Nantahala old-growth trees in jeopardy of being cut down

Some people can't see the individual trees for the forest:

The U.S. Forest Service plans to harvest the majority of trees at 16 sites in Nantahala National Forest beginning next year as part of its Southside Project.

Conservation organizations argue the trees at several of these sites represent exceptionally older and rarer growth than the Forest Service has recognized and are calling for the project to be withdrawn or revised after the Forest Service completes the revision of its land management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests in Western North Carolina, a draft of which is expected later this year.

Before you jump to any conclusions, this is one of those issues where there might not actually be a "bad guy" to oppose. Forests are more than just a collection of trees, they are ecosystems, supporting life in various forms. And in order to adapt to climate change, the types of trees growing there might need to change, as well. All that being said, a tree that has survived for 200 years should be recognized and preserved:

“Only one-half of 1 percent of the forest is old growth in the Southeast,” Buzz Williams of the Chattooga Conservancy told Carolina Public Press. “That is the reason within itself to leave it alone.”

Williams recently visited a 23-acre site on a ridge below Round Mountain, near the headwaters of the Whitewater River in Jackson County. He removed a sample of wood with the diameter of a chopstick from the core of a towering chestnut oak growing on the ridge. By viewing the rings that are visible in the sample, Williams estimated that the tree is nearly two centuries old. And it’s not alone: Scattered on the ridgeline are aging white oaks and other tree species that eluded the heavy logging of the region a century ago.

Williams and other conservationists argue that this stand of older trees and others like it are exceptional and should be conserved. The Forest Service currently says they are not sufficiently exceptional to be conserved. The Southside Project to harvest these sites was announced in 2017. Following the release of an environmental impact statement and public comment period, Michael Wilkins, the Nantahala National Forest district ranger, released a final decision in February that approved it.

Williams’ organization opposes the project because of its impact on old-growth forest ecosystems, water quality and the biodiversity of the region. Since the project’s announcement, the Chattooga Conservancy, which is based in Georgia, mentored several undergraduate interns from the University of North Carolina to study sites within the project area.

I am not opposed to "grooming" forests, if it's done properly. I live at the end of a dead-end road, literally surrounded by trees. Dead (or dying) trees can be a serious fire hazard, and should be culled. But if you're contemplating cutting down a 200 year-old tree, taking a few extra months to think about it is not a bad idea.

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