Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina Southside Project


One of the old-growth trees to be logged in the Brushy Mountain area of Southside Project. Photo credit: Chattooga Conservancy

Why this forest is special

The Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina is one of the wettest regions in the United States and a global wildlife diversity hotspot. It provides intact forest habitat in a fast-growing region dominated by fragmented private lands, as well as connectivity for rare, endemic and imperiled wildlife. It contains a section of the Appalachian Trail and three designated wilderness areas and connects to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Southside Project

This project will log 317 acres including rare old-growth forest beloved by locals and the headwaters of the Chattooga River, a national Wild and Scenic River. Over 80% of the volume will be cut. It’s home to one of the most important remaining populations of the imperiled green salamander. Trees will be logged on erosive slopes near streams within three areas eligible for wilderness designation and within a state-designated natural heritage area. When the timber sale was first offered in 2021, the Forest Service received no bids. In response, the agency slashed the price in half. Local conservation group MountainTrue offered to beat any logger’s offer and pay the Forest Service to protect 37 acres of old-growth forest and occupied green salamander habitat, but the agency sold the trees at fire-sale prices.

Carbon storage and biodiversity

These old-growth stands hold more than a century of stored carbon in the trees, soil and surrounding plants, and stand ready to sequester more. Logging will destroy the area’s ecological value and release carbon from disturbed soil and understory plants. The project will wipe out a healthy population of green salamanders, a rapidly declining species found only in isolated areas on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. The project also risks spreading invasive plants throughout the area.

Why these trees should remain standing

Less than 1% of Southeast forests are old growth. The Forest Service admits the trees it proposes to log are old growth but claims the Southside Project is needed to restore “structural diversity” and improve wildlife habitat by creating “clearings” in forest stands. Yet these old-growth stands are the most ecologically and structurally diverse in the Nantahala. The Forest Service should be allowing its mature forests to grow and recover much of the massive loss of the region’s old-growth forests. This would provide ecological diversity, wildlife habitat, clean water and carbon storage to compensate for the intensive industrial timber lands that dominate this region.

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

The newly finalized 2022 Nantahala and Pisgah forest plan will quadruple logging levels and bulldoze 300 miles of new logging roads. Almost 300,000 acres of mature and old-growth trees are targeted for logging, including 44,000 acres of old-growth that were previously protected.

Project status

The Forest Service finalized the Southside Project in 2018 and issued the first timber sale in August 2022. That came despite objections from the Southern Environmental Law Center, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife and MountainTrue.

Local contact: Susannah Knox, Southern Environmental Law Center, sknox@selcnc.org

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.