US Forest Service ignores public input by recklessly pushing through controversial Southside Timber Sale
ASHEVILLE, NC — Despite years of public pushback, the US Forest Service has once again put the controversial Southside Timber Sale up for bid – this time slashing the price of the project by half after its first offer received no bids. The sale looks to log the first 98 acres (of a total 300 acres) in a beloved portion of North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, including some of the region’s last remaining stands of old-growth forest.
Forest Service leaders first proposed the Southside Timber Sale in 2017 and it was immediately met with overwhelming opposition. Last year, the Forest Service put the project up for bid but failed to find a buyer. Insistent on cutting these valuable trees down, the agency has now dropped the price below market value. Bidding on the sale closed on Thursday.
“The Southside Timber Sale was a bad idea when it was announced five years ago, and it is still a bad idea today. By ignoring overwhelming public opposition and moving forward with this reckless project at rock-bottom prices, USFS leaders show they are more interested in logging old-growth forests – regardless of the cost – than listening to experts and scientific research,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Susannah Knox.
The Southside Timber Sale serves as an example of what the Forest Service envisions in its recently-released Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan. The plan, which guides the long-term future of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, leaves thousands of acres of known old growth open for heavy logging and road building. The plan has been heavily criticized for ignoring public input and rejecting recommendations from the Pisgah-Nantahala Forest Partnership that would have allowed the Forest Service to harvest timber while protecting the most critical tracts of forest. Hundreds of stakeholders and conservation groups have objected to the Forest Service’s version of the plan.
“Unfortunately, if the Forest Service approves the proposed forest plan as it stands now, we can expect to see continued efforts to cut down existing old growth forests. The agency has made it crystal clear that if old growth is in the way of a timber sale, timber will win every time,” said Sam Evans, leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program.
Both the Southside Timber Sale and the newly-revised Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan contradict Biden administration initiatives to identify and protect old-growth forests, which are incredibly valuable tools in the fight against climate change. These centuries-old trees store tons of carbon and continue to pull it from the atmosphere. Logging these important tracts of forest releases those planet-warming gases, worsening the impacts of climate change.
As part of those initiatives, President Biden signed an executive order calling for new policies that will manage and protect mature and old-growth forests. In response, the US Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent agency, announced that logging “is no longer a primary threat” to old growth and claimed the Forest Service is already protecting old growth in its forest plans and projects. This project, as well as the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan, shows that the USDA leaders are either unaware of what their staff are doing, or are misrepresenting its actions to the public.
In order to fight climate change and preserve the health of these magnificent forests, it is crucial that the Forest Service not only put a stop to the reckless Southside Timber Sale, but also amend the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan to better protect important tracts of old-growth forests and other sensitive areas for the decades to come.