Increased logging will benefit our national forests

Susan Fletcher


I am writing to provide some context on the recent cartoon by Brent Brown highlighting potential habitat loss for native bear populations (April 13 Xpress) and the public outcry that prompted the Buncombe County commissioners to officially object to the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed management plan for Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. To put things in perspective, those two forests comprise more than 1 million acres. Yet over the last decade, timber harvests have averaged about 800 acres — out of 1 million!

According to the Forest Service, most of the acreage in these forests hasn’t been extensively logged in at least 70 years. In other words, these forests are middle-aged at best, and heading toward old-growth just fine on their own. Remember: All living things die. All old forests began as young forests, and so the cycle goes. Nothing in this life is permanent, other than death and taxes.

Our closed-canopy forests need better age, class and structure diversity in order to benefit native wildlife. Our pollinators are in decline, we have frequent bear encounters involving trash cans and cars, and many of our forest creatures are suffering from a lack of the edges and openings that sound forest management can create.

Rest assured, the bears would prefer to browse on berries and acorns. That, however, requires active management of our forest resources rather than locking them up in parks. Brown’s cartoon shows the bears urging, “Don’t log our home,” but in fact, logging is part of the solution!

We need to create healthier, more resilient forests by using our perpetual, sustainable and renewable timber resources wisely — and, much like the patchwork of a quilt, that means including varying age classes and stands. This is essential to prepare for the many big challenges ahead: rampant insect infestations, wildfire mitigation, carbon sequestration, recharging the water table and addressing the rise of invasive species.

Already protected

Edith Vanderbilt sold much of what is now Pisgah National Forest to the federal government at a greatly reduced rate, urging that these forests be conserved and used wisely to honor her husband’s legacy. George W. Vanderbilt established the Biltmore Forest School, a pioneering institution dedicated to the scientific study of forestry. Accordingly, these forests were set aside to provide multiple uses: timber, water, wildlife, recreation and range.

In other words, these lands are already protected. Elk have been reintroduced into Western North Carolina, but without the meadows and openings needed to support their growing population, they’re migrating to Jonathan Creek, Maggie Valley and even downtown Cherokee.

And unless we actively create the habitats needed by myriad species, human encounters with wildlife will continue to rise, sometimes with problematic outcomes. Biology teaches us that everything has a carrying capacity, and it’s incumbent upon us, as citizens, to understand that these “multiple uses” are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they can often complement one another to achieve the greatest good.

Sustainable forest management

Over the last 20 years, our family has had the privilege of managing the private forestlands of Pisgah View Ranch in South Hominy. During that time, we extracted more than 3 million board feet of wood products, creating brand-new revenue for the Cogburn family that has helped keep ranch operations viable. At the same time, we greatly enhanced the recreational horse trails throughout the property, established a diverse variety of habitats for many of our native wildlife species and improved overall forest resilience. We performed these operations in such a sustainable and responsible fashion that North Carolina is buying the 1,600-acre tract to create a new state park.

While we regret losing a forestry client here in Hominy Valley, this speaks volumes about the fact that multiple uses can work together harmoniously and simultaneously benefit many interests. We’re proud that our son, John Steven Fletcher Jr., graduated from Clemson with a degree in forestry and returned to these mountains to demonstrate active, responsible forest management — for the next generation and, hopefully, long after.

Balancing uses

North Carolina has been discovered, and many of our private mountain forests are now being paved and developed, never to return to growing trees and creating timber. Thanks to “buy local” and farmland preservation efforts, we’ve made progress in conserving family farms, and I would like to see that approach applied to conserving family forests. It’s the same idea, just with a much longer growing cycle.

Rather than edible vegetables produced annually, our naturally regenerating hardwood forests consist of native woody perennials, but they still need active stewardship. To that end, we hope to see the public discussion of federal forestlands framed with the understanding that, as the Forest Service website explains, they “were originally envisioned as working forests with multiple objectives” — including furnishing “a continuous supply of timber” for our nation.

It’s also important to realize that a significant portion of the local receipts from Forest Service timber sales directly support local schools and roads. In places like Graham County, most of which consists of public lands, those dollars matter.

In fact, quadrupling our timber harvests and opening up 60% of the forest to logging, which Brown and others lament, is not enough. Remember the math: 800 acres x 4 = 3,200 acres out of a 1 million-acre holding. And progressive, passive, hands-off policies are shortsighted, with unintended consequences. For example, a mature oak can consume hundreds of gallons of water per year — water that is then not available to municipalities — so creating young, vigorous, resilient forests in watersheds is essential to meet the needs of residents.

Flexibility first

Forever is a long time, and conditions on the ground are constantly shifting. So when contemplating public land issues, I urge folks to think about flexibility on a landscape scale. Faced with the many challenges ahead, today’s land managers need all the tools available.

Amid constant change, our forests desperately need intentional manipulations and disturbances. Sure, left alone, Mother Nature will reset these lands for us: But it will be done through ice storms, wildfires and catastrophic, random events. Just look at the West: It’s burning down, with dead tinder fueling massive forest fires, to the detriment of so many. Let’s have a data-driven discussion grounded in facts and metrics, rather than further inflaming a topic that’s already sensitive to the many families whose livelihoods depend on forestlands.

WNC residents have many assets and are blessed with the bounty these mountains provide, but we must be mindful that they can turn into liabilities at lightning speed. It’s imperative that we create a healthy, diverse ecosystem across our forest network, and to get us there, I urge a proactive approach.

To be sure, these are public lands, and I applaud the Forest Service’s efforts to be inclusive. But at some point, it needs to be able to settle in and do the work it’s charged with carrying out.

Susan Fletcher hails from Raleigh, the City of Oaks, but is proudly married to a mountain native woodsman, logger, sawmiller and chipmiller who owns Pisgah Hardwood forest management company in Candler. The family also owns Canton Sawmill and Suncrest Mulch Yard in Waynesville.


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9 thoughts on “Increased logging will benefit our national forests

  1. Voirdire

    This is absolutely ridiculous… this primer in industrial forestry. I love that not only does her husband own a very large commercial sawmill… but a chipmill as well…. not to mention a little ole mulch “yard”, lol. Chipmills, they’re all about “harvesting” hardwoods -oaks primarily- that aren’t large enough to saw up into timber. It’s a very big business based on volume…. buying taxpayer subsidized lumber from the Pisgah National forest for next to nothing in order to keep that paper mill running in Canton 24/7 …and their timber extraction business humming. And, all of these resource extraction businesses of Ms. Fletcher’s husband , “harvest” our native hardwood forests by clearing off the mountain sides… or as they like to say… “cleaning it up” in the logging business. It has zero to do with forest health or sustainability. Zero. Water quality anyone? Biodiversity? Okay… how about flooding? ….surely you all now know something about that out there in Haywood and Jackson counties? So very lame.

    • NIMBY

      I guess you would prefer wildfires? The entire argument has nuance. Your reply allows for no middle ground, either my way or the highway.

  2. Michael Hopping

    Ms. Fletcher writes very well in support of the family businesses. I’d be tempted to accept her point of view if I hadn’t spent so much time in the Shope Creek gamelands or other areas subjected to clear cutting during the past couple of decades and seen the aftermath of larger scale logging as it’s done around here. The result is impenetrable sapling jungles dominated by a few species of fast-growing trees, primarily tulip poplar, and the introduction of invasive species such as multiflora rose and bittersweet vines.

    Tulip poplar is a fine tree, but in near mono-culture stands not so much. They shade out slower growers like oaks and hickories. In addition, tulip poplar and also rampant maple saplings don’t support the mycorrhizal fungi (the wood-wide web) that most other trees rely upon to thrive. Non-native bittersweet chokes and breaks smallish trees. Multiflora rose and other invasive imports displace native plants and alter the communities of other lifeforms that depend on them. We’re often told that regrowth after clear cutting is great for wild game, I’ve never seen a grouse in or near a Shope Creek clear cut. Deer do inhabit the watershed, but trails leading into clear cut jungles are hard to find. As to fire risk, I have a hard time believing that those dense messes of saplings pose less risk than areas with large trees and the associated dead wood.

    I’m not opposed to logging per se. What I’m against is the sort of commercial operation that is standard practice here. It amounts to pillage. Little or no thought, let alone aftercare effort, is given to regeneration of the sort of forest that invited logging in the first place. Where are the islands of unlogged mother trees or the crews selectively culling saplings and invasives? Such measures cost money that logging companies don’t want to spend, and the forest service doesn’t seem to have an interest in forcing them to. Until logging contracts on public land rectify past failures, not only on paper but also demonstrably in practice, we have good reason to resist the expansion of logging activities.

    Think I’m over-reacting? I invite you to visit Shope Creek gamelands yourself and check it out. There’s a clear cut adjacent to the parking lot and another just to the east on the other side of the creek.

    • Shultz!

      In my backpacking experiences in Pisgah, Allegheny, Monongahela, Cherokee and Uwarrhie forests over the last 30 years, I’ve not seen a clear cut. In general, the cuts I’ve hiked through have been clearly a selective harvest, done to what I assume are regulations to keep trees under a certain size. It definitely changes the character of an area, but it’s fascinating to see the new flora & fauna that show up to do their thing in the new place.

      I wonder if perhaps the clear cut you’ve seen at Shope Creek was meant to be kept mowed as an open field for hunting purposes but was left for some unforeseen circumstance? You might want to reach out to the USFS – they’re right here in town and don’t bite. They can probably tell you what happened.

      • Michael Hopping

        Feel free to visit Shope Creek. If you know your way around you can observe former clear cuts at several stages of regrowth. Older sites are now dominated by unhealthy concentrations of tulip poplar that look to be 30-40 years old. Similar quasi-monocultures of tulip poplar occur elsewhere as well, at sites logged in the latter half of the twentieth century. Cuts much older than that have regrown more naturally, possibly due to less mechannized logging practices.

  3. Savageone

    To see how sustainable woodlands and fields can be managed, watch “Clarkson’s Farm”, season 1, episode 3or 4 on Amazon Prime.

  4. Fatty

    The solution to logging is more logging? The society is obviously not prepared for a whole sale change in the way we live. It’s depressing for sure but hey… Keep Logging !

  5. dhsmithnc

    Ms Fletcher…Thanks so much for explaining how the world works to us Little People. If only you were in charge of everything as you so obviously think you are…

  6. Robert

    The increased sale of assault rifles will make our country safer.
    The increased use of fossil fuels will improve our planet.

    I guess these are some of the things I’d say if I owned a gun store or gas station.

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