Archived Outdoors

Plans complete for Macon/Jackson timber project

Plans complete for Macon/Jackson timber project

An environmental analysis is now complete for the Southside Project, expected to improve forest health, diversity and wildlife habitat in southeastern Macon County and southern Jackson County. 

Public engagement resulted in some changes to the proposed project, including dropping two stands, including additional buffers around documented locations of green salamanders and conducting thinning and burning treatments to improve species composition in the Whitewater River Falls and Gorge Natural Heritage Natural Area. 

Public comments featured concern for old growth forest. However, according to a press release from the U.S. Forest Service, about one-third of the forest in the project area is more than 100 years old. Across the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, older trees are increasing such that in 50 years nearly half the forest will be comprised of trees older than 130 years. Only 1 percent of the project area includes forest less than 10 years old. 

“In the management of national forests there are trade-offs. We make decisions based on the best available science that lead us to cut some trees to make room for others,” said District Ranger Mike Wilkins. “Forests need diversity and all ages of trees. What’s missing from the Southside area is young forest.”

Removing patches of older trees gives young trees access to sunlight and water, allowing them to sprout and grow. Small and medium-sized forest openings provide fruit and nutritious foliage and flowers that attract pollinators and other insects and support populations of small mammals that, in turn, are prey for larger animals. Openings can be created by natural processes such as storms or intense wildfires, but in their absence need to be created through active management.

The Southside project will create 317 acres of young forest in 23 separate stands across the 19,000-acre project area. Over one-third of the openings will be 1 acre or less. In the remaining stands, the average opening created will be 22 acres. Additionally, 37 percent — 6,944 acres — of the project area is designated to preserve and produce old growth conditions, and will continue to be managed as such into the future.

The project will also rehabilitate existing wildlife openings; establish native nectar and pollen producing species in wildlife openings, log landings and roadsides to benefit native pollinators; and improve fisheries habitat in Scotsman Creek.

Work in the project area is expected to begin next year, though timber management activities will not likely occur until 2021.

More information is available at go.usa.gov/xeuqs.

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