The forest service agreed to reduce the size of the logging project overall and withdraw its plans to log significant ecological areas and steep slopes along creeks.
“I could go on about how important the area is ecologically. The bottom line is people in Western North Carolina understand that some places are just too special to log and develop,” said Josh Kelly, biologist with the Western North Carolina Alliance. “We’ve been asking the Forest Service to leave this area alone for years. Today we made important steps towards protecting this Significant Natural Heritage Area.”
The forest service made concessions in the logging project after the Southern Environmental Law Center filed an appeal on behalf of the Wilderness Society, Wild South and the Western North Carolina Alliance.
“We are pleased to find a way forward that protects the integrity of this special place,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Aspects of the project focusing on ecological restoration, habitat creation and old growth designation remain intact.
One of the most controversial aspects of the project involved logging in a state-recognized Significant Natural Heritage Area. Now logging previously planned for those areas will be significantly reduced.
A key piece of the agreement involves decommissioning about five miles of Forest Service road that ran through the State Natural Heritage Area. The road will be returned to a more sustainable state by removing culverts and artificial stream crossings, re-grading the road to a more natural contour and seeding the roadbed.
“Roads are one of, if not the primary, cause of water quality problems on the forest,” said Hugh Irwin, conservation planner with the Wilderness Society. “Decommissioning the road just makes sense. It saves the Forest Service money by reducing the size of its road system, protects important trout habitat around Courthouse Creek, and ensures that this road stops causing environmental damage.”