Buck Project Bucks Popular Opinion
By Joshua Blanco
Earlier this summer the US Forest Service (USFS) gave the green light on plans to move forward with the controversial Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest despite objections from local conservationist groups. Though the goal of the project is to provide additional young forest habitat and improve water resource conditions in the area, a growing number of citizens have expressed concern.
Following an August 2019 release of its draft decision, the USFS was met with formal objections as some complained the plan to create nearly 800 acres of young forest will not be sufficient to support certain species of wildlife. Other critics believe the project is disrupting more area than is required for the desired outcome.
Amelia Burnette, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), says the plan brings high-intensity logging to an area the Forest Service acknowledges as a rich and sensitive habitat, which is part of the controversy.
Despite a formal objection by the SELC on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Appalachian Voices, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and MountainTrue, the Forest Service decided against a more favorable alternative that included roughly 300 acres less than is outlined in the current plan.
According to MountainTrue field biologist Josh Kelly, the negative impacts associated with the additional acreage is too great to ignore, citing potential water quality damage and unnecessary road building that could lead to landslides in the not-so-distant future. “Certainly there will be some benefits,” he says. “We just believe the harms will outweigh the benefits in these particular areas.”
The USFS stood by its decision to move forward with the project. “Ultimately, we all want a healthy, diverse forest that sustains wildlife,” says Tusquitee District ranger Andy Gaston. “But like all compromises, no one is getting everything they want.”
Still, many who spoke out in opposition to the current alternative feel their input did not receive proper consideration. “The Forest Service was somewhat dismissive of those comments as being too similar to each other and that’s disappointing,” Burnette says.
The amount of public comment surrounding the Buck Project was unusually high, Burnette added, leaving people baffled at the decision of the USFS to go with a less popular option, especially considering the additional time and resources associated with the plan they chose. “It seems the Forest Service would rather try to do work over our objections than with our support,” says Kelly.
But the fight isn’t over. “Because the Forest Service did not provide the kind of environmental analysis that would be needed to understand risks and prevent harm in this delicate landscape,” Burnette added, “the agency has left itself vulnerable to problems as it moves forward.” Once the project starts to ramp up, MountainTrue and other activist groups will make it a point to monitor the situation closely in an attempt to mitigate any damages that could be inflicted upon the forest and its thriving ecosystems. “I hope for the best,” Kelly says. “I hope there aren’t any bad impacts, but if there are, we will certainly find out and hold them accountable.”
For details on the Buck Project, visit the US Forest Service website at fs.usda.gov. To get involved or learn more about the controversy surrounding the Buck Project, visit the SELC website or contact the Asheville office at 828.258.2023.