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:

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

MountainTrue Staff Spotlight: Forest Plan

MountainTrue Staff Spotlight: Forest Plan

Over the rivers and through the woods in

Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests

A brief chat with these amazing MountainTrue team members working hard to protect our region’s beloved national forests:

How long have you been involved in this process?

Bob: “I’ve been involved since the Forest Service’s planning process officially started in 2013. Prior to this, I also attended the first meetings held by The Wilderness Society (I think in 2011) when it first began to pull together a partnership of stakeholders in anticipation of the start of the planning process.”

Callie:I’ve been involved in this forest planning process almost since the beginning, first as Executive Director of the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition and then in my current role as MountainTrue’s Western Regional Director. I helped organize the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership in 2011. Our initial focus was on making the best Forest Plan ever, but what we’ve really created over the past decade is a ‘lasting voice for innovative management and public investment in the public forests of North Carolina’s mountains for the future.’

Josh:I’ve been involved with this Forest Plan revision for almost 10 years. MountainTrue was involved with the very first Forest Plan in 1987. We championed a petition to the Chief of the Forest Service that led to the 1987 Plan being remanded and the creation of the 1994 Amendment.”

Why is this an important part of your work and why is it important to you on a personal level?

Bob:It’s an important continuation of the forest protection work I did for what was then the Western North Carolina Alliance (now MountainTrue) during the decade before Josh came aboard. As a botanist/forest ecologist, I’ve always felt it’s important to work to keep our mountain ecosystems as healthy and secure as possible, given the continuing challenges from development, fragmentation, poor forest management, and climate change. On a personal level, my heart is in these mountains!”

Callie:Almost 20 years ago, I chose to make my home in Western North Carolina because of the amount of public land in these mountains. Nantahala National Forest is only eight miles from my house by car. It’s the view out my window — it’s my backyard!”

Josh:The new Forest Plan will set the management direction for over one million acres of Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests for the next 20 years. These forests are incomparable in their ecological and social value. They support thousands of species — many of them found nowhere else, they nourish the hearts and souls of millions of people, and they’re a huge part of important traditions.”

What’s one thing you want folks to know about the Revised Forest Plan?

Bob:Because the Forest Plan has not become finalized (due to the ongoing objection process), I’m not quite sure yet. But, there’s currently a strong focus on timbering that people should know about. I do think it’s encouraging that we have a diversity of partner organizations in place who have stated their commitment to helping the Forest Service implement the Plan over the next two decades. Their collaboration will be essential in shaping good management out of whatever becomes the Final Plan.”

Callie:While water quality and riparian protections are pretty strong, the Plan sets up the next 20 years to continue the tradition of making Nantahala the ‘working forest’ and Pisgah the ‘recreational forest.’ While timber harvest and recreation will of course continue to occur on both forests in a variety of locations, the emphasis for Nantahala is much more oriented toward timber harvest.”

Josh:The Revised Plan puts too much emphasis on logging cove forests. Southern Blue Ridge Cove Forests are some of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet. They grow the biggest trees in our region, support diverse understories of wildflowers and medicinal plants, protect water quality, and have historically been over-exploited. The new Forest Plan should instead put more emphasis on thinning and burning the fire-adapted forests that respond positively to timber harvest and are suffering from a lack of fire.”

What’s your favorite location in one or both of the forests?

Bob:My favorite conservation-related places are the old-growth forests in Nantahala’s Big Choga Creek area and Pisgah’s Daniel Ridge area. I’m also equally fond of the rare Southern Appalachian bogs in both national forests. My favorite recreation area is probably Pisgah’s Pilot Cove Loop (which is also a Natural Heritage Area), but it’s hard to pick out a single place!”

Callie:Fires Creek. Hands down. With its crystal clear, cold waters, unique biodiversity, trout fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming, and hunting, Fires Creek offers something for everyone!”

Josh:There are many great areas in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, but none are better to me than Santeetlah Creek in Graham County. It’s just an incredible landscape that inspires me every time I visit.”

Josh’s Forest Plan update:

We and our organizational partners had a great time at the Pisgah Party + Rally for the Forest, organized by I Heart Pisgah on August 1, 2022. Over 500 people attended and made clear that too much of Nantahala and Pisgah are being prioritized for logging. The Objection meetings hosted by the Forest Service from August 2-4 went well. The dialogue was high-quality and our team was well prepared — we made our case and the Forest Service should realize they need to make some changes to the new Forest Plan. We hope the Forest Service seriously reviews and implements the solutions included in the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership’s proposal. The Forest Service expects to respond to all objections and finalize the Forest Plan by late 2022. Click here to read our blog detailing our objections to the Draft Forest Plan.

More Forest News

ACTION ALERT: Protect Our Forests and Farms from Sprawl

ACTION ALERT: Protect Our Forests and Farms from Sprawl

ACTION ALERT: Protect Our Forests and Farms from Sprawl

We need you to email the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to ask them to take action to prevent sprawl and protect our forests, farmland, and rural communities.

Henderson County is drafting its new Comprehensive Plan — the blueprint that will guide growth and development here for the next twenty years. As part of that process, they have surveyed members of our community, and that survey shows broad support for conservation.

Henderson County residents identified:

  • protection of open spaces and forests (55.30%),
  • farmland preservation (45.16%), and
  • conservation (35.04%) of unique natural areas

as their top 3 priorities for the 2045 Henderson County Comprehensive Plan.

Unfortunately, MountainTrue has serious concerns that the comprehensive plan being created by the county’s consultants is out of step with the desires and needs of Henderson County residents. The County has circulated a draft Future Land Use Map that prioritizes sprawl — development that spreads too far into the countryside, unnecessarily destroying forests, farmland, and rural communities — at great expense to taxpayers and against the desires of county residents.

So we need you to act today. Email your Henderson County Commissioners, and ask that they adopt a smart, responsible and sustainable comprehensive plan.

Watch: How Henderson County can accommodate growth without sprawl.

Chris Joyell, MountainTrue’s Healthy Communities Director, discusses how Henderson County can welcome far more population growth than the state anticipates without causing sprawl. Watch.

Learn More About the Henderson County Comprehensive Plan

Henderson County’s new Comprehensive Plan will serve as the blueprint for growth and development over the next twenty years. Learn about how this plan will help determine how our communities grow and develop to meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population, and increased pressures on our built environment.

Does MountainTrue care about trees? You bet your Ash we do!

Does MountainTrue care about trees? You bet your Ash we do!

Does MountainTrue care about trees? You bet your Ash we do!

Pictured above: MountainTrue’s AmeriCorps Forest Keeper, Ellianna McLaughlin, stands at the base of a large ash tree in Pisgah National Forest.


From April to June 2022, MountainTrue’s Public Lands team re-treated hundreds of ash trees in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests to continue protecting them against the emerald ash borer. We’ve treated approximately 1,200 ash trees since 2017 with help from our trusted partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Many thanks to our stellar MountainTrue volunteers and interns, the wonderful folks at Appalachian Arborists, and our ATC partners for making 2022’s successful treatment season a true “teamwork makes the dream work” scenario. 

Click here to read more about this year’s treatment season and our partnership with ATC in more detail. 

Quick facts:

What is the emerald ash borer?

The emerald ash borer is a nonnative invasive insect that was first identified in Michigan in 2002. This invasive beetle has spread to 35 states since then, including North Carolina. 

What does the emerald ash borer do?

Emerald ash borer larvae bore into the bark of ash trees to feed on the cambium — a cell layer that transports nutrients throughout the tree. The beetles girdle the trees as they feed on the cambium, causing them to die. The devastating effects of the emerald ash borer were seen throughout our treatment areas as the giant ash trees we left untreated began to fall. However, with a highly effective treatment method, MountainTrue has been able to save thousands of ash trees over the last several years. 

Where can I see treated ash trees? 

Hike along the Moffett Laurel section of the Appalachian Trail or make a pit stop off the Blue Ridge Parkway and hike the section between the Mills River Valley Overlook and Stony Bald View to see the thriving, treated ash trees! Pro tip: you can also use this as an opportunity to support MountainTrue by taking part in the 40th-anniversary Hike-a-Thon