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Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina | Buck Project, Tusquitee Ranger District

Logging unit in Buck Project. Photo credit: Patrick Hunter, Southern Environmental Law Center

Why this forest is special

Nantahala is a rugged temperate forest of high peaks, deep gorges, waterfalls and flowing rivers in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. These ancient mountains are a global biodiversity hotspot. The forest is home to 10,000 species, including turtles, trout, black bears, elk, river otters, beavers and bald eagles. The largest of North Carolina’s four national forests, the Nantahala supports lush oak, pine and hickory forests, northern hardwoods and spruce fir at the highest elevations, all contributing to carbon storage, wildlife and clean water. More than 5 million visitors each year visit the Nantahala and neighboring Pisgah National Forest.

The Buck Project

This is one of the largest timber sales in recent history in North Carolina. It will clearcut 800 acres, including 150 acres of trees more than 100 years old and 375 acres of mature carbon-dense rich cove forests, largely found near streams, sheltered steep gorges and ravines. Half of the Buck project’s logging would occur in one of the wildest places in North Carolina — the proposed Chunky Gal addition to the Southern Nantahala Wilderness. At more than 7,000 acres, this is the largest potential addition to an existing wilderness in North Carolina, and one of the most remote, ecologically healthy places in Nantahala National Forest.

Carbon storage and biodiversity

Like other national forests in the Southeast, the Nantahala is recovering from intensive logging, from the 1880s to the 1930s, that stripped many of these mountains bare. Many stands have now reached 80 to 90 years of age. These older trees store carbon, provide habitat for rare plants and animals, and nourish clean, cold streams and rivers. Left alone, these mature trees would become old-growth forests, exceedingly rare in the East and vital for bears, salamanders, bats, owls and other birds.

Why these trees should remain standing

The Forest Service claims it must cut healthy, older trees to create new, young forests needed by certain species. But young forests are created by reoccurring natural disturbances and can also be created in areas already degraded by logging. There is no ecological basis for cutting the oldest, healthiest forests, which should be allowed to age so that old growth is recovered. Old-growth trees take 100 years or more to develop, time during which the forest is sequestering and storing carbon and providing unmatched biodiversity. Liquidating our oldest forests to create openings for wildlife will release significant amounts of carbon, and associated road building will risk erosion, landslides and the spread of invasive plants.

The future of mature and old-growth trees in Nantahala National Forest

When the Forest Service approved the revised Nantahala-Pisgah forest plan, it also approved the Buck project and indicated that it would press the accelerator on cutting old and mature trees. The new plan would quadruple logging in the country’s most popular and biologically diverse temperate forest and dramatically expand areas that can be logged for timber production. That includes more than 100,000 acres with high conservation values such as existing old-growth forest and state-designated natural heritage areas.

Project status

The Forest Service approved the project in May 2020 with a finding of no significant environmental impact. The first logging unit sale started in June 2022.

How you can help

  • Sign our targeted letter to Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Haaland to call for durable protections for mature and old-growth forests on federal lands.

  • Submit Letters to the Editor about this project to your local newspaper.

  • Send emails and make phone calls to the Southern regional Forest Service office to oppose the Buck logging project.

Local contact: Patrick Hunter, Southern Environmental Law Center,


The Worth More Standing report spotlights federal forest-management practices that are liquidating mature and old-growth forests and trees every day. It includes 10 examples that are part of a pervasive pattern of federal forest mismanagement that routinely sidesteps science to turn carbon-storing giants into lumber. Learn what actions you can take to protect Climate Forests across the country.

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