The Southern Environmental Law Center announced yesterday that the U.S. Forest Service has agreed to limit logging in the Cherokee National Forest after several conservation groups raised concerns.
The logging project was originally proposed for about 355 acres in the watershed of Big Creek, a tributary of the French Broad River. The area is located northeast of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Interstate 40, and near Max Patch, a popular high-elevation bald just over the state line in the neighboring Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. At the heart of the watershed lies the rugged Laurel Mountain area, which provides important backcountry wildlife habitat. It's also part of the relatively remote forest stretching between the Smokies and the Bald Mountains in the Cherokee and Pisgah national forests.
Under the agreement reached this week, the Forest Service will withdraw all logging in the Laurel Mountain area, thus avoiding many steep slopes and the most remote places where access and logging would be difficult, infeasible or damaging. Restricting logging in the area ensures protection for core wildlife habitat, rare natural communities, and sensitive higher elevation areas on Laurel Mountain. In the areas remaining for timber harvest, the agreement clarifies the Forest Service's limits on logging operations on steep slopes.