The wrong plan for North Mills River

Pisgah National Forest is missing a golden opportunity and charting the wrong course with its proposal for the Brushy Ridge Project, an operation that sets the direction for management of the North Mills River area over the next decade. The river is well-loved and heavily used by local residents and tourists. Being one of the closest Forest Service properties to Asheville and Hendersonville, it is extremely popular with anglers, mountain bikers, hunters, hikers and campers. People in Buncombe and Henderson counties receive their water from it, and the outstanding nature of the stream qualifies it to be a National Wild and Scenic River. Yet, if you look at the map of the Brushy Ridge Project, you will see over 1,800 acres of logging planned, almost all of which set the stage for current and future timber production.

Earlier this spring, conservation groups WildLaw, Western North Carolina Alliance, Wild South and the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition submitted a proposal for management activities around the river based on principles of ecological restoration. Management from this perspective seeks to improve the health of the land by repairing damaged and degraded ecosystems rather than simply managing for resource extraction. Our proposal advocates restoring native forests by logging pine plantations, controlling nonnative plant populations, improving structure and diversity in damaged forests, restoring rare communities like bogs, using controlled fire to improve and maintain dry forest types and converting some of the many miles of logging roads to trails to disperse and meet recreational demand.

These activities would supply jobs and meet resource needs while leaving mature, healthy, native forest intact. To their credit, officials with the Pisgah National Forest obliged us by adding some of our ideas to the logging project they had planned. The overall project, however, is not acceptable to those of us who think that the North Mills River has values above and beyond the amount of timber it could produce.

The 443 acres of logging and 1,348 acres of logging preparations planned for the Brushy Ridge Project are rationalized by supposed benefits to some wildlife species. Some species do benefit from logging, while others are hurt by it. Where the Brushy Ridge Project misses the mark is that over 300 acres of the proposed logging targets forests are existing high-quality wildlife habitat for forest species.

By focusing the project on ecological restoration, rather than outdated, crop-rotation-based logging, there could be benefits to species that enjoy early successional habitat without damaging hundreds of acres of outstanding wildlife habitat and some of the nicest public forest we have.

For those who have an interest in the management of the North Mills River and surrounding public lands, more information can be found at www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/.

— Josh Kelly, staff biologist, WildLaw Southern Appalachian Office
Asheville

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