North Carolina: U.S. Forest Service Habitat Projects Move Forward

Contact: John Culclasure, Central Appalachian States Manager

Two wildlife habitat improvement projects on National Forests in Western North Carolina are moving forward after years of planning and public input.

On July 24, the U.S. Forest Service released the draft environmental assessment (EA) for the Twelve Mile Project on the Pisgah National Forest in Haywood County. Needs identified in the 18,098-acre analysis area (AA) include: increasing the amount of young forests (0-10 age class); thinning overstocked units; using timber stand improvement (TSI) to promote desired species; creating, maintaining and improving semi-permanent wildlife openings; managing white pine stands; promoting oak regeneration; and improving aquatic organism passages.

Preferred plan Alternative B proposes to regenerate 1,027 acres through a combination of two-aged regeneration harvests methods (shelterwood with reserves, overstory removal and oak shelterwood), harvest 329 acres through uneven-aged harvests (group selection, group selection with thinning and irregular shelterwood), conduct TSI on 649 acres, thin 327 acres, prescribed burn 1,342 acres, improve stream crossings at 14 sites, and manage 136 acres of wildlife openings. Improving wildlife habitat in the Twelve Mile Project AA is critical to supporting North Carolina’s fledgling elk herd as well as declining wildlife species such as ruffed grouse and golden-winger warbler. The comment period closes August 23, 2019.

Additionally, on August 13, the U.S. Forest Service completed the EA for the Buck Creek Project on the Nantahala National Forest in Clay County. The District Ranger selected Alternative G as the preferred alternative plan, which would regenerate 795 acres in 30 stands through shelterwood with reserves harvests. These treatments will retain den trees and hard mast producing species and regenerate young forests to provide early successional habitat (ESH) for disturbance-dependent wildlife. ESH is critical for many species of wildlife, game and nongame, yet there are only 111 acres (0.54%) of ESH in the 20,638 acre-AA. The two-aged system will also support the regeneration of intermediate shade tolerant species such as oaks and hickories that are important for hard mast production.

The preferred Alternative G also proposes 17 watershed improvement treatments to improve stream connectivity and aquatic habitat and reduce sediment. Additionally, the proposal would treat nonnative invasive plant species; prescribe burn three units totaling 3,600 acres; implement slash and burn treatments across 1,500 acres in the serpentine barrens; rehabilitate three wildlife fields; plant log landings with pollinator species; and plant soft mast producing trees. The 45-day objection period closes September 28, 2019.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation is a strong proponent of employing active forest management tools to improve wildlife habitat and forest health.

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