grass to grow. It seemed to me that most of the grass issues were due to poor soil conditions and trampling.

Josh Kelly takes a tree core sample to determine the age of a 120-year-old white oak that was saved from removal.

We also learned that the City Arborist did not nominate each tree for removal. As we visited each green and checked on the trees, Mark was disappointed to find that some of the trees had been misidentified and the reasons given for removal were not always accurate. There were some trees that needed to be removed for safety reasons that were not marked, and others marked for removal that were in good condition. At the end of the tour, Mark and Chris let us know that the list would be updated. 

In early January, a new list of tree work at the Municipal Golf Course was released, and 46 trees — mostly large, old oak trees — would no longer be cut down. While I still don’t agree with some of the trees that were removed, I think the final outcome was acceptable and a big improvement. Overall, the interactions with the City Staff were positive, and I was very impressed with their professionalism. Nancy’s activism and leadership were key for raising awareness in the community and turning out more than 100 concerned letters and emails. I would have been unaware of the controversy if not for her efforts. I think MountainTrue brought more expertise to the conversation.

While Nancy is the hero of this story, I’m glad I was able to help. Nancy said, “your work really helped turn the tide!” MountainTrue’s history is filled with normal people who banded together to make a difference. Even now, when MountainTrue’s paid staff is larger than ever, a big part of our job remains helping normal people protect the shared resources of their communities.

MountainTrue offers to bid on reckless Southside Timber Sale to stop important old-growth forests from being cut

MountainTrue offers to bid on reckless Southside Timber Sale to stop important old-growth forests from being cut

MountainTrue offers to bid on reckless Southside Timber Sale to stop important old-growth forests from being cut

ASHEVILLE, NC — Today, the US Forest Service closed bidding on 98 acres of the Southside Timber Sale (pictured above), which aims to eventually log 300 acres of North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, including critical tracts of old-growth forests. To stop the logging of old-growth forest, MountainTrue is offering to pay the Forest Service to keep the 37 acres of trees in place and the Forest intact. 

This offer would protect exceptional old-growth forests from unnecessary logging and ensure the Forest Service recoups its investments in this sale. In fact, the Forest Service would make more money by accepting payment from MountainTrue, which is offering to match any offers for the value of the timber. Leaving the forest in place would free the Forest Service from the expense of administering the sale and overseeing roadbuilding and logging activities. 

While the Forest Service typically does not accept payment to keep forests intact, this extraordinary offer is an effort to stop an extraordinarily harmful sale. 

“We are willing to pay the Forest Service in order to save this old-growth forest and the critical habitat that it provides for native species,” explains Josh Kelly. “Our bid is both the most environmentally responsible and profitable option for the Forest Service.”

The 37 acres targeted by the Southside Timber Sale on Brushy Mountain are incredibly important ecosystems. Old-growth forests are made of trees that have been standing for centuries and hold tremendous amounts of carbon. Cutting these trees releases that carbon – tons of it – into the atmosphere, where it will worsen the impacts of climate change. Keeping these remarkable tracts of forest in the ground is a key step to fighting the climate crisis. 

These forests also provide habitat for what experts recently documented as one of the most important green salamander populations in the state. Cutting these forests threatens this already-imperiled species. In fact, Forest Service leaders have ignored concerns from the agency’s own scientists about the impact logging could have on this already-imperiled species.

The Forest Service acknowledges that 17 acres on Brushy Mountain are old-growth and knows about the presence of the critically imperiled Blue Ridge lineage of green salamanders at the site but still insists on cutting this forest. Logging these critical tracts of forest will threaten at-risk species, worsen the impacts of climate change, and do permanent damage to these important ecosystems. USFS leaders should instead preserve these forests for generations by allowing MountainTrue to purchase the carbon rights to the forests for sale at Brushy Mountain in Southside Timber Sale – or by scrapping this misguided project altogether.


Have questions? Email Josh at josh@mountaintrue.org.