Protecting Our Southern Appalachian National Forests

Timber Sales Can Threaten Scenic Treasures and Ecological Gems: SELC worked to limit logging that would have been visible from Devil’s Courthouse, a sacred Cherokee site on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Photo © Jerry Greer

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President dismantles stream protections, threatening drinking water for Southeasterners, nation More »

Today President Donald Trump signed into law a repeal of the Stream Protection Rule, dismantling key protections that help keep our drinking water safe from coal pollution. The President’s signature on this bill marks the first anti-environmental rollback of many promised from this new administration.

“In their first move to dismantle basic protections of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we depend on, anti-environment leaders in Congress and the Administration chose to put coal-mining profits over the health and safety of Appalachian communities,” said SELC Senior Attorney Deborah Murray. “Limiting the toxic waste coal companies can dump in our rivers and streams is not a burdensome government regulation; it is common sense and, quite frankly, the job of our federal government. We cannot continue to allow toxic mining pollution in our sources of drinking water.”

Often, mining companies have sent toxin-laden waste tumbling from mountaintops into valleys and streams, harming or destroying these crucial waterways. The Stream Protection Rule limited the amount of mining waste that could be deposited into streams and required mining companies to monitor the water for coal contaminants and report the findings to the public.

Finalized in December after years of input from a wide range of stakeholders, the rule provided clarity and peace of mind to those still living in coal communities and protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest for the next 20 years, according to the Department of the Interior.

Provisions in the rule included requiring companies to avoid mining practices that would permanently pollute streams or drinking water sources and restoring streams and mined areas to pre-mining uses.

But now the protections have been stripped from these communities through use of the Congressional Review Act to repeal the rule. The Congressional Review Act process prohibits any similar rules from taking shape in the future. That means these protections for important sources of drinking water in mining communities could go away—for good.

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Spanning nearly five million acres from Virginia to Alabama, the national forests that blanket our Southern Appalachian mountains offer endless opportunities for recreation, safeguard our drinking water supplies, provide habitat for a diverse array of fish and wildlife, and contribute millions to our economy. Preserving these forests has been at the heart of SELC’s mission from the day we opened our doors in 1986.

SELC has a number of key priorities in defending our treasured Southern Appalachian forests, including:

Challenge Destructive Logging Projects and Other Damaging Activities

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed inappropriate timber sales and other logging plans that threaten thousands of acres in the Southern Appalachians. Especially at risk are mature, hardwood forests that contain unbroken wildlife habitat and patches of rare remaining old growth forests; headwater streams that feed drinking water supplies; and places beloved by hikers, anglers, and others who enjoy backcountry recreation. Misguided road-building proposals and excessive off-road vehicle use in inappropriate locations also pose risks to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and peaceful recreation. SELC challenges these proposals to protect ecological and scenic treasures that are vital to the Southeast.

Restore Ravaged Lands

Many areas in the region’s national forests have been planted or allowed to grow back after massive clear-cutting in the past. In some areas, our forests are still recovering from the consequences of past mismanagement. We work to ensure the Forest Service’s long-term forest management plans make active restoration a priority, in specific places where thoughtful management can improve the health of our forestlands, at the same time that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Safeguard Roadless Areas: Our Last Wild Places

In 1999, we turned our focus toward protecting the wildest, most valuable areas of our national forests – the more than 700,000 acres of roadless areas that we and our partners had identified in our region – for inclusion in the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which shields national forest land from road building and commercial logging. In 2012 we celebrated a major victory for our southern forests when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Roadless Rule to stand, effectively protecting these special areas for generations to come. 

Set a Positive Vision for the Future

SELC uses a variety of approaches to defend the Southern Appalachian forests, but our greatest leverage comes in shaping the U.S. Forest Service’s management plans that decide a national forest’s future for 15 or more years at a time. We work to shape these plans so the Forest Service will agree, up front, to prohibit logging from certain critical areas or to exclude destructive practices such as natural gas fracking. This allows us to work together in subsequent years on positive projects that move our conservation vision forward.