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Conservation groups sue U.S. Forest Service over proposed logging project in Nantahala National Forest

A forested area in the Pisgah National Forest on May 24, 2023.
Josh Sullivan
A forested area in the Pisgah National Forest on May 24, 2023.

Environmental conservation groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service over a proposed project to log areas near the Whitewater River in the Nantahala National Forest.

“The Southside timber sale shows that Forest Service leaders are more interested in logging than protecting rare and beloved landscapes,” said Will Harlan, southeast director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

According to the federal lawsuit, both the Forest Service and the state of North Carolina recognize the area slated for logging has "an exceptional ecological community" and "the presence of rare species." The area is also eligible for scenic status under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Given the unique ecology of this area, the conservation groups argue the "imminent logging is inconsistent with the Nantahala National Forest’s governing management plan, and therefore violates the National Forest Management Act."

“The Forest Service must scrap this reckless logging project in order to comply with federal law," said Patrick Hunter, managing attorney of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Asheville office.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the challenge on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Chattooga Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, MountainTrue, and Sierra Club.

“This is a clear and heartbreaking example of the conflicts we can expect to see under the new forest plan," Harlan added.

Last year, the Forest Service finalized a new land management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, setting guidelines on how to manage the land. The plan faces public backlash and heavy criticism from conservation groups. Some of those concerns include increased logging and not enough protections for old growth trees.

Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 14 to list the conservation groups filing suit.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.