Logging Shope’s slopes
The portion of Pisgah National Forest that the U.S. Forest Service has dubbed the “Shope Creek Project Area” is home to black bears, salamanders, cerulean warblers and wild trout, among other critters. There are patches of trees estimated to be 150 to 200 years old, and streams that are virtually untouched by sediment pollution.
The public can’t legally access the roughly 1,500-acre patch of woods—located in east Asheville’s Riceville community, near Swannanoa—because the entrance gate sits on private property. A new Forest Service proposal would relocate the entrance to open up the area for recreational use—but the plan also calls for logging some 68 acres using a “two-age harvest method” that would leave about 10 trees per acre still standing. In addition, the agency wants to upgrade about four miles of unused, overgrown roads that wind through the timber stands, and to spray herbicides to clear out invasive plant species. The stated purposes are to establish early successional wildlife habitat—i.e. create niches that would be favorable to certain wildlife, particularly game species—and encourage the growth of oak and hickory.
Michael Hutchins, the team leader for the Shope Creek project, says he’s been fielding calls ever since the proposal went out. “Most of the [surrounding] landowners up there are for the timber sale,” he reports. “But a couple of people have weighed in and said they don’t think we should harvest up there.” The proposal, Hutchins explains, is based on the forest plan, which “says that this area needs to be revisited every 10 to 15 years. [It] was next in line for an analysis to see if there was an opportunity to do harvesting. That’s why we put the proposal out.” The 1987 plan, which guides national-forest management in Western North Carolina, was last amended in 1994.
Ben Prater, an ecologist with the Asheville-based Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, fears a Shope Creek timber sale would degrade certain kinds of wildlife habitat, compromise old-growth stands, put the pristine trout streams at risk of sediment pollution, and increase the area’s vulnerability to pests and invasive species.
“When you create some of those openings in the canopy, and roads and things leading into them, you’re basically introducing vectors into areas that would otherwise not be intruded upon,” Prater explains. The timber sale would also be visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which cuts above the forested slopes.
An April 26 community meeting organized by the Forest Service drew quite a crowd, including many people who said they regularly explore the property.
“That area is my playground,” says Stan Cross, who lives nearby and directs the Environmental Leadership Center at Warren Wilson College. “Let’s leave the public land alone—if we can’t put a moratorium on development, let’s put a moratorium on logging public land.”
Neighboring resident Robert Worley has been going into the Shope Creek woods for 45 years. “I don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. “It’s already been destroyed. … They clear-cut up there years ago, and whenever they clear-cut, it won’t be nothing but stumps and brush piles on the ground. I don’t think they ought to do it.”
Joffrey Brooks of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, which supports hunting and conservation projects, welcomes the proposal. “We are definitely in favor,” he says. “We think one of the major problems with forest management is a lack of early successional wildlife habitat.”
A 30-day public-comment period ends Sunday, May 20, and Hutchins says the Forest Service will incorporate community input as the agency moves into the next phase: an environmental analysis.
But Chris Joyell, campaign coordinator for the Biodiversity Project, notes that a 30-day comment period usually accompanies the environmental analysis—a comprehensive plan detailing a number of specific alternatives—rather than the scoping notice, which is more of a preliminary sketch. If a second comment period isn’t scheduled, notes Joyell, it will be “almost impossible for us to provide informed comment.”
“We are doing it a little differently on this project,” Hutchins explains. “That’s how the responsible official wanted it done.”
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