The Transylvania Times -

By Josh Kelly

A Glimpse Of Restoration Work In Tusquitee Ranger District


March 27, 2017

In August 2016, the U.S. Forest Service released its decision for the Brushy Flats Project in the Tusquitee Ranger District. It will include a combination of timber harvesting and fire, and that’s a very good thing. While this project is not in Transylvania County, I think it represents the type of restoration project we will see more of in Pisgah National Forest.

First, a little background. The Brushy Flats Project seeks to restore 242 acres of pine and oak forest that have become too dense with white pine, poplar, maple and other uncharacteristic species due to fire suppression. Those species have crowded out native species such as shortleaf pine and oaks. The Forest Service is using timbering and controlled fire as tools to restore these areas. Timbering will remove the undesirable species and open the canopy so that shortleaf pine and oaks can regenerate and thrive, and fire will create the ideal conditions for pines and oaks, while keeping the forest from becoming too crowded over time.

Furthermore, the young forest habitat created by the harvest and fire will be good forage and cover for species like deer, turkey, yellow-breasted chats, and blue winged warblers. The project will also remove an old dam that is preventing fish from migrating and spawning in Shuler Creek and will try to prevent non-native plants from taking over the area.

Are you surprised that I, a biologist with the environmental organization MountainTrue, am heaping praise on a logging project? Let me explain.

This project could have impacted numerous habitats for rare species, or resulted in roads and logging in some of the most remote and pristine parts of Nantahala National Forest. Instead, the Forest Service took a responsible and judicious approach and adopted a plan that focuses on restoring an ecosystem that needs help – it just so happens to provide good quality saw timber to local mills in the process. The Forest Service listened to public concerns about clear-cutting and modified the project so as to only use clear-cutting where it would be the best option for restoring the forest to a healthy, natural condition.

The future of Forest Service management should look a lot like the Brushy Flats Project. The Forest Service can both protect the special places on Nantahala National Forest and increase timber harvest above the 800 acres they average annually by using forestry as a tool for forest restoration. In fact, those two activities are intertwined: protection and restoration.

The most pristine parts of the forest generally don’t need the kind of restoration that requires a skidder and a chainsaw, and the parts of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests that have the road infrastructure and the accessible timber are generally the areas that need more intensive restoration. By focusing on the areas that need restoration the most, the Forest Service can greatly increase the amount of timber harvest and young forest habitat. This makes sense ecologically: if some parts of the forest will be more disturbed over the next 20 years, it makes sense that other parts will remain protected as a way to hedge our bets as conservationists.

The U.S. Forest Service is developing the new Forest Plan for the future of the Pisgah and Nantahala forests. MountainTrue sees the Brushy Flat’s Project as a promising sign. Through careful ecological consideration and wise forest management, the Forest Service can advance its mission of “caring for the land and serving the people,” while making national forests an American institution that is celebrated and enjoyed by all.

Kelly is a public lands biologist with Mountain

True, an environmental organization that performs work in Transylvania County.


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