Environmental analysis completed for Southside Project on Nantahala National Forest

Release Date: Feb 20, 2019

Franklin, NC, February 19, 2019 - The U.S. Forest Service has completed an environmental analysis for the Southside project which will improve forest health, diversity, and wildlife habitat in southeastern Macon County and southern Jackson County.

"I thank the public for participating in the process. I am disappointed we could not make everyone happy but we tried to strike a balance so we have a forest that is resilient and sustainable for all the public's plants and animals," said Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins.

Changes to the proposed project based on public engagement and interagency coordination include dropping two stands from the initial proposal, including additional buffers around documented locations of green salamanders, and conducting thinning and burning treatments to improve species composition in the Whitewater River Falls and Gorge Natural Heritage Natural Area.

Among the public comments was concern for old growth. The Forest Service is committed to following an old growth strategy and carefully considers forest age classes.

About 33 percent of national forest in the project area is over 100 years old. Across the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, the trend towards older trees is increasing such that in 50 years nearly half of the forest will be comprised of trees older than 130 years. Only about 1 percent of the project area is young forest, defined as trees up to 10 years old.

"In the management of national forests there are trade-offs. We make decisions based on the best available science that lead us to cut some trees to make room for others," said Wilkins. "Forests need diversity and all ages of trees. What's missing from the Southside area is young forest."

Removing patches of older trees gives young trees access to sunlight and water allowing them to sprout and grow. Small and medium sized forest openings provide fruit and nutritious foliage and flowers that attract pollinators and other insects and support populations of small mammals that, in turn, are prey for larger animals. Openings can be created by natural processes such as storms or intense wildfires, but in their absence need to be created through active management.

The Southside project will create 317 acres of young forest in 23 separate stands across the 19,000 acres of the project area. Over one-third of the openings will be one acre or less. In the remaining stands, the average opening created will be 22 acres. Additionally, 37 percent (6,944 acres) of the project area is designated to preserve and produce old growth conditions, and will continue to be managed as such into the future.

The project will also rehabilitate existing wildlife openings; establish native nectar and pollen producing species in wildlife openings, log landings, and roadsides to benefit native pollinators; and improve fisheries habitat in Scotsman Creek.

Work in the project area is expected to begin next year though timber management activities will not likely occur until 2021.

More information is available at https://go.usa.gov/xEUQs.