Gliding above the emerald hills of Pisgah National Forest in a tiny four-passenger Cessna has the effect of making one feel … well, nauseous at times. But beyond that, you feel like an insignificant speck peering down into a vast, age-old landscape.
Guided by SouthWings volunteer pilot Mal Deckham, a group of us recently conducted a flyover to view Case Camp Ridge, the site of a U.S. Forest Service project that has local enviros alarmed. Among the proposals for this tract — which is visible from Looking Glass Rock — are commercial two-age regeneration harvests (where older trees are logged and younger trees ones are left to mature) and noncommercial thinning, according to a scoping notice released by the Forest Service.
Sandwiched into the plane were die-hard environmental campaigners Chris Joyell of Asheville’s Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project and Lamar Marshall, executive director of Alabama-based Wild South, armed with multiple folding maps and a handheld GPS device.
From above, the intact 1,200-acre stretch at Case Camp Ridge resembles a rippled quilt of various shades of green. The site of the timber sale would be hidden from Blue Ridge Parkway vistas — but glaringly obvious to any hiker packing a picnic lunch to the oft-visited lookout. “Motorists driving along the Parkway are given the benefit of the doubt, but this proposal gives no consideration to the hikers who actually want to venture out into the area,” says Joyell.
Gesturing below, he explains that the gaping swaths of lighter-green, shorter stands that look like giants’ footprints sunken into the canopy are telltale remnants of clear-cuts done in the 1980s and early ’90s. Patches of current two-age regeneration cuts, meanwhile, are immediately noticeable next to the surrounding uncut acreage; logging roads zig-zag through, while a sparse array of vegetation remains.
Randy Burgess, district ranger for Pisgah National Forest, says the objective of the proposal is to use the timber sale to create a habitat for certain wildlife in an area where none exists. “We’ll also be managing for a sustainable supply of oak and other hardwoods,” he adds. The total commercial harvest area would be 325 acres, he notes. Once an environmental assessment is released later this month, a 30-day public-comment period will follow, and the public input will be used to identify possible alternative proposals.
SABP and Wild South maintain that it is unnecessary to use this type of commercial logging — which Joyell terms “a delayed clear-cut” — on national forestland, especially when it would be in direct view of a popular hiking spot. As SABP executive director Tracy Davids notes, “A clear-cut is not on anyone’s sightseeing list.”
For more information about this project proposal, contact the Pisgah District Ranger at (828) 877-3350.