Last Tuesday the Courthouse Wildlife Field Project was unveiled to the public, a more than decade-long effort to create a thriving wildlife habitat. More than 25 people representing government agencies, nonprofit organizations, companies and individuals came to the three-acre field in Pisgah National Forest. To get there, vehicles can be parked just before the footpath’s gate, off FS Road 5038.

“This is a very proud moment for a lot for us that have been working on this,” said David Whitmire, chair of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council and owner of Headwater Outfitters.

Whitmire, who has been working on the project since its inception in 2012, thanked the many groups and individuals who financially contributed to what he called “a mosaic of habitats.”

Tara Anderson, Pisgah National Forest’s wildlife biologist, explained the field’s significance.

“Projects like these are really vital,” she said. “They help provide diversity within forested area because they provide early successional habitat and that is really something that’s important to all sorts of species, game and non-game.”

Anderson said an opening like this can be compared to a supermarket for wildlife.

“When you’re out here, in time you will see wildlife using this as an area to forage,”she said. “They’ll nest here; they’ll bare young; they’ll raise young; they’ll use this as escape cover; and they’ll hide here from predators. It can fulfill so many parts of their life cycle in combination with the habitats that are adjacent to it.”

Wildlife have already started using it, including deer, turkeys, bears, snakes, bats and a number of different bird species.

“We’ve heard red-tailed hawks recently, which is pretty novel, just showing that the openness here is helping them to be here,” Anderson said. “Soon Monarch butterflies will even stop here to refuel to continue on their journey south.”

Trees had to be bulldozed and piled in a feat of bioengineering, said Whitmire, to create the clearing to plant native seeds. “The work was done by a Transylvania County business,” he said, pointing out contractor Jason Wilson to the group. “So not only was good conservation done —it also provided for local jobs.”

Large piles of brush were methodically positioned to prevent erosion of the field’s slope.

The brush is also attractive to birds nesting and provides protection for young trees to grow. A majority of the seeds planted were buckwheat and millet.

Wild flowers were also planted in one section, a bear cave was constructed and a large amount of native bees have recently been spotted.

The Wildlife Commission installed a video camera so that animals can be observed and studied.

“Courthouse probably wasn’t the easiest project in the world, but a lot of times the best projects aren’t always the easiest,” said Dave Casey, Pisgah National Forest’s district ranger. “A lot of times we don’t have funds to implement everything that we want to in a decision, so having those extra funds come in from the outside to implement stuff that’s quite frankly not cheap, to get done on the ground, is pretty huge – especially, with the way that fuel costs and everything are going up. There’s less and less funds (available) to do this type of project.”

Whitmire said the project cost $49,800 and road repair from Tropical Storm Fred last year cost an additional $6,855. Funding came from: The Pisgah Conservancy, Transylvania County Tourism, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, NC Wildlife Habitat Foundation, US Forest Service Department of Agriculture, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Headwaters Outfitters, Sycamore Flats, West Fork Fiasco, Crooked Creek Holler, LBM Industries, Trails Carolina, NC Bowhunters Association and Engineering of Brevard, among others.

“All that we want to accomplish on the forest can’t happen by the Forest Service alone,” said James Melonas, North Carolina’s national forest supervisor. “The only way that we can accomplish all the things we want to is working with the Wildlife Commission, partners like The Pisgah Conservancy and all the community members that have contributed to a project like this.”

Donations are currently being accepted for the next Courthouse Complex project, a similar-sized field located a couple miles northeast as the crow flies, which will cost a similar amount to restore.

For more information, including how to volunteer and donate to this project, visit Project T-shirts can be purchased at Headwaters Outfitters for $30 plus tax, all proceeds go directly to support this project.

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