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Tennessee is fortunate to have fourteen state forests. However, some of these lands are are facing long-term negative impacts from heavy logging. Districts like the Natchez Trace, Chuck Swan, and Prentice Cooper need a fresh approach to forest management. Click here for more.
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Action alert- Unicoi Mountain Project in the Cherokee National Forest
The Unicoi Mountain Project in the Cherokee National Forest is slated as a forest restoration project. However there are some significant concerns. The public needs to give its voice by Saturday May 22.
The project has an objective of removing what is characterized as “off site” white pine and Virginia pines. The expansion of these species follows the effects of past clearing of the forests a century ago, the loss of the American Chestnut, and past timber management policies that encouraged repeated logging that has shifted the balance of forest composition. Much of this area is already fragile due to having steep mountainside that have suffered loss of soil quality from past logging and are struggling to recover.
The project includes 110 acres of clearcutting and 514 acres of seedtree cuts (near clearcuts where a few trees are left). There will also be 1237 acres of thinning cuts and 4463 acres of release and improvement cuts.
Most concerning is a series of cuts on some of the steepest slopes in the project, where the supposed ecological benefit could well be overshadowed by potential mountainside erosion and other logging effects. The Cherokee has a history of forest restoration projects that were meant to promote oak and shortleaf pine regeneration or establishment that have failed to effectively establish these species, sometimes with the persistence of eroded areas and bare skid roads. This has been a problem of many forests in the region, including the nearby Chattahoochee. Some of the commercial logging treatments will occur along the scenic Benton Mackaye Trail.
The Forest Service should be encouraged to scale back the riskiest of these project areas.
- Logging and use of logging equipment should be avoided on the Benton Mackaye Trail and its corridor.
- Clearcuts and seedtree cuts are high risk on sites where slopes are steep (exceeding 40 and 50 percent in some places) and occur on sites that the Forest Service has identified in past analyses as Soils of Concern. Some of these cuts occur on sites with this combination in Compartment 136 (like stands 4 and 7) on the south slope from the Benton Mackaye and should be withdrawn or reconsidered with less intensive treatments.
- Seedtree logging is proposed on the eastern slope of Buck Bald (compartment 133 stand 6) and contains a stable population of hemlock, a species in decline. While hemlock is not targeted for logging, the disruptive nature of high-level logging on this site (which also has the soils of concern and steep slopes) make it a risky place for logging.
- Stand 5 in Compartment 138 is scheduled for commercial thinning. The Benton Mackaye runs through this area. It is botanically rich and already has a diverse oak/hickory mix with some impressive large specimens. Dating from 1905, it is one of the oldest stands in the area and does not need a restoration treatment.
- Many restoration projects of the last 20-30 years not turning out to be successful. Some of the restoration logging at Unicoi would actually treat past projects from previous decades that did not effectively establish desired oak/shortleaf forest communities. The agency should ensure that if this project is to go through that it operate carefully on a scale that allows them to effectively monitor the progress of its work and ensure that past problems aren’t repeated again. Clear monitoring procedures need to be detailed before the final plan for this project take place.
Written comments should be mailed to District Ranger Michael Wright
By mail: 3171 Highway 64, Benton, TN 37307;
or faxed to (423) 338-6577.
Oral comments can be made via phone at (423) 338-3300.
Email comments: SM.FS.R8cherococom@usda.gov
Please identify the project name “Dry Forest Community Restoration Unicoi Mountain Project” in the subject line when providing electronic comments.