Buck Project Fact Sheet

Buck Project News Release

Buck Project – Tusquitee Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest

The Tusquitee Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest has released an Environmental Assessment, Draft Decision Notice, and a Finding of No Significant Impact for the Buck Project. This begins the 45 day objection period for the project. The project is located in southeastern Clay County, North Carolina, with an analysis area of approximately 20,638 acres of National Forest System lands.

The environmental analysis follows a deliberative, science-based approach with input from a wide spectrum of stakeholders. The Buck Project was introduced to the public in 2017 through our website, by mail, and at a public meeting at the Hinton Rural Life Center on November 2, 2017. In response to comments, the Forest Service held additional meetings and expanded the timeline to allow interested parties more time to assess the proposal and analysis area. Changes to the proposed project as a result of public participation include withdrawing some stands in sensitive areas, dropping or moving some temporary road segments away from areas of concern, and modifying stand boundaries to protect rare plant species, rare plant communities, wet areas, and boulderfields.

The Buck Project is designed to improve or maintain wildlife habitat, species diversity of forest stands, soil and water resources, and forest health through vegetation management and other treatments. More specifically, the project is designed to create interior forest early successional habitat to improve breeding and foraging for wildlife and to regenerate mixed hardwood stands with a plurality of oaks and hickories for hard mast production. In other words, the project will result in more young forest and more trees producing acorns and hickory nuts, an important source of food for wildlife.

Young forest habitat is an important component of a healthy and diverse forest that provides food and cover for a diversity of wildlife species including bats, ruffed grouse, pollinators, and rare species such as the golden-winged warbler. Many species of wildlife need young forest to complete their life cycles, including some that also depend on older forest habitat. A diversity of forest age classes and structure also helps maintain healthy forests that are more resilient in the face of forest pests  and changing climate . Young forest habitat in the 0 – 10 year age class currently makes up less than 1 percent of the Buck Project area.

The preferred alternative proposes 795 acres of timber harvest in 30 stands which have an average opening size of 26 acres, and which represent approximately 4.1 percent of the analysis area. In other words, almost 96 percent of the Buck Project area would not be affected by timber harvest. A total of 69 percent of the analysis area (14,222 acres) is 80 years or older, and over the estimated 10 year life of the project, that total will increase to 17,811 acres (86 percent).

The proposal also includes 17 stream improvement projects to restore stream habitat quality and connectivity and reduce sediment to streams. For example, the old culvert at the Barrett Branch crossing (see photo) is proposed to be replaced with an arch such as the one pictured in the Buck Creek tributary photo. The arched structure will restore the stream channel under the road to a natural rocky bottom that facilitates aquatic organism passage and population connectivity. Rocks create small eddies and resting spots that are non-existent in round culverts.

Barrett Branch culvert proposed for replacement in Buck ProjectBuck Creek tributary arch



































Additional treatments proposed in the Buck Project include thinning and burning of one stand totaling 29 acres to support fire-dependent plant communities. Approximately 3,600 acres of new prescribed burning is proposed to benefit fire-dependent plant communities. Slashing and prescribed burning would also be conducted at select locations across 1,500 acres in or near the serpentine barrens to improve ecological conditions.

The serpentine barrens is the rarest and most restricted habitat on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. The foundation for this habitat is the exceptional geology; the Blue Ridge Belt consists of the oldest rocks in North Carolina. It contains mafic minerals that give the soil a high concentration of magnesium and supports a unique community of over 20 state-listed rare plants and 4 state-listed rare butterflies. Two plants, Serpentine ragwort (Packera serpenticola) and Rhiannon’s aster (Symphyotrichum rhiannon), are so rare that this is their only known location in the world. These plants are fire adapted, meaning they have developed traits which allow them to survive and thrive after wildfire or prescribed fire. True to their name, the serpentine barrens once had fewer trees, but more recent fire suppression has resulted in a closed canopy of trees and shrubs. The desired condition for the serpentine barrens is 40-60% canopy cover with an open understory dominated by grasses and herbaceous plants.

Treatments in the serpentine barrens proposed in the Buck Project, such as slash and burn, would reduce dense woody shrubs and trees including mountain laurel, blueberries, red maple, chestnut oak, and pitch pine. Vegetation would be cut and left on the ground as slash to dry for 3-6 months followed by prescribed burns to restore the barren. A different portion of the serpentine barrens was treated using slashing and burning starting in 1995 and has now achieved the desired vegetation structure and composition. Here woody species have been significantly reduced and rare grasses are more evident. Restoring the serpentine barrens ensures the survival of species that literally have nowhere else to grow!

woodland prescribed burn





Serpentine ragwort Buck Project































Serpentine ragwort (yellow flower) is so rare that it is only found in the serpentine barrens, which will be restored as part of the Buck Project. The orange flower is Indian paintbrush. (USFS photo by Gary Kauffman).


The complete Buck Project environmental analysis and associated documents are available online here.


spotlight buck map