Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest
MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist, Josh Kelly, next to a “temporary road” built in 2012 in Nantahala National Forest.
In August, Forest Service staff for Nantahala National Forest made their final decision on the Buck Project. As you may remember, the Forest Service had selected Alternative B as its proposed alternative in April, and we called on you to oppose this project because it would have harvested 845 acres of timber and constructed 9.1 miles of new road – much of that in sensitive places like existing old-growth forests, Outstanding Resource Waters, Natural Heritage Areas, and the Chunky Gal potential Wilderness addition.
In response, the Forest Service created a new alternative for the project, Alternative G. In the positives column, Alternative G includes understory thinning and controlled burns in the Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens. It also calls for watershed repairs in areas where old roads, culverts and infrastructure are causing erosion and blocking the passage of aquatic organisms. But unfortunately, Alternative G still proposes to build 8.9 miles of road and to harvest timber in sensitive areas.
Here’s where MountainTrue stands on the Forest Service’s new alternative:
- We support Alternative G’s inclusion of water quality work and activities in the Serpentine Barrens.
- While we welcome the reduction of timber harvest by 50 acres to protect old-growth forest and a North Carolina natural heritage area, as well as the .2 miles of reduced road construction, these are very small changes around the margins. This project still does tremendous harm to wild places, soil and water, old-growth forest, and goes against the wishes of hundreds of people that commented on the project.
- Alternative G would still build new roads and harvest timber in one of the wildest places in North Carolina – the Chunky Gal Addition to Southern Nantahala Wilderness. At over 7,000 acres, this is the largest potential addition to an existing Wilderness in North Carolina, and one of the wildest, most remote, and ecologically healthy places in Nantahala National Forest. Proceeding with Alternative G would surely disqualify thousands of acres of Chunky Gal from management as either Backcountry or Wilderness for at least 20 years. This at a time when there is broad public support for protecting the area in the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan.
- The 8.9 miles of road construction will have considerable risks for erosion, landslides, and the spread of invasive plants. The Forest Service has over 2,200 miles of roads in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, yet they want to build more in the wildest remaining places. They are proposing a 10-mile roundtrip haul and 2 miles of new road construction to access just 50 acres of timber on Kitty Ridge. The new road would cross rock outcrops and extremely steep slopes, which increases the risk for erosion and landslides. The value of the timber being accessed is likely to be less than the cost of constructing this “temporary” road!
- In compartment 110, the Forest Service still proposes to build a 14-16 foot-wide “temporary” road paralleling an unnamed tributary of upper Buck Creek. Both Buck Creek and this tributary are known to be native brook trout streams that are already under stress from non-native trout. Road construction will further jeopardize this fragile brook trout population.
- Alternative G still contains existing old-growth forest with trees over 200-years-old in at least three locations. The Forest Service claims to be working with MountainTrue to exclude these areas from harvest, but still has them mapped inside harvest areas. The simplest solution would have been to exclude those areas from the decision to harvest. What happens if and when there is a disagreement about the location and boundaries of existing old-growth? The decision makes no promises in this regard.
MountainTrue continues to push for a modified Alternative D, which the Forest Service has acknowledged would meet the purpose and need for the Buck Project. We will object to the Buck Project, as this is our last recourse short of going to federal court. The Forest Service has not been responsive to our concerns on recent problematic decisions in the Mossy Oak and Southside Projects, and does not seem inclined to fix the problems with the Buck Project either.
It’s also come to our attention that those who commented on the Buck Project through MountainTrue’s comment portal received a message from Steverson Moffat, NEPA Planning Team Leader for the Forest Service. 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 take on the Buck Project than what Moffat’s message shared. You can read our response here.
The Forest Service proposed the very flawed Buck Project in early 2018. They have now made changes around the margins of the problem they created and called this a balanced compromise. Any compromise that relies on compromising the health of the land and water is unacceptable to MountainTrue.
Josh Kelly, Public Lands Biologist for MountainTrue