The realities of being green

The Western Carolina Forest Sustainability Initiative (WCFSI) under the direction of Pete Bates, associate professor of Natural Resources Management at WCU, grew out of the Little Tennessee Sustainable Forestry Initiative that was created in 2002. The LTSFI was a collaboration among the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT), WCU’s geosciences and natural resources management, Duke University and The Conservation Fund.


The two local entities WCFSI and LTLT have had a positive impact on thousands of acres of forests across Western North Carolina. But according to Bates there is much still to be done and there are significant challenges facing WCFSI.

While working forest easements and other conservation easements are helping to preserve parts of our forested landscape, the preservation of the majority of private timberland across the region is primarily impacted by economics.

Easements may make it economically feasible for some landowners to keep their wooded acres but for private forests to thrive across the region they will have to be economically profitable. According to WCFSI the values of forest products are not keeping pace with the costs of forest management. This coupled with rising real estate values in the mountains puts more of our private forests in jeopardy of being developed. Bates and WCFSI believe that the creation of a public/private partnership could help overcome some of the obstacles associated with making sustainable forestry, profitable forestry.

Two of the biggest obstacles, according to WCFSI, are creating better markets for forestry products and identifying foresters who can make a living providing best management, sustainable forestry. Most of today’s forests have been marginalized by poor forestry practices resulting in stands of small, low-quality timber for which there is no market. This means that positive impact sustainable forestry starts out in the hole because the first treatment is to remove a large portion of this low quality timber in order to restore and improve the stand.

Because logging in the mountains is so expensive and time consuming loggers often feel the need to take as much high quality timber as fast as they can. But this practice is counter to positive impact forestry, which is designed to leave a significant number of high quality trees to ensure the forest remains economically and ecologically sound.

Bates believes these issues could best be addressed by the creation of a public/private enterprise. Some of the benefits he sees include the opportunity for student interns to receive hands-on forestry training in a real business environment. The business would benefit by having a pool of foresters versed in positive impact forestry.

He believes such a partnership would allow WCU to become a leader in researching and initiating sustainable forestry protocol that could be implemented across all of Appalachia. And he believes the partnership could help shape new markets for forest products and create new technologies to enhance sustainable forest management.

Sustainability is one of those terms like “environmentally friendly” that is beginning to lose all relevance. To date, sustainable forestry has been equivalent to subsistence forestry and/or a tax break.

But here we have an organization grappling with the issues involved in actually putting the concept of sustainable forestry on the ground in a way that would, in their words “lead the way in demonstrating the potential for sustainable forest management to contribute to the local economy while meeting society’s desire for an ecologically-vibrant and healthy Appalachian forest.”

It’s a tall order, but surely one worth supporting.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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