Protecting our Public Lands

The Struggle For Conservation Continues

Parks and forests seem as American as apple pie and the flag today, so it might be surprising that there was ever any controversy.Yet the early advocates of parks and protected forests were often outraged at the condition of the land that they hoped to protect with a park system.

One of the most famous editors of his day, Horace Greeley, was outraged when the largest tree in Yosemite was cut down so that a circus could exhibit a ring of its bark.

He called on California to protect “the most beautiful trees on earth” and wrote that “…it is a comfort to know that the vandals who [cut down the tree] have … been heavy losers by their villainous speculation.”

Greely was not unique. In ancient times, Romans passed laws protecting “sacred groves.” And in 1916, the people who fought hardest for the National Park Service were those most outraged at the neglect and short-sighted use of such beautiful land.

It’s no different today. We may celebrate the parks and public forests, but we need to recall that public-spirited women and men in government and in non-profit organizations are still fighting for conservation — and for future generations.

Preserving The Last of The Old Growth Forests

By Maureen Halsema
As Randy Johnson treks through the rugged terrain of the Globe Forest’s 300-year-old growth, he worries that the connection to this rare and dramatically beautiful ecosystem could soon be lost to logging. Johnson, a novelist and freelance writer who has been hiking the Globe since the 1970s, recalls the shock of seeing the “vast rippled realm” of the Pisgah National Forest marred by clear-cuts just a few decades ago.

“The patches of land that were like wounds on one of Appalachia’s premier vistas, are slowly recovering, but for old growth forests, it will take more than a lifetime to revive their ecological vitality,” Johnson said. Many of the oldest forests in Appalachia have been lost to timber harvests. “Only 4 percent of old growth forests in Southern Appalachia are left,” said Chris Joyell, the communications director at Wild South.

In June 2010, the US Forest Service plans to cut down 212 acres of the Globe in Pisgah National Forest. The main concern with the Globe project is that the northern section of the planned cutting area has old growth ranging from 130 to over 300 years old and is home to a wide range of rare plant and animal species.

“We believe the forest service should focus on repairing past problems, past legacies, before we create new problems, and continue a legacy of mismanagement,” Ben Prater, associate director of Wild South, said. “While I am critical of Forest Service’s methods, particularly in the Globe, I believe we are turning the corner with the Forest Service with restoration that we can develop methods that will benefit the forest, benefit the Globe, benefit the public, and benefit the wildlife.”

The US Forest Service is in charge of the management of national forests. This division of the Department of Agriculture manages these public lands with the vision of multiple uses and sustained yield. The concept of multiple uses involves forest lands meeting the public’s needs through a variety of means, including outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, timber, mining, fishing and watershed. Sustained yield means achieving and maintaining a high level output of the forest’s renewable resources without impairing the land’s productive value. This refers to resource extraction such as minerals and timber.

Throughout the 80s and 90s sections of the Globe Basin in Pisgah National Forest were subject to clear cutting. This method of forest management method has serious ecological impacts. Road and trail construction for logging areas has one of the most significant impacts on the ecosystem. If proper precautions are not followed, soil nutrients can be depleted and erosion can increase, particularly on the steep slopes of Appalachia where soils erode and wash into streams impacting the wildlife.

The Native Forest Council says that there are 380,000 miles of logging roads in national forests. These roads fragment natural wildlife habitats and cause erosions and landslides that flow into rivers and creeks, affecting almon populations and other aquatic species sensitive to sedimentation.

Clear cutting has been a controversial forestry management technique for decades. In recent years, the US Forest Service has implemented different methods of cutting, such as two-age harvesting, which leaves a small percentage of the trees.

“Two-age harvest means we would go in and harvest 60 to 70 percent of trees in the cutting unit and leave the others there,” said Terry Seyden, spokesman for the National Forests of North Carolina. In the Globe, US Forest Service plans to conduct a multi-stage project two-age harvest that will require 17 partial harvest units at about 11 acres each. “Two-age harvest is a relatively new method in the Appalachians, which has only been applied within a couple of decades. We are still, in my opinion, yet to uncover the lasting impacts,” said Prater. “But we have been working with the Forest Service to examine opportunities to look at the two-aged cutting method and see if there are ways to improve it, not to expand timber extraction but to reduce the impact.”

Many communities across Appalachia have used the legal system to fight back against timber production in their national forests. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed an appeal of the timber sale in the Globe that subsequently denied. They asked the Forest Service to reevaluate their plan and to remove threats to old growth sections and to the viewsheds.

In response to the Globe project, communities in Watauga County, N.C., have also worked with the SELC’s attorneys to draft a model bill that could be submitted to the Senate or the House of Representatives called the Grandfather National Scenic Area Act. The current proposal is designed to enhance the community, the forests, and the wildlife.

“It emphasizes the values of the scenic area and helps to define the lens for management for the Forest Service,” Prater said. It calls for cessation of new road construction in the 25,500-acre scenic area and protects old growth forests from timber production. Cutting down trees would only be permitted for management purposes to protect the forest from wildfires, insects and disease. Mining would also be prohibited, but recreational activities such as hunting and fishing would be permitted.

“It costs no money to the tax payers and it protects the forests and local economies. That is why we think it such a unique and wonderful opportunity,” Prater said.

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