ASHEVILLE, N.C. —Conservation groups have appealed a Forest Service decision to log high value forest below Devil’s Courthouse in western North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed an administrative appeal on behalf the Wilderness Society, Wild South and the Western North Carolina Alliance.
The Forest Service has targeted the Courthouse Creek area for a 500-acre logging project. The area, known as a scenic and recreational gem, largely consists of steep slopes and includes the headwaters of the French Broad River. Significant logging would occur in a state-designated Natural Heritage Area, identified by biologists as one of the most important habitats for rare species in the state.
“The Courthouse Creek area is a unique and special place,” said Josh Kelly, biologist with the Western North Carolina Alliance. “We have repeatedly suggested other more suitable locations for logging, but the Forest Service has refused to redraw its plans – ultimately, we had no choice but to appeal.”
Logging would be visible from Devil’s Courthouse, a sacred Cherokee site and a popular overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Courthouse Creek. Timber operations would also be visible to hikers on the popular Art Loeb and Mountains-to-Sea trails.
“This is the worst possible place for an old-school logging project,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The views from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Devils Courthouse are worth far more than the timber this project will generate.”
The Courthouse Creek project has been unpopular with hikers, bikers and others who recreate in this popular destination. The Forest Service proposes to decommission hiking trails in the area, for lack of resources to maintain them, at the same time that it adds new logging roads to its system.
“The Forest Service has got to come to terms with budget reality,” said Hugh Irwin, conservation planner with the Wilderness Society, “the maintenance cost for the logging roads it wants to keep in this one project area cost more than 25 percent of the road maintenance budget for the entire forest.”
Logging in the Pisgah Ridge National Heritage Area will undermine intact forest habitat that currently supports a host of rare animal and plant species, including pink-shell azalea, a wildflower that attracts hikers with awe-inspiring blooms in late spring.
“The Forest Service promised to manage this area as intact, mature forest for black bear,” said Ben Prater of Wild South. “The Forest Service bills this timber sale as a restoration project – but the pristine habitat in this area doesn’t need restoring; it needs to be protected.”
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of more than 50 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
About the Wilderness Society:
Since 1935, the Wilderness Society has been the leading national organization working to protect our nation’s shared public lands and to inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Through our conservation and public engagement efforts, we work to preserve our nation’s rich natural legacy for future generations.
About Wild South:
For over 20 years Wild South has inspired people to enjoy, value, and protect the wild character and natural legacy of the South. As a conservation leader on public lands we have protected over half a million acres, numerous species and counting.
For 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant. WNCA empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.