Courthouse Creek Update

Article from on Dec. 16….


No logging on parts of Courthouse Creek

New plan spares 54 acres of high elevation trees

WAYNESVILLE — Environmentalists reached a compromise with the government Monday that will spare some of the most sensitive areas of Courthouse Creek from logging.

The agreement with the U.S. Forest Service means 54 acres of mostly high elevation trees in Pisgah Ridge National Heritage Area are off the table.

The entire project, which the forest service has said is necessary for habitat improvement and forest health, will now include 368 acres in a bowl-shaped zone in Pisgah National Forest visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Devil’s Courthouse.

The legal agreement also required the forest service to decommission a road constructed to allow for logging in the three stands that are now out of the project.

Western North Carolina Alliance, one of the groups that challenged the timber plan, will help the forest service remove culverts, re-grade and re-seed the roadbed.

The Southern Environmental Law Center appealed the project on behalf of the Wilderness Society, Wild South and Western North Carolina Alliance.

It’s unclear how much of the timber work will be visible from the parkway, said DJ Gerken, senior attorney at the law center.

He said the agreement, at the least, mitigates the impact to the view and possibly erases it. Overall, he said, the groups are very pleased.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, that’s what makes it a compromise,” he said. “It’s a substantially improved project.”

The decommissioning of the road is important to long-term environmental health.

“Roads are one of, if not the primary cause of, water quality problems on the forest,” said Hugh Irwin, conservation planner with the Wilderness Society, in a written statement. “Decommissioning the road just makes sense. It saves the forest service money by reducing the size of its road system, protects important trout habitat around Courthouse Creek, and ensures that this road stops causing environmental damage.”

The Southern Appalachian Multiple Use Council, which has in the past represented timber interests, could not be reached Monday.

The logging, which could begin as early as 2015, is dispersed in sites across the 7,000-acre Courthouse Creek area. The project would take four to five years and harvest about 6 percent of the trees in the area.

9 thoughts on “Courthouse Creek Update”

    • Matthew, it wasn’t hand-wringing so much as eye-rolling at the way the project was described by some of the appellants, such as:

      “This is the worst possible place for an old-school logging project,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The views from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Devil’s Courthouse are worth far more than the timber this project will generate.”

      The project before and after the appeal is modern, thoughtful forestry that one might think the groups would support, or at least be more honest about in their public statements.

      • Steve,

        What do think was dishonest about our statements to the press? Do you dispute that this is the most controversial timber sale in NC for years? Do you dispute that 4.3 miles of road (“140A”) the Forest Service proposed using was not an authorized system road and was never analyzed as an addition to the road system? Do you dispute that the Forest Service was not following Plan Standards in the logging of stand 93-01? Do you dispute that logging was and is planned in what non-forester biologists/ecologists with the State of NC, TNC, Western North Carolina University, and others consider to be an important conservation area that would be damaged by the project? Do you dispute that logging roads in this watershed have a history of causing slope failures and erosion into the headwaters of the region’s biggest river? Given all of these factors, can you understand that thousands of local people have major problems with the Courthouse Project? I take issue with the fact that you are accusing me and my colleagues of misleading the public from your far-off perch, wherever you are. I have done nothing but attempt to provide context and clarity to this appeal on this list serve, and I respect that you have a different opinion than me – I don’t respect you accusing me or my colleagues of misleading anyone.

        That said, I realize that you and the other moderators catch hell from all directions and sometimes feel the need to defend yourselves. In this case, your defense is to accuse me and others of something I don’t think we deserve. Blame shifting can be an effective manipulation, though.

        To expound on another point you made, I have a hard time understanding what is so thoughtful about the Courthouse Project – and who cares how “modern” it is. The fanciest gadgets in the world could be used to log important natural heritage areas and I would still be against it. It would have been so much more thoughtful of Pisgah NF to realize they could have accomplished much more by leaving the Natural Heritage Area, steep slopes, and illegal roads be. The project could have had much more benefit to disturbance dependent species, much less impact on water quality, and rare forest interior species, and produced much more timber. That’s my common-sense perspective.


      • BTW, SELC was legal counsel for the appellants. They were not appellants. While I would not have played up the scenery aspect of the project, it is clear that views from the Blue Ridge Parkway are worth much more than 10x the timber receipts off of Pisgah National Forest. And I do see the project as being old-school in its approach (let’s log as much as is feasible!), goals (ESH, regardless of other values!), and stance towards special biological areas.

    • I agree. I would have liked to keep all logging out of the State Natural Heritage Area, but the project was substantially approved without having to resort to litigation. I hope the objections process proves to be as effective at avoiding action in the courts.

  1. And of course, to TWS, even a well-prismed road, with proper culverts and practical hydrological invisibility thanks to the application of science to engineering, is BAD.
    I think the objectors here are more worried that the end result will be found visually appealing to millions of BRP drivers.

  2. While not exactly relevant to this thread, I find it interesting that the Wilderness Society is appealing and litigating projects out east and in the Sierra Nevadas. Are they appealing any projects in Montana? Doubtful. The reason why: they haven’t been able to secure any Wilderness designations in 25 or 30 years. If you were in the private sector and your job was to get Wilderness designated and you hadn’t in 25 years would you still be in business?

    The Wilderness Society’s game plan in Montana seems to be to get in bed with the Forest Service regardless of how bad a project may be so that they can try to shore up support for Wilderness. I won’t pass judgment on the politics of the approach, but I do think it taints “collaborative” projects that they are a part of. Should we question the motives of the collaborators before saying The Wilderness Society signed off on the project so it must be a good idea?

  3. It still isn’t clear what was agreed to between the USFS, Wilderness Society, Wild South and Western North Carolina Alliance. Theres’ a mention of 140A in the comments – is that the road to be decommissioned? Sure it’s in bas shape, but that’s because for years the USFS has not enforced the road designation and allowed (looked the other way) ATV and vehicular use which has caused pretty extensive erosion.

    A much better (worse?) example of what the YSFS intends then look at Road D near Chestnut Creek Falls. In fact this is little more than a footpath yet somehow it magically popped up on the maps as a ‘put-away’ road – as if it had been a road all along and the USFS was only going to start using it again. The plan calls for building a bridge over Cehstnut Creek right at the falls and then conducting activities along very steep side slopes of Chestnut Creek. As well, similar actions are planned in deep coves of Kiesee Creek and they will re-open the upper reaches of FR 5033 and build another bridge across Chestnut Creek. Road 5033 is an awful eyesore because the last USFS logging in those sections was so poorly done – yet now we allow them to ‘restore’ their prior mistake by funding it with more logging.

    Regarding the invaluable BRP viewshed – I’d rather protect the really important wild areas and headwaters ON THE GROUND than allowe the USFS to hide their dirty work in the coves and remote areas. Yes there’s over 7,000 acres int he project area and they only plan to log 6%. But of the 7,000 total acres perhaps only 1/2 is suitable for logging and NOT in the viewshed This means that 12% of the ‘loggable’ forest is going to get logged and this is in the most remote and wild sections. Out od sight, out of mind… I wish the YSFS was forced to log along the road so the public would see firsthand the impact…


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