Swannanoa Valley Alliance for Beauty & Prosperity (SVABP)

PO Box 1341, Black Mountain, NC 28711 828-669-6677

wncceib@buncombe.main.nc.us     www.main.nc.us/wncceib/AshevilleWatershed.htm

SVABP's Reaction, Assessment, & Recommendations
arising from the Asheville City Council Work Session July 20, 2004

Presentation of the proposed "Forestry Management Plan" for the Asheville Watershed

Background: On July 20, 2004, the proposed Forestry Management Plan for the 22,000 acre Asheville Watershed was presented to City Council in a Work Session. The presenters were Interim Water Resources Department Director David Hanks and contracted registered forester, Ed Hicks. No public input was allowed but Council members asked numerous questions. The entire session lasted about two hours. Council voted to present the Plan at the next open City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 along with Amendments to make the Plan consistent with the Conservation Easement already on the property. Public input will be allowed at that meeting.

SVABP's Reaction, Assessment, and Recommendations:

Overall reaction: The presenters did not appear well-prepared except to describe the draft Plan in general terms. There were no visuals, no maps, no prepared cost analyses, and no real sense of direction. In short, it felt unprofessional for a city of Asheville's size and a question as important as the Asheville Watershed's future management.

At the same time, because Council asked for Amendments to the Plan before it is discussed at the open City Council meeting on July 27, 2004, there is a real opportunity to find a win-win resolution.

Lack of Awareness of provisions in the Asheville Watershed's Conservation Easement: The most surprising revelation that came out at the meeting was the fact that the contracted forester had not coordinated his proposal with the Conservation Easement on the property, nor with the Conservation Trust of NC, the legal holder of the easement.

Thus, for example, where the easement says that only 'uneven-aged' timber management can occur, the Plan recommends 'even-aged' harvest methods, e.g. 5 to 10 acre clearcuts, .5 to 2 acre shelterwoods, and 50' strips along the roads. (Note: clearcut type logging leaves all the trees in a particular stand or area the same age, thus, 'even-aged.')

Lack of Awareness of the Conservation Easement's intent to protect views from Blue Ridge Parkway: The Plan and the presenters seemed unaware that the Conservation Easement specifically designates views from the Blue Ridge Parkway as a key component of the purpose of the easement. Had the forester actually consulted the Conservation Trust of NC as he prepared his proposal, he would never have stated in the Plan, "Any visible impact that may be discernable will be more than offset by the multiple benefits from the activity." Such 'discernable' impact is simply not allowed.

Issues involved needed a different kind of expertise: Council and the presenters repeated numerous times that the purpose of the Plan is not to do commercial logging for revenue generation. Yet, preparing land for commercial timber production is the real expertise of a registered forester like Mr. Hicks. There seems to be a disconnect between the expertise hired and the expertise needed. We had these questions:

-Why is a timber-oriented forester asked to make a road improvement and emergency access plan when a forest road engineer is the proper expert to do so? (The USFS doesn't have its silvaculturalists prepare road plans. They have a whole department of road engineers. Why hasn't the city sought such expertise?)

-Why is a timber-oriented forester making recommendations about fire control when there are fire ecologists and fire control experts who would be much better prepared to answer those questions? Why hasn't the City sought out such expertise? (The Chiefs of nearby Fire Departments have given input which is good, but their input would be limited to

-Why is a timber-oriented forester making recommendations about wildlife habitat when there are many wildlife ecologists who could better do that job? Why hasn't the City sought such expertise?

-Why is a timber-oriented forester making recommendations about invasive plants and insect pests when there are forest ecologists far better prepared to do so? Why hasn't the City sought such expertise?

Wildlife habitat aspects are skewed toward logging: It is fascinating that City officials are suddenly so concerned about wildlife habitat. However, it not so surprising when one notes that the only 'habitat manipulation' methods recommended are ones involving and promoting logging. Moreover, the discussion of habitat was limited to creating habitat for species desiring 'edge' (conveniently created by logging operations). There was no consideration of the fact that western NC has plenty of fragmented forests and 'edge' already. What we lack and what is disappearing daily is the deep forest habitat of large contiguous, unfragmented forests. The vision so lacking in the presentation is the opportunity the City of Asheville has to provide more of the deep-forest type of habitat which will be beneficial for species thriving in deep-forest environments.

Serious doubts about some of the Plan's ecological information: Mr. Hicks talked as if the invasive exotic species, Miscanthus sinesis grass (also known as Chinese grass or Silver grass), flourishes in a canopied forest. Ecologists present noted afterward that that is not the case, making the scenario of the Micanthus grass taking fire throughout the forest, as Mr. Hicks stated, dubious.

Miscanthus grass IS indeed an invasive and a problem in the Watershed but mainly where it is growing in full or partial sun. That fact seems to argue against another of Mr. Hicks' recommendations, that of cutting 50' strips along Watershed roads to ensure better access (i.e., less fallen trees across the roads). Invasives come in and spread in just that type of environment!

He also minimized the problem of oriental bittersweet, while ecologists there said after the meeting that this plant is actually a bigger problem than the grass as an invasive species.

This area of discussion felt inadequately prepared in the Plan. The need for a ecological expert on the issue was clear.

Framing of Plan Should be a 'Watershed Management Plan' not a Forestry Management Plan: If commercial logging and revenue generation is truly not the intention of the Plan, then a name-change should be in order. "Forestry Management Plan" in USFS, timber industry, and environmental circles is accepted jargon for management focused on commercial timber production. Thus, it would better reflect the purpose of this Plan to call it a "Watershed Management Plan." Doing so would also put road maintenance, invasive plant removal, fire control, and security in a more appropriately-named management context.

Recommendations:(so far!)

-Accept Mr. Hicks' proposed Forestry Management Plan as a good discussion-starter but not as a specific road map for City staff action.

-Approve the development of a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan with the City's Planning Department brought in to coordinate the process while contracting experts in specific fields to advise where appropriate (road maintenance, invasive exotic species removal, security, wildlife habitat etc.).

-Hold an initial public meeting to gather public suggestions and then hold quarterly update-meetings for the public as the Watershed Management Plans is developed.

-Strengthen the existing Asheville Watershed Conservation Easement to disallow commercial logging on the Watershed (just as Greenville SC has done in its 27,000 acre Watershed). This action would give the public confidence that the City Council is sincere about not promoting the Forestry Management Plan as a Trojan horse for commercial logging.

-Approve the initiation of a comprehensive biological survey of the entire property and start the process of bid development. This survey would serve as a benchmark for the Watershed Management Plan and any activities that may be envisioned in the future.

-Approve the intent to remove the Miscanthus sinesis grass and other invasives & insect pests and bring in ecologists to formulate a removal plan that could commence soon.

-Approve the intent to create a road maintenance and emergency access plan as part of the overall Watershed Management Plan and proceed to take initial steps to map roads, clear key roads of fallen trees, and put up signage needed by emergency crews.

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