Photo: Remote cascade in the Nantahala National Forest, within the scope of the Southside Timber Project.
Credit: Will Harlan, Center for Biological Diversity.
The Chattooga Conservancy is part of a coalition of conservation organizations that filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service on January 31st, 2024. The lawsuit was filed in federal district court for the Western District of North Carolina by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Chattooga Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, MountainTrue, and Sierra Club. It alleges that the agency’s plans to log a sensitive area of the Nantahala National Forest violate federal law. Specifically, this area is a stand of timber next to the Whitewater River, that is part of the very controversial Southside Project.
Since 2017, we have been opposing the Southside Project, based on the fact that it proposes logging rare old growth and mature forest stands which are critical to the ecological integrity of the Chattooga River watershed and surrounding areas. The Southside Project also falls under the scope of the new Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan, which we objected to based on its lack of proper protections for mature and old growth trees, as well as its leniency to allow district ranger discretion for logging in highly ecologically sensitive areas in the headwaters of the Chattooga. It is unacceptable that the Forest Service continues to erode protections for the precious little existing old growth left on our national forests, and that the agency declines to act to protect mature stands of trees that are prime candidates for old growth restoration. The new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan, which was approved in 2023, falls short on many levels, and simply fails to adequately protect the exceptional values of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. As a result, more than 14,000 people objected to the new Forest Plan.
The basis of this lawsuit is that the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan designated an area near the Whitewater River as a “Special Interest Area,” and this area is scheduled to be logged by the Southside Project. The landscape boasts stunning waterfalls, towering oak trees, and critical habitat for rare species. Both the Forest Service and State of North Carolina have recognized the area slated for logging as an exceptional ecological community with some of the highest biodiversity values in the state. Destructive projects, like logging and roadbuilding, are significantly restricted in Special Interest Areas. The Forest Service is poised to violate its own Forest Plan by plowing ahead with this reckless logging project.
Read the full press release from SELC here.