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:

Make your voice heard: Duke Energy’s rate hikes are unfair!

Make your voice heard: Duke Energy’s rate hikes are unfair!

Make your voice heard: Duke Energy’s rate hikes are unfair!

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) recently approved the disappointing Carbon Plan, which gives Duke Energy the green light to pursue a combination of energy sources, including gas and nuclear, to achieve North Carolina’s carbon reduction goals. Now, before any concrete plan of action is presented, Duke Energy Progress is asking NCUC to approve rate hikes that will be imposed on customers for the next three consecutive years. This three-year rate structure was authorized as part of the legislation that also mandated the creation of the Carbon Plan.

You have a chance to make your voice heard! NCUC is hosting a series of public hearings across the state, and they kick off in the mountains on March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Haywood County Courthouse:

What: Duke Energy Progress Rate Hike Public Hearing

When: Monday, March 6, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Haywood County Courthouse, 285 N. Main St, Courtroom 2-A, Waynesville, NC

Energy is getting more expensive, burdening everyone, especially low-income households. Last summer, customers experienced an average monthly energy bill increase of $10.58 due to rising gas prices. The following monthly increases are expected on the average residential electric bill if Duke Energy Progress gets its way: 

  • $14.72 per month starting fall 2023, followed by 
  • $5.62 per month in 2024, followed by
  • $5.21 per month in 2025 

By 2026, the average annual residential electric bill will be $306.06 higher than it is today. To put this in perspective, workers making minimum wage will have to work an extra two and a half weeks per year to pay their energy bills if this rate hike is approved. Duke Energy Progress customers already spend an average of 19% more on their electric bills than Duke Energy Carolinas customers. Why should Progress customers’ rates go up even more? Check this map to find out if you’re a Duke Progress or Duke Carolinas customer. 

Duke’s justification for the rate hikes is largely for new distribution and transmission grid upgrades. Making our grid more reliable is important, and we need to build out the power distribution grid to better accommodate new renewable energy development like wind and solar. But, in addition to building out a robust transmission grid, Duke needs to maximize investment in energy efficiency measures to help low-income customers offset rising energy costs. Duke now has the ability to use “performance-based ratemaking” mechanisms that incentivize clean energy investments to benefit both the utility and the public. Duke underutilized this opportunity in its rate hike application. NCUC should aggressively require that Duke’s profits be tied to achieving public policy goals such as low-income energy affordability, decarbonization, and investments in energy efficiency and distributed renewable energy resources.

We need to tell NCUC to minimize rate increases on customers, advance aggressive goals around energy efficiency, affordability, and renewable sources through performance-based ratemaking, and pursue other strategies to protect and support low-income customers from rising costs. Be there on March 6 to make your voice heard!

For more detailed talking points and pointers for how to engage in the hearing, click here. Thanks to our good partners at NC Sierra Club for pulling these together!

Septic System Facts & Tips

Septic System Facts & Tips

Septic System Facts & Tips

Here at MountainTrue, we’re all about taking practical steps to improve water quality and lower your environmental footprint at home. If you don’t live in close proximity to a city or town, chances are high that you have a septic system. Onsite septic systems treat wastewater on residential lots and usually include a concrete tank and a drain field. 

When used correctly, septic systems have many benefits. Proper use reduces the risk of diseases and exposure to harmful pathogens by treating wastewater before it reaches surface drinking water sources or waters used for recreation. Decentralized waste systems also lower the infrastructure and energy costs communities would otherwise put towards collecting and treating wastewater. 


How Septic Systems Work

Septic systems treat the wastewater going through your drains and slowly release wastewater into a drainage field to neutralize pathogens, pollutants, and other contaminants before the water transitions back into the natural water cycle. A typical system separates the solids and oils — the sludge — from the rest of the liquid waste — the effluent — which then exits the tank into the drain field through perforated pipes surrounded by gravel. The water percolates, filters, and purifies as it continues going down through the drainage field soil. Here’s a visual representation of a septic system in action.


Septic System Problems

Problems with septic systems usually arise as systems age or when maintenance is neglected. Septic tanks should be inspected and pumped every three to five years, depending on the household size. Because the sludge remains in the tank, it needs to be removed before it fills the tank and causes septic system failure. System failures can lead to costly repairs, hazardous waste overflows, and excess nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) infiltrating groundwater sources. If improperly treated sewage leaches into nearby drinking waters, it can cause severe illness to those who come in contact with the water.

Other potential issues can arise when improper waste products, such as harmful chemicals and grease/fats, are disposed of down the drain. Harmful chemicals can kill helpful bacteria and other organisms that break down the wastewater, and grease/fats can lead to clogged drains or pipes. Additionally, disposing of bulky food waste and slow decomposing materials down your drains can drastically increase the amount of waste buildup in your septic tank.

Microplastic dispersion into the environment is a little-known problem in which septic systems play a prominent role. Microplastics — pieces of plastic that continuously break down into smaller pieces over time — are usually too small to be filtered by gravel and sand. As a result, microplastics and their chemical additives often leach into surface water and groundwater. 

While plastic waste and litter contribute to microplastic pollution, many folks are unaware that personal care items and laundry can also be a source of microplastic pollution. Clothing items made of polyester, nylon, rayon, or spandex shed microfibers when washed. And even though microbeads were banned from rinse-off cosmetics in 2015, they are still allowed to be used in makeup, deodorants, and lotions. Individual consumers can mitigate household microplastic pollution by: 

  • Wearing clothes made from natural fibers and reducing consumption of clothing made from synthetic materials, when possible. 
  • Installing a microfiber filter on the household washing machine.
  • Washing clothing made from synthetic materials in laundry bags and/or throwing microplastic collection balls into laundry loads.
  • Doing laundry less often with fuller loads. 


How To Locate Your Septic Tank and Drain field

It’s important that you can identify the location of your septic tank on your property. The easiest way to find your septic tank is to obtain a copy of your septic system permit from the local health department. A septic system permit will indicate the approximate location of your tank, drain field, and potentially a secondary drainage area (only found if your home was built after the 1980s). 

You can also locate your tank by following the pipes that extend from your home into your yard. First, you’ll need to locate the main sewer outlet pipe, which is usually four inches in diameter and typically found in the basement or crawl space. Note where the pipe exits the house and go outside to the same location. Using a thin metal stake, probe every two feet or so, following the pipeline underground as closely as possible. Septic tanks are normally located 10-25 feet away from the house and are no closer than three feet. As soon as your probe strikes a flat concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene surface, you’ll know you’ve found your tank.

A septic tank’s lid may be visible above ground in most newer housing developments. If the septic tank lid is underground (common for older homes), you may be able to locate it by using a metal detector. Another alternative is to use a flushable transmitter — once flushed, it can be tracked to the inlet area of the septic tank.


Action Steps For a Safe and Effective Septic System

Here are nine important practices to consider when maintaining your own septic system: 

  1. Do not overload your system with water. Conserve water by avoiding excessive use and fixing leaky pipes and dripping faucets.
  2. Have solids pumped from your septic tank every three to five years. Maintenance schedules will depend on the tank size and the number of users.
  3. Keep the soil over the drain field covered with grass or other shallow-rooted plants to prevent erosion. Deep roots can clog systems. Maintain a healthy stand of grass to prevent erosion and excessive infiltration of water or ponding. 
  4. Do not drive on or otherwise compact the soil above the drain field.
  5. Flush only toilet tissue and human waste down the toilet. Septic systems are not designed to treat pet waste.
  6. Do not use toilet cleaners that hang in the tank, as they can corrode your toilet’s inner workings.
  7. When possible, refrain from using your garbage disposal. Do not dump coffee grounds, grease, oils, or fats down your drains.
  8. Do not use harsh household cleaners or put other toxic chemicals like bleach, paint, solvents, or pesticides down the drain.
  9. Learn the signs of a malfunctioning or failing system. Backed-up water in drains or toilets, abnormally green vegetation, soggy areas over the drain field, and a foul smell could all indicate system failure. 

Septic systems are excellent residential waste treatment options if they are properly maintained. Learn more by checking out the EPA’s SepticSmart program, and stay tuned for our upcoming MountainTrue University session! 


Is your septic system in need of some TLC? MountainTrue has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to provide septic repair funds to qualifying property owners in Buncombe, Cherokee, and Henderson counties! Click here to learn more and apply. 

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

Protect Public Health – and the Jobs and Businesses that Rely on Clean Water

A recent report conducted by economists at Western Carolina University commissioned by the French Broad River Partnership found the total economic impact of the French Broad River and its tributaries is $3.8 billion annually, and river-reliant businesses create or maintain 38,554 jobs each year. In 2015, more than 55,000 people used a commercial outfitter to enjoy the French Broad, and thousands more used the river without an outfitter. 

Unfortunately, bacteria pollution threatens this economic engine by making the watershed unsafe for the thousands of people who play in it every year. Contaminated water poses health problems, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and infections. 

Water quality testing in the heavily-used French Broad River watershed indicates the presence of E. coli and fecal coliform at levels that are unsafe for human exposure much of the time. One of the most popular areas for recreation, a 19-mile section of the French Broad River – from the Asheville Regional Airport,  through the Biltmore Estate and the River Arts District in downtown Asheville – was added to NC’s list of impaired waterways in 2022.

To protect public health and the jobs and businesses that rely on safe recreational waters, MountainTrue supports the following initiatives to reduce bacterial pollution:

  • Increase local WNC funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC rivers and streams, especially the French Broad River which, as mentioned above, was recently listed as impaired for fecal coliform. Unfortunately, demand for state funding to help WNC farmers afford improvements that would reduce this pollution far outstrips the current budget. Expanding state funding for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) to meet this demand is critical to improving recreational water quality in WNC. We would like to request a $2 million nonrecurring allocation to SWCDs in the French Broad Watershed, allocated through the existing Agricultural Cost-Share Program, specifically for livestock operation improvement projects.  
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s SWCDs to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution in impaired waters.  Like the cost share program for farmers, funding for CCAP assistance is insufficient to meet demand. Providing WNC SWCD’s with an additional $500,000 for the CCAP program will significantly reduce stormwater pollution in rivers and streams already impacted by bacterial pollution. 

Other policy and funding initiatives that MountainTrue supports:

  • Abundant Housing Legislation – Opportunities for dense, energy-efficient housing located close to jobs reduce energy demand and transportation emissions. We support legislation to address housing availability and affordability.
  • Dam Removal Fund Implementation – The NCGA previously allocated $7.5 million to remove antiquated dams on waterways across WNC. MountainTrue is committed to advancing policies that give state agencies the support they need to advance dam removal projects efficiently.
  • Expand Transportation Funding – NC’s transportation funding relies on the gas tax, which is diminishing as people drive less and vehicles become more efficient. We support legislation that creates new sources of funding and expands the use to include stand-alone bike-ped projects.
  • Stormwater management reform for redevelopment projects – Recent amendments to G.S. 143‑214.7 deny local governments the option of requiring stormwater mitigation on redevelopment projects. We support legislation to repeal those changes.
  • Safe Passage Fund – As roadway construction creates new barriers to long-established wildlife corridors, inevitably, animals are increasingly encountering humans and their vehicles. We are joining a coalition of organizations seeking $10 million to support wildlife crossing projects.
  • Agency staffing needs and pay equity – State agencies across the board are struggling to hire and retain staff due to budget constraints and competition with the private sector. MountainTrue supports maximizing investments in state agency staff positions and salaries.

WNC Public Access and Recreation Investments:

  • Expand the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail to include one publicly-accessible site in each WNC county, along with educational materials ($150,000 nonrecurring to Mainspring Conservation Trust).
  • Improve River Walk in downtown Murphy by building a boardwalk for Fisherman’s Loop, and extending the path to a housing development ($250,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Murphy).
  • Improve public access to the Watauga River Paddle Trail by purchasing an additional access point in Watauga County ($500,000 nonrecurring to Watauga County).
  • Expand access to the Green River and adjacent lands by developing a new access point at South Wilson Hill Road ($150,000 nonrecurring to Polk County Community Foundation).
  • Enhance Chestnut Mountain Nature Park by expanding paths and trails and improving the playground and creekside park ($450,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Canton).

The Importance of Watersheds

The Importance of Watersheds

The Importance of Watersheds

Part of MountainTrue’s mission is to protect and restore local waterways here in the Southern Blue Ridge. Watersheds are essential to this mission, though they are often not well understood. Learning about local watersheds is an important first step toward improving water quality and preserving ecosystems in your area. 

So, what is a watershed? A watershed is an area of land that channels rainfall, snowmelt, and groundwater into streams and rivers that flow into common points, like lakes or oceans. Watersheds can be small, such as the area around a single creek, or they can encompass hundreds of miles; the Mississippi River Watershed drains the water from 31 different U.S. states. Every body of water has a watershed, and you likely live in more than one.

Healthy watersheds contain a variety of landscapes, native flora and fauna, and intact natural communities. Water can pick up sediment, pollutants, or harmful bacteria as it flows into larger rivers or lakes, which can lead to increased negative impacts on water quality further downstream. Healthy watersheds provide critical services; the condition of our local watersheds directly impacts our health and well-being. Elevated pollutants can result in unsafe drinking water, fish and aquatic species becoming unfit for human consumption, and swimming waters that can make us sick. 

Watershed Pollution

There are two major types of pollution: point-source and nonpoint-source. The first is relatively easy to identify, as these contaminants tend to come from a pinpointed source, and their emissions are often highly regulated. Point-source pollution can come from factories or power plants with smokestacks, drainage ditches, or discharge pipes. While still a significant source of pollution in the U.S., the impact of point-source pollution has dropped dramatically since the inception of the Clean Air Act (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972).

Of greater concern today is nonpoint-source pollution, which comes from multiple sources simultaneously. A major example of nonpoint-source pollution is stormwater runoff containing pollutants washed by heavy rainfall from impervious surfaces like parking lots, roofs, and streets into sewers or directly into bodies of water. These pollutants include car oil, tire scraps, pet waste, litter, and other types of garbage. Agriculture runoff is also an issue where the soil in the fields no longer has the capacity to hold as much water after years of intensive use without adequate ground cover. Animal waste, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can all get washed away in the rain and drain into local waterways. Nonpoint-source pollution can be tricky to prevent because the pollutants come from so many different sources and activities. 

Watershed Management 

Managing our watersheds can be a complex task. Managers need to identify and implement sustainable land and water use practices so people can utilize natural resources in a given area without harming the existing plants, animals, and ecosystems. MountainTrue’s Clean Waters Program works to restore and support healthy waterways through collaboration with our organizational partners and communities. Our four Riverkeepers and Clean Waters staff continuously monitor point-source pollution, test for bacteria levels in waterways during the summer months, host volunteer cleanups to raise awareness about the problems our waterways face, and so much more.

Making a difference

Here are some steps you can take to support the health of your local waterways:

To check out which watershed you are a part of, visit the EPA’s How’s My Waterway tool. After typing in your address, you can also see if there are any identified problems in your local watershed. 

From May to September, MountainTrue’s Riverkeepers and volunteers collect weekly water samples from the Broad, French Broad, Elk, Green, Hiwassee, New, Notterly, and Watauga river watersheds as part of our Swim Guide Program. We process and analyze each sample and post the results to the Swim Guide website and mobile app before the weekend so you know where it’s safe to swim.

Want to get involved? Join us on a volunteer workday! Our dedicated volunteers help to collect water samples for E. coli and microplastic testing, eradicate nonnative invasive plants along waterways, plant native trees along stream banks, clean local rivers and shorelines, and more. Feel free to contact us for more information about how you can get involved

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

Every year, MountainTrue recognizes five individuals from across the Southern Blue Ridge as our regional Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham award winners. We look forward to celebrating these exceptional MountainTrue volunteers at our 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 12, 2022:

High Country Volunteer of the Year: Hayden Cheek

Hayden (pictured above) works at a local fly shop in Boone, NC. He’s an excellent angler and guide, and he often goes above and beyond to take care of his local waterways. His practice of giving back and leaving our rivers and woods better than he finds them permeates his friendships, work relationships, and his career. He’s a consistent water quality volunteer with our High Country water quality team and his impact is being passed on to those fortunate enough to spend time with him on the trail or in the river. Thanks so much for all you do, Hayden!

Central Region Volunteer of the Year: Jim Clark

Jim Clark has been helping us clean up the French Broad River for years. He’s been a Swim Guide volunteer for nearly ten years and has been a part of our microplastics sampling team from the very beginning. The data he’s gathered at Pearson Bridge has helped to get the new Real-Time E. coli Estimator (created in partnership with NCDEQ) up and running. He’s gone out of his way to keep trash out of the river, including lugging dozens of heavy, muddy tires out of its reach. Thanks for all your hard work to make the river a better place, Jim!

Western Region Volunteer of the Year: Stacey Cassedy

This year, Stacey has volunteered with both of our Adopt-A-Stream water quality monitoring programs (water chemistry and E. coli) and our Swim Guide program. Stacey’s unwavering dedication to our weekly Swim Guide sampling program helped many folks from across the Western Region know where it was safe to swim this summer! When her sampling site failed for the first time in August, she returned to resample and continued to check and photograph the beach for several additional days to monitor the source of the pollution: goose droppings! Stacey has offered to help with festival tabling events and is interested in doing anything needed to help with MountainTrue’s mission, particularly in the water quality program area. She’s a true super volunteer!

Southern Region Volunteer of the Year: Don Cooper

When Don learned about high bacteria levels in his community’s local waterways, he sprung to action and rallied the support of his fellow Rotarians. With his leadership, dozens of volunteers collected hundreds of water samples from streams in and around Hendersonville over the last several years. The data generated from his efforts helped us isolate the sources of bacteria pollution and direct our advocacy resources in the right direction to make meaningful change for water quality and public health. Thank you so much for your leadership, Don!

The 2022 Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Grady Nance

This award is given each year in honor of one of our organization’s founders, Esther Cunningham. Esther bravely stood in the face of opposition, rallied her community to stand with her, and tirelessly fought to protect and defend the forests of Western North Carolina. 

Grady and his wife, Kathleen, have been MountainTrue members since 2015. In that time, Grady has repeatedly stepped up to support MountainTrue and our region in a number of ways.  Grady spent his career in the electric utility industry and has been a crucial resource to our energy-focused work, especially as we were working both in opposition to and in partnership with Duke Energy. Grady also served on the Henderson County Environmental Advisory Committee for several years, pushing the county to do more in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Grady has served on MountainTrue’s board as our treasurer since 2019. He has acted more like a CFO than just a board member and has been enormously helpful as our budget and the complexity of our budgeting have grown. Grady also says yes to every request we make of him. He has been a thoughtful, conscientious, and diligent board member and treasurer, and we will miss him terribly when he rolls off the board at the end of this year. Because of his commitment and service to MountainTrue and his dedication to the environment, we are pleased to award him with the 2022 Esther Cunningham Award.