A recent article by Clarke Morrison quoted state Rep. Tim Moffitt saying, "Selective timbering under the auspices of a professional arborist is the best thing for a watershed" (see "Moffitt: Asheville Watershed Rules Shouldn't Be Too Restrictive," March 12 Asheville Citizen-Times).
Moffitt chairs the Statehouse's Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee, whose five members are now considering whether the Legislature should strip Asheville of its water system and hand it over to either a new regional authority or the Metropolitan Sewerage District — or simply leave things the way they are.
But this isn't the first time the idea of logging the watershed that supplies a good deal of Asheville's drinking water has come up. From the Mountain Xpress files, here's a flashback to the late 1980s and early '90s, when a controversy sprouted up over cutting trees in the 21,000-acre North Fork Reservoir watershed.
December 1986: The Asheville-Buncombe Water Authority votes 4-2 to approve clear-cutting 51 acres at North Fork. Authority board members Don Williams and Jesse Ledbetter vote against the measure, and former Watershed Superintendent Bob Brown voices opposition, "pointing out that previous logging in the watershed [1963-1978] had hurt water quality" (from a history later compiled by Citizens Against Clearcutting in the Asheville Watershed).
1987: Waynesville-based Powell Wholesale Lumber Co. completes 20 acres of the contract.
April 1988: CACAW forms; a petition drive gathers 2,100 signatures of those opposed to clear-cutting in the watershed. Environmental groups and Blue Ridge Parkway officials join in the outcry. A photo by Citizen-Times photographer Steve Dixon demonstrates how visible the clear-cut section is.
May 1988: "Grandfather Mountain [owner] Hugh Morton says the ABWA was suffering from a lack of judgment when it began a clear-cutting operation on the watershed," Morrison reports in the Citizen-Times. “I'm not against the harvesting of timber, but it has to be done with judgment and it has to done with discretion," says Morton.
May 1989: Gene Rainey, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, writes to the lumber company, asking it to "enter into negotiations … to repurchase the timber-cutting rights at the North Fork Reservoir. I realize that this action may constitute an inconvenience to you. However, it is the unanimous judgment of this board that clear-cutting is not in the best interests of our county."
November 1990: Clear-cutting at the watershed is completed after a compromise divides the project into smaller sections while allowing the lumber company to harvest an additional seven acres. According to the Citizen-Times report, "watershed forester David Walker said that proper cutting in the watershed improves the health of the forest, as openings are created for seedlings to sprout. … Roads needed for fire protection are improved, and the cuts are beneficial to certain species of wildlife."
1990-91: The Water Authority reviews its policy governing timber harvesting on watershed lands. An early proposal would have allowed harvesting up to 80 acres per year.
March 2012: "We do no clear-cutting at all in our watershed," says Operations Manager Ron Kerns of Asheville's Water Department, explaining the current policy. Typically, he notes, trees in the watershed are removed only if they've fallen across a road.
— Margaret Williams can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 152, or at email@example.com.