Archived Outdoors

Forest Service releases 800-acre Nantahala restoration plan

Southern Environmental Law Center Southern Environmental Law Center

The U.S. Forest Service has released its final analysis and draft decision for the Nantahala Mountains Project, which will touch more than 800 acres over a 24,943-acre project area. 

The project is focused on re-establishing key characteristics of these forests’ former state, including species composition, structure, pattern and ecological function, operating on the assumption that ecosystems are most resilient when they have high ecological integrity.

“The Nantahala Mountains Project is a well-rounded restoration effort with many components all moving toward a healthier, more resilient Nantahala National Forest,” said Nantahala District Ranger Troy Waskey. “We’ll be supporting wildlife, restoring native tree species, and improving trail access for more sustainable recreation.” 

Waskey noted that the project will begin with some strategic tree and vegetation removal, including a carefully designed timber harvest followed by planting native trees that wildlife prefer.

“By allowing more sunlight to get to the forest floor, we’re creating patches for native plant communities to thrive,” he said. “These new openings create a young forest, which helps insects, birds like the golden-winged warbler and larger animals who depend on these newly created habitats to find food and nesting sites.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center, an organization that has often been critical of Forest Service projects, believes the final plan is an improvement over earlier iterations.

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“While we are still evaluating the project EA [Environmental Analysis], we are encouraged that the Forest Service has dropped plans to log the existing old-growth forest at Kit Springs,” said Sam Evans, senior attorney and leader of the National Parks and Forests Program at SELC. “That wasn’t the only problem with the proposal, but the change suggests that the new proposed plan amendments for mature and old growth conservation are already having an impact in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.”

The final EA was developed in accordance with the newly revised Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan, which was finalized last year. This plan includes stricter guidelines for protecting waterways than the old plan did. The previous plan, which was finalized in the 1990s, placed a buffer of 30 feet around streams and rivers. The new plan includes a more protective zone of 100 feet. The project also includes plans for creating two stream crossings that will reduce road runoff. These crossings will provide fish passages that connect enhanced stream habitat benefitting southern brook trout.

The Jan. 3 release of the final project analysis and draft decision initiated a 45-day objection period, during which people and organizations who have previously commented may file objections before the decision document is signed. For more information on this project and the objection period, visit

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