Quick Analysis of the Asheville Watershed Management Plan
TO: Mayor Charles Worley and the Asheville City Council
FROM: Monroe Gilmour, Coordinator
SUBJECT: Trojan Horse for commercial logging?
Management questions arising after reading the proposed Forestry Management Plan
DATE: June 14, 2004
Overall Conclusion: Is the Plan a Trojan Horse for commercial logging? The proposed "Forestry Management Plan" for the Asheville Watershed (AW) provides a useful introduction to some forestry issues on that 22,000-acre City of Asheville property. However, the Plan is so lacking in key facts, managerial information and risk analysis as to be inadequate for deciding the merits of the "Resolution Approving Forest Management Plan for North Fork and Bee Tree Watersheds" that will be before City Council.
Moreover, the real issue, revenue from timber production, is almost totally excluded from the Plan. A full evaluation of that management aspect , including a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, should be done before any vote is taken.
Useful recommendations in the Plan:
Road Maintenance: The plan recommends improved road maintenance and signage within the Asheville Watershed (AW) to facilitate emergency vehicles and fire control. That is a good recommendation which has been made before. City staff and City Council did not need a registered forester to see that need. (We understand that there are 85 miles of roads in the AW. We think the blanket recommendation in the Plan's 50-foot strips along some roads as part of a day-lighting program needs detailed study and should not be accepted on face-value.)
Insect/Invasive plants/Disease control: The Plan recommends some useful ways to address invasive plants, insects, and disease. I would recommend that professional ecologists be asked to peer review the recommendations as the forester's view may be skewed toward recommendations that are best for timber production instead of ecological forest health.
Questionable Aspects of the Plan:
Why is the Plan lacking in managerial specifics that really count? The Plan is, for the most part, a Forestry 101 primer for beginners in forest management from a particular perspective, commercial forestry. It isn't exactly 'boilerplate' but it is close. It is too general and too lacking in key management information to merit passage in this form.
Why does the Plan lack acreage figures for proposed logging operations? The recommendation for various types of logging operations are not useful without delineating the scope of such operations. How many '10 to 15 acre clearcuts are being recommended per year?; how many acres of shelterwood cuts are being recommended?; etc. etc.. Without some sense of the scope, the reader (or decision-maker) is not making this policy decision with full, and critically important, information.
Why does the Plan lack a projected revenue picture? The question of generating revenue for the City from logging the AW is not addressed directly. Instead, revenue generation is hidden between the lines and jargon, 'forest health', desirable species etc.. No mention is made of revenue generation in the Plan's summary cover letter or in the Resolution, but we've been told it is the primary motivator for this plan in the eyes of some Council members. Without a forthright discussion of this factor, a vote for this plan is opening issues-and a can of worms--which Council Members cannot understand from a reading of the Plan.
Why does the Plan minimize the harm to views from Blue Ridge Parkway: The plans calls for multiple 10 to 15 acre clearcuts as well as 50' strips along some watershed roads. The Plans says that "activities recommended in this plan will have minimal impact on views from the Parkway." Then two sentences later it says, "Any visible impact that may be discernable will be more than offset by the multiple benefits from this activity."
This conclusion is a value judgement premised on timber production. To dismiss degradation of the visual resource with so little discussion is unacceptable. The value of the visual resource from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the valley floor should be a major factor in any policy decision on managing the AW. ONE nineteen-acre clearcut in 1987 was highly visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway resulting in near-total opposition from the Asheville public. Is City Council opening an avoidable "here we go again" scenario?
Why does the Plan not put issues in appropriate managerial context? This Plan, to a reader familiar with forestry issues, is predicated on the premise that managing a forest for commercial timber is the highest and best use of that land. Yet, other management premises are lacking and should be included in any decision related to the management of this City asset.
For example, much is made in the Plan of the need to increase habitat in the AW for ruffed grouse. Conveniently for the timber-production premise, logging operations do this by generating new browse sources which ruffed grouse like. But the Plan is too narrow in context. Western North Carolina has plenty of fragmented forest land already for ruffed grouse. What is becoming diminished in our region is the large, contiguous, deep forest for species of birds and animals needing that type of habitat. The AW is a prime place for such a habitat, as the Plan notes. To fragment it for ruffed grouse makes no broad habitat-management sense.
Another area where context is lacking is fire control. The Plan states, "Lightning is an ever present potential ignition source. It can strike anywhere within the watershed." Sounds ominous, but there are few facts included in the Plan that a manager would need to balance costs/benefits of fire control activities. E.g. How many lightning fires has the AW experienced in the past 50 years? How many lightning fires does the USFS report in its annual findings? How do southeastern forests differ from the forests out West in fire danger/incidence?
Fire danger as a rationale for commercial logging in the southern Appalachians, except in site-specific situations, is dubious and while not made directly in the Plan, that implication is there.
Here's one quick fact: In all the National Forests of NC in 2003, the USFS had 3 lightning fires burning up a total of 14 acres of land. Our lightning fires here are generally accompanied by moisture (rain) and that helps mitigate their impact (unlike out West with dry lightning).
These are just two examples. There are others in the Plan.
Why is the impact on water quality of the Plan's recommended activities not addressed in more depth? The Plan appears to assume that logging will be done in a way that does not cause harm to water quality in the streams and reservoirs. That is an assumption that cannot be take as a given. The Plan should include details outlining of potential problems and how they would be mitigated. Water quality is barely even mentioned except in a perfunctory way in the opening.
There additional 'lackings' in the Plan about which we are concerned. However, we hope these questions will be sufficient to persuade you to step back and demand better analysis and facts. Answers to the above questions will go a long way in generating the in-depth enquiry needed to make productive policy decisions for magnificent City treasure.
Thank you for your consideration of these questions and points. I hope you will ask them at the Work Session tomorrow, June 15, 2004.
Cc: Regional Water Authority