After four years of struggle, the Clinch Coalition has won a major victory by forcing the U.S. Forest Service to put a hold on a large timber sale in southwest Virginia.
With intervention from Congressman Rick Boucher, the Bark Camp Timber Sale will not go forward until a study of the effects of additional logging on flooding has been completed.
After a first-hand tour of the upper sections of Stoney Creek, where extensive logging has occurred in the past years, Congressman Boucher contacted the Southeast Regional Forester and asked that the sale be reconsidered. Elizabeth Estill then instructed the Jefferson/George Washington Forest Supervisor, Bill Damon, to put the sale on hold until more information is collected.
Under the Bark Camp proposal, the U.S. Forest Service plans to intensively timber 700 acres of forest between Bark Camp Lake and High Knob, in Scott and Wise Counties, Virginia.
Because of the extensive flooding that took place in the area, resulting in the death of one elderly man and the destruction of many homes, residents are concerned that additional logging will only make further flooding worse. The Nature Conservancy may assist Boucher by taking the lead in the study, which is expected to convene in early 2002.
According to the Clinch District Ranger Sten Olsen, “This was an act of God.” Olsen and Gary Kappesser, USFS hydrologist, told the Scott County Supervisors recently, “You had a lot of rain in a short period of time. Even if it was a wilderness, the flooding would have happened.”
But Clinch Coalition members feel otherwise.”We believe that further study will prove the flood to be an ‘Act of Man,’” says Detta Davis, chair of the Coalition, a local environmental group that has members residing on Stoney Creek and the surrounding area.
“The Forest Service needs to engage in serious study about the future of Stoney Creek and stop focusing on its own plans to log the area. This is our home and we want to see them come up with a plan that takes our future survival into consideration.”
The Coalition and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has brought in their own experts to look at the situation. They are not only concerned about the flooding, but the effect that extensive sediment is having on the globally outstanding biological Clinch River, which Stoney Creek flows into. The Clinch River supports as many as 15 federally protected aquatic species.
One well-credentialed expert, Barry Sulkin, former head of enforcement and compliance for the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control, who visited Stoney Creek both before and after the flooding, said:
“Based on my observations at the confluence of Stoney Creek and the Clinch River, it appeared that sediment was being delivered to the Clinch River from the entire Stoney Creek watershed.
“Some of the sediment delivered from the higher reaches of the Stoney Creek clearly settles out and collects in the floodplain, while other sediment is likely carried down the stream.”
Members of the Clinch Coalition gathered signatures from most all residents of the effected Stoney Creek area on a petition asking that no additional logging take place on the National Forest above them. The petition was presented to Jefferson Forest Supervisor Bill Damon in Roanoke last month.
The Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project and SELC are both ready to take the Forest Service to court if they decide to go ahead with the cut. SELC is representing the Clinch Coalition, Virginia Forest Watch and The Wilderness Society in their actions.