Logging Causing Issues In Creek


July 20, 2017

Courtesy Photo

A member of the public took this photo of Courthouse Creek this past Saturday.

A logging operation on 461 acres in the Courthouse Creek area of Pisgah National Forest is underway, but sedimentation in the Class C trout stream has some upset.

Photos taken during and after a rainstorm last Saturday show the water in Courthouse Creek, which is located off N.C. 215, brown and heavily muddied.

The Transylvania Times walked the project on Tuesday after being told that there was no silt fence in place around the project to verify it, and no silt fencing was found.

The fencing was being installed Wednesday, according to Pisgah District Ranger Dave Casey. The logging project began in May, and a Robbinsville crew is doing the work.

"Best Management Practices are something we implement throughout our operations," Casey said. "In this instance, we should have had better mitigation measures in places and we would have if we had anticipated 7 plus inches of rain."

Casey said that someone with the U.S. Forest Service contract administration team is on the ground at project sites twice a week, conducting inspections on timber sales and the environmental impact they have, and that instances, such at Courthouse Creek, are the very reason they do on-site inspections.

The rainstorm happened in-between two site inspections, according to Casey.

"To be honest, in this particular scenario, it's helpful to know from the public, and they can let us know and we can get on top of situations like this," Casey said. "It's valuable from that perspective that people are so interested in the forest. If folks see something out on the ground, it's their land. They need to not be afraid of letting us know. Our goals are to manage what's best in mind for the Forest Service. The sooner we know about this stuff, the better."

The Courthouse Creek project is centered on creating early successional habitat for a fleet of wildlife species such as grouse, bear, deer and turkey.

A summary of the project, available on the U.S. Forest Service website, describes it as necessary to address management opportunities identified for recreation resources, access management, wildlife resources, aquatic resources, timber and vegetation management, non-native invasive species, old-growth resources and fuels management.

A compromise was reached in 2013 when conservation groups challenged the timber sale.

The agreement reduced the size of the timber sale, stopped logging from significant ecological areas and on steep slopes.

An administrative appeal was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Wilderness Society, Wild South and the Western North Carolina Alliance.

Decommissioning about five miles of Forest Service Road 140A that runs through that Natural Heritage Area was also part of that agreement.

Casey said that the timber operation started in the summer because the soil is actually drier this time of year, outside of rain events.

Casey said that anyone who signs up to receive prospectus about logging projects can do so, and that logging notices and big notifications are available on their website.

Casey called the process "competitive."

Other concerns in the area include the environmental impact of replacing the two bridges on N.C. 215 and the timing of the logging project.

Both the bridges immediately past Courthouse Creek Road are in the process of being replaced.

"The (N.C. Department of Transportation) did an environmental analysis for those bridge replacements," said Casey. "The assumption is, their work is just like ours, providing minimal impact to the stream. I was out there looking at the bridge sites, and I couldn't see any sediment going into the creek, but they work in concert with us when they do that sort of thing."

Sam Evans, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, thinks that questioning whether logging should be conducted on steep slopes with ground equipment is a good idea.

The logging begins with opening up a road to access the trees, and then a man on the ground with a chainsaw drops the trees. Then, a rubber-tired skid steer drags the trees to a loading boom and they are placed on an 18-wheeler and hauled out.

"Is it abnormal in the summer for Transylvania County to receive rain like this? No, it's not," Evans said. "The other question I have is what is the ongoing plan revision doing to address issues like this? Casey is a good ranger, and we're glad to have him, but he didn't design this project. Sedimentation impacts and the likelihood that something like this would happen is something we commented on when we saw where these projects were going to be. This was a big piece of our protest here."

Evans said that during the appeal process, the Forest Service basically said that they were competent in their Best Management Practices, which are the metrics that the Forest Service uses to determine the right application for the right situation.

"This project should have had a better impact analysis," Evans said. "If they had better thought it through, I doubt it would have happened. This situation is business as usual in logging and that's where it came from. Some of our objections to begin with were some of the highest rainfalls in the U.S. on the headwaters of a major river. Also, the effects analysis about commercial logging in a watershed isn't good enough and that never really was addressed."

Another issue with the project, Evans said, is that the watershed in the area already has tons of sediment in it, thanks partly to big washouts on the road leading in.

Evans said that roads washing out are not just a problem on Courthouse Creek.

"That's every area," he said. "They just don't have the funds to maintain the roads, and they are not planning on doing anything about it. The primary sources of runoff are roads and log landings, especially when it's fresh and raining. This is not too big a surprise. That's why this kind of impact is illegal under state and federal law. The Forest Service is composed of people who care, they have a mission and they don't want this to happen either. I know Dave Casey doesn't, so the requirements under the law are silt fences and buffer zones from the creek."


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