MountainTrue’s Response to Forest Service Message on the Buck Project

MountainTrue’s Response to Forest Service Message on the Buck Project

Resilient Forests

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist, Josh Kelly, next to a “temporary road” built by the Forest Service in 2012 in Nantahala National Forest. 


This May, MountainTrue spread the word and made a call for public comments against the Forest Service’s preferred alternative for the Buck Project, which we believe is
one of the worst timber cutting proposals in the history of Nantahala National Forest. 

It came to our attention that many of the people who commented on the project through our online action alert received a message from Steverson Moffat, NEPA Planning Team Leader for the Forest Service, and they were curious as to what to make of it and how to respond. While we’re glad that the Forest Service is taking the time to engage with people who comment on their projects, we have a very different interpretation of the Buck Project than what was shared in the Forest Service’s message.

In the Forest Service’s response (which is included below), it is clear that the Forest Service sees a “need” to create more young forest in the Buck Project Area for disturbance-dependent wildlife species like the ruffed grouse. Not surprisingly, the majority of the logging projects in Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests use exactly the same justification. It is true that scrub, shrub, woodland (an open forest), and grassland habitats and the species that depend on them are in trouble because natural processes like fire, floods, and large-scale grazing have been interrupted or destroyed by a largely developed landscape.

Sustainable timber harvest can be used as a surrogate for these suppressed natural processes to provide habitat for declining species; however, we don’t believe that we must sacrifice the last wild areas of our National Forests and habitat for sensitive rare species to make way for open habitat. Our National Forests are large enough for both values, but only some areas are suitable for each.

As the Forest Service notes, there are over 20,000 acres of public land in the Buck Project Area. What is not noted is that this is one of the wildest places left in the Appalachians. Over 400 acres of timber harvest can be attained there without cutting existing old-growth, habitat for rare species, or building roads into areas that are ideal for backcountry management. A similar amount could be harvested from the developed footprint of the area every 10-20 years in perpetuity. To get at more will require road building into the Chunky Gal potential Wilderness Addition and cutting in sensitive habitats. 

One of the biggest concerns we have with Mr. Moffat’s letter is the claim that the proposed road building and logging won’t affect the status of Chunky Gal in the new forest plan. Building miles of roads and cutting 20-acre blocks of this area will decrease the Buck Project Area’s natural qualities, making it much less likely to be recommended as Wilderness or Backcountry in the new forest plan. The planning rule literally uses “apparent naturalness” as the standard for whether areas qualify for Wilderness and Backcountry management.  If the Chunky Gal area isn’t managed as Backcountry in the new plan, it leaves the area open to development with road systems in the future.

The Forest Service also makes the assertion that temporary roads are “an attempt to tread as lightly as possible on the landscape while meeting management objectives.”  In fact, “temporary roads” are no more temporary than any other logging roads. They would need to be 14-20 feet wide in order to support the large equipment and trucks needed to harvest hundreds of acres of forest. These roads would be temporary in name only, and would persist for decades on the ground. 

Furthermore, Forest Service regulations state that for a road to be categorized as “temporary” it can only be used once. Some of these “temporary” roads have already been used in two other timber sales in the past 20 years by the Forest Service. If a road will knowingly be used repeatedly, it is required to be added to the official Forest Service system. The problem is, that requires maintenance money that the Forest Service doesn’t have. If roads aren’t maintained, erosion into streams is a significant hazard. The Forest Service currently has an $8.4 billion backlog for needed road maintenance nationwide. When the Forest Service disregards its own regulations in order to get out of road maintenance requirements at the expense of water quality, it’s fair to call that an accounting trick. Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests need to maintain the 2,300 miles of road they already have before building new ones.

The message also states that “the Forest Service specialists who are tasked with managing the Nantahala National Forest take seriously the responsibility entrusted to them by the American people and strive to balance the needs of the ecosystem with the often conflicting desires of the public.”

The Forest Service has every opinion inside its ranks that you find in the American public at large. There are many Forest Service employees who disagree with aspects of the Buck Project as proposed. To frame the proposal for this project, which would develop the area with miles of roads and hundreds of acres of logging, as being consistent with the needs of the ecosystem is arguable at best.

MountainTrue believes the solution is to find the places where society’s need for wood, wildlife’s need for scrubby habitat, and the conditions of the forest align so that timber harvest makes sense at all three levels. That’s why we support a modified Alternative D that does not build new roads, stays out of existing old-growth forest, and does not harm natural heritage areas.

It is clear at the local and the national level that the Forest Service wants to cut more timber. The way to accomplish that is not to harm the fantastic biodiversity of the Blue Ridge Mountains by developing the last wild places and cutting areas identified as biological gems like the disputed parts of the Buck Project. We can achieve all our goals in a much more environmentally sound way by opting for a modified Alternative D.

Original Message From The Forest Service

You’re receiving this message because you commented on the Tusquitee Ranger District’s Buck Project during the notice and comment period in April and May of 2019. Under normal circumstances, you would have received this reply within about two weeks of the end of the comment period, but I had some family business that took me out of town for a few days in mid and late-May and, well, things got a little backed up.

I have taken the liberty of attaching the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to this message that was (and still is) available for review during the N&C period. Maps of the project area and proposed treatments, which are too megabyte-rich for email, can be found by following this link and clicking the “Analysis” tab: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50345. I strongly encourage you to read the EA because it addresses many of the issues that you have raised.

To directly respond to specific points and concerns most of you shared with us in your correspondence:

  •         Everyone who works for the National Forests in North Carolina also loves and appreciates our public lands and the natural values they provide, including those listed in your messages: clean water, wildlife habitat, hunting, fishing, recreation, solitude, nature study, and much more.
  •         Yes, the Buck Project analysis area is part of an iconic Appalachian landscape, and needs our care. Referencing Chapter 1 of the EA,
  • There are currently 111 acres of forest in the 0 – 10 year age class, and 18 acres in the 11 – 20 year age class. This habitat type, once too abundant in the wake of extractive logging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is now rare across the Nantahala National Forest (EA at page 7). Young forest stands, those 20 years and younger, typically, provide critical age class and structural diversity that provide critical habitat for a wide variety of non-game and game wildlife species that require interior forest early successional habitat (ESH) to complete some, or all, of their life cycles (please see the references cited and hyperlinked on pages 6 and 7 of the EA). The Forest Service is balancing this need for ESH while also conserving older forest stands, which also provide important habitat for non-game and game wildlife.
  • Currently, 14,222 acres of the Buck Analysis area are 81 years and older; by the completion of the proposed project, this total will increase to 17,811 acres, or 86% of the analysis area.
  •         Care has been taken to locate treatments in areas that do not contain habitat for rare plants or, where work is proposed near rare plant populations, buffers and exclusion zones have been established to maintain appropriate habitat conditions (EA at pages 35 and 36).
  •         The Forest Service has evaluated the proposed actions on areas that have been identified as lands that may be suitable for wilderness and has determined that project activities would have no impacts to the wilderness characteristics of the Boteler and Chunky Gal inventory areas (EA at pages 28 and 29).
  •         Potential impacts of temporary road prisms and other project activities on soil and water resources are presented in sections 3.2.1, 3.6, and 3.7 of the EA.
  •         Proposing temporary roads is not, from our perspective, an “accounting trick”, but rather an attempt to tread as lightly as possible on the landscape while meeting management objectives.

Other topics addressed in the EA include the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects to management indicator species, communities, and special habitats; proposed, endangered, and threatened species; regionally sensitive and forest concern species; old growth forest; air resources; timber resources; heritage resources; recreation resources; scenery; social and economic considerations; road management; and climate change.

The Forest Service specialists who are tasked with managing the Nantahala National Forest take seriously the responsibility entrusted to them by the American people and strive to balance the needs of the ecosystem with the often conflicting desires of the public. We are currently reviewing all comments on the Buck Project and anticipate releasing a draft decisional EA and draft Decision Notice later this summer. You will be receiving those documents by email when they are released for the 45 day objection period. Until then, should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me.

Best, 

Steverson

Steverson Moffat, Ph.D.

NEPA Planning Team Leader, Forest Service, Nantahala National Forest


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.

Take Action: Protect the Public’s Role in Public Lands

Take Action: Protect the Public’s Role in Public Lands

 

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 Old-Growth Forest and Vibrant Ecosystems in the Buck Project

Protect Old-Growth Forest and Vibrant Ecosystems in the Buck Project

 


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.

Take Part in the Very First BioBlitz of the Nantahala Gorge

Take Part in the Very First BioBlitz of the Nantahala Gorge

Resilient Forests

Join MountainTrue, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Nantahala River Lodge for the Nantahala Gorge BioBlitz – a citizen-science program that will pair residents with more than a dozen expert naturalists to document one of the exceptional natural areas of Nantahala National Forest.

What: Nantahala Gorge BioBlitz, presented by MountainTrue, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Nantahala River Lodge.
Where: Nantahala Outdoor Center, 13077 Highway 19 W, Bryson City, NC 28713
When: Meet up on Saturday, June 1 at 9 a.m. at the Big Wesser restaurant at the Nantahala Outdoor Center

The Nantahala Gorge BioBlitz is an opportunity for people who love the great outdoors and want to learn more about the plants and creatures who call Nantahala Gorge their home. Nantahala Gorge is characterized by the unique geology of the Murphy Marble Belt. This soft rack has been carved by the Nantahala River into a scenic gorge that is known to harbor many unique species reliant on calcium – a soil nutrient in short supply in the Blue Ridge. Despite its outstanding character, the Nantahala Gorge has never had a systematic biological inventory and the BioBlitz is likely to turn up new records for the area.

“BioBlitzes are a great opportunity for people connect with and learn about the natural world around them,” explains MountainTrue Public Lands Biologist Josh Kelly. “We’re going to be documenting a broad range of life at Nantahala Gorge, including butterflies, beetles, vascular plants, bryophytes, lichens, birds, mammals, mushrooms, and more.”

Expert hike leaders will include faculty from UNC Asheville, Western Carolina University, Mars Hill University as well as naturalists from the U.S. Forest Service’s Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory,, Asheville Mushroom Club, Tangled Bank Conservation and MountainTrue.

We will lead groups for all fitness levels, from relaxed hikes to vigorous climbs up the side of the the gorge. Participants are encouraged to bring at least two quarts of water, rain gear, sturdy footwear and their own lunches.

This event is free and open to the public. Sign up below.

 


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.

Did You Miss Our Annual Gathering? You Can Still Take Action Here!

Did You Miss Our Annual Gathering? You Can Still Take Action Here!

Resilient Forests

We had a wonderful evening hanging out with MountainTrue members at our Annual Gathering on Wednesday night. If you missed it, you can still take action to protect WNC’s mountains here. We hope you’ll get involved and join us next time!

Tell City Council: Fund Climate Resilience

What It Is: As members of the Asheville Regional Transit Coalition (ARTC) and the 100% Renewables Coalition, we’ve had some exciting victories this year. Asheville City Council passed a new Transit Master Plan that lays out a path to more frequent and widespread transit service in Asheville over the next ten years, and City Council adopted a 100% Renewable Energy Resolution to transition all city municipal operations to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

What You Can Do: These plans are a great first step, but now we need City Council to commit to turning them into action. Tell City Council: Thank you for voting to approve the 100% Renewable Energy Resolution and Transit Master Plan. Now, commit to funding Asheville’s 100% Renewable Energy Resolution and Transit Master Plan starting in next year’s city budget.

 

I Heart Pisgah: Protect Your Favorite Places in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest

 

What It Is:
MountainTrue is a proud member if I Heart Pisgah, a group of over 100 organizations and businesses and thousands of individuals who support more protected areas in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest.

What You Can Do:

Go to the I Heart Pisgah website here to take action to protect your favorite places in the national forest. You can write about what you love to do there and why you want to see it protected – the more you make it your own, the better. Your comments will go to the Forest Service before the release of the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan.

Blue Horizons Project: Make Your Home And Business More Energy-Efficient

What It Is: The Blue Horizons Project is an outgrowth of MountainTrue’s work to shut down the Asheville coal plant and encourage Duke Energy to increase their investment in energy efficiency programs.

Buncombe County’s energy usage is continuing to increase, and energy demand is highest on the coldest days of winter. If this pattern continues at the current rate, a new natural gas plant known as a “peaker plant” would need to be built to serve Buncombe County to meet the highest peak demand in winter. The Blue Horizons Project believes that instead of building more fossil-fuel plants, we can organize as a community to use energy more efficiently and explore clean energy alternatives.

What You Can Do: Go to the Blue Horizons website to find ways to make your home and/or business more energy-efficient. You can also sign up for the Blue Horizons newsletter or contact Blue Horizons Project Coordinator Sophie Mullinax to help more people in Buncombe County save energy and money through the project.

 

Family-Friendly Affordable Buncombe: Support Buncombe County Families

What It Is: MountainTrue is a leading organization of Family-Friendly Affordable Buncombe, an initiative to leverage the unique opportunity provided to our community by the sale of Mission Health in order to make our region more affordable for Buncombe County families and workers. Specifically, we believe the new property tax revenue created by the sale of Mission Health should support early childhood education, attainable family housing and better public transit.

What You Can Do: Learn more about Family-Friendly Affordable Buncombe on our website and sign on as a supporter. 


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.

Florence is Coming. Here Are Some Resources to Help Keep You Safe

Resilient Forests

Hurricane path shifts south. Heavy rains forecast for WNC.

With the path of Hurricane Florence shifting south, parts of Western North Carolina could see high winds and significant rain this weekend.

For the latest storm tracking reports and forecasts, check out:
https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ graphics_at1.shtml?cone# contents
Or https://google.org/crisismap/ 2018-florence

Water Safety

Our French Broad, Green and Watauga Riverkeepers and the Broad River Alliance urge paddlers to use common sense and stay out of rushing rivers and high winds until they return to safe levels. Do not try to paddle during a hurricane.

You can check the French Broad River Gauge page to see if it is safe to paddle:
https://frenchbroadpaddle.com/gauges

For other WNC rivers, you can check the USGS websitehttps://waterdata.usgs.gov/nc/nwis/current/?type=flow

Park Closures

The Blue Ridge Parkway has issued an emergency evacuation order for its campsites. For more Parkway updates:
https://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/conditions.htm

Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests have issued a closure for all campgrounds and recreation sites, day use or overnight, and asked that people not use public trails until the storm passes: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/nfsnc/alerts-notices/?aid=49130

Great Smoky Mountain National Park has yet to issue any hurricane-related advisories or closures. For more updates, visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

Landslides and Flooding

Because it’s been a wet summer, Florence’s prolonged rain storms have the potential to cause flooding and landslides.

Check out the NC Department of Public Safety’s preparedness resources for steps you can take before, during and after a flood or landslide to lower your risks. This includes not walking or driving through moving water. Six inches of moving water can sweep you off your feet and 11 inches can move a vehicle.

Floods: https://readync.org/EN/Informed_NatHaz_Flood.html
Landslides: https://readync.org/EN/Informed_NatHaz_Landslide.html

Other Resources

Created by the United Way of North Carolina, the North Carolina 2-1-1 site offers community health and human services resources and services, and real-time support and communications during emergencies and disasters: https://www.nc211.org/

Duke Energy has a special online resource for Hurricane Florence with links to view current outages and report new ones: https://www.dukeenergyupdates.com/florence/north-carolina

The Department of Public Safety also has a special resource page for Hurricane Florence with updates on evacuations, road conditions and shelter locations: https://www.ncdps.gov/florence

The storm’s path could shift over the next few days and forecasts could change dramatically. Stay informed, be safe and get prepared in the days to come.


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.