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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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.