What about me? Northern saw-whet owl – wikimedia commons photo

Only you can apply the brakes to slow down the Courthouse Timber Sale and get everyone to take a closer look. This sale – scheduled for nearly 500 acres in the Pisgah National Forest near the foot of Devils Courthouse – has been through the various assessment channels including NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and is now open to public comment.

The sale is touted by the Forest Service as a means to increase habitat for golden-winged warblers, repair roads and culverts, help transition the forest to favor oak and hickory (more commercially valuable timber,) and, by the way, make $24,000 in profit. But the sale has come under fire from at least two of the area’s most respected environmental/conservation organizations; Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA) and Wild South. The area (Courthouse Creek drainage) is rich in Cherokee history and cultural artifacts. Ben Prater, associate executive director of wild South, noted that Wild South along with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and North Carolina state heritage offices were involved in assessing impacts to Cherokee cultural resources and that while the Forest Service did agree to work on mitigating direct impacts, “…we are still concerned that the Forest Service is not doing enough and that the road building and logging will only serve to provide easier access to looters and thieves seeking to locate and steal artifacts.”

Josh Kelly is a biologist with WNCA and noted that more than 150 acres of the project were located within the Pisgah Ridge/Pilot Mountain Significant Natural Heritage area. According to Kelly in a piece on BlueRideNow.com, “They could get that timber elsewhere in the district, without going into what the state has identified as one of the most important areas of mature forest in North Carolina.”

Bob Gale is an ecologist for WNCA and he was quoted in the BlueRidgeNow.com piece as stating, “Over the last five or 10 years, the Forest Service has become much better attuned to managing forests from an ecological perspective… Surprising to me, this is more of an old-school timber sale, like they did in the ’80s. It’s weighted heavily toward commercial logging, with little regard for the wildlife, recreational and cultural values of the area.”

I believe “the last five or 10 years” Gale was talking about was the Forest Service’s move to stewardship contracting – a way of doing business with the long-term goal being the creation of healthiest possible forest ecosystem. See http://smokymountainnews.com/archives/item/3072-logging-for-cash-versus-long-range-forest-health for and outline of stewardship contracting.

For me, personally, there is a lot disconcerting about this proposal. The idea of a large scale timber cut that would open the understory while at the same time provide money to help stop the march of exotic invasives seems at cross-purposes to me. I don’t believe even Forest Service botanists would deny that clearings are the biggest spreaders of exotic species in a forested community.

I also wonder at the mention of golden-winged warbler. It seems that anytime there is forest treatment mentioned in the Southern Appalachian Mountains it will be of great benefit to golden-winged warblers. Strange how the creation of early-succession habitat for game species like ruffed grouse and white-tailed deer are conveniently omitted. What happens to northern saw-whet owls, cerulean warblers, worm-eating warblers and Acadian flycatchers (also high priority species) when you demolish their habitat?

This looks suspiciously like a for-profit enterprise with eyes (better roads, better culverts, more oak and hickory) towards even more profit in the future.

If you believe this is a project that needs more light and explanation let the Forest Service know at comments-southern-north-carolina-pisgah-pisgah@fs.fed.us (please put Courthouse Project in the subject line, or by mailing comments to Dereck Ibarguen, District Ranger 1600 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, Nc 28786.