Waynesville town leaders are weighing whether to conduct selective logging of an old white pine plantation in the Waynesville watershed, a protected 8,000 acre tract whose creeks feed Waynesville’s drinking water reservoir.
While the town permanently protected the watershed from development and large-scale logging several years ago, it left the door open for limited forest management as the need arose. Despite public outcry, the town board maintained that limited timber harvests would be used sparingly and wisely — if at all — and only when the overall health of the forest stood to benefit.
Logging would not be pursued for purely a profit motive, they claimed at the time, nor would it jeopardize water quality of the headwaters that supply Waynesville’s drinking water.
Indeed, the logging being recommended today is being billed as environmentally beneficial.
Foresters, along with the town’s watershed advisory board, have recommended thinning out an old white pine plantation to make way for hardwood trees, which have more ecological benefits.
The harvest plan calls for cutting most of the white pine trees from a 10-acre area. The white pines are widely spaced, and hardwoods have already started growing up in the understory. Removing most of the white pines will allow the hardwoods to mature.
The timber harvest plan calls for selective cutting on another 40 acres, where the white pines are much denser and about 30 years old.
“The idea is to thin this stand,” said Rob Lamb, executive director of Forest Stewards, which has spent several years studying and assessing the watershed’s ecology to develop a long-range forest management plan.
Thinning will increase the vigor of the remaining white pine, plus let some light in to the forest floor to accelerate the re-establishment of native hardwoods.
The far more healthy and valuable stand of white pines left standing could be harvested 20 years from now while allowing for the re-establishment of natural forest at the same time.
Lamb believes it is a win-win-win scenario. He said the watershed will benefit ecologically by phasing out an old white pine plantation in favor of hardwoods, while the town will likely see some profits from the harvest. The logging company that gets the winning bidder would also make money.
Charles Miller, a Waynesville native who lives near the watershed, doesn’t like the idea, however. He was an outspoken critic of timber harvesting in any form or fashion during the debate over the issue five years ago and instead advocates a hands-off management approach.
Miller said the white pine stand is dying off anyway, and hardwoods will take over in their own time.
“The pines are dying. It would be better to have that dead wood on the ground and regenerate the soil than to go in there and destroy that,” Miller said.
Miller said logging will tear up the ground and trample the small hardwoods that have already taken root.
Miller said it is likely a done deal though, citing the outcry that ensued five years ago, to no avail.
“We turned in a petition with 600 names on it and they ignored it,” Miller said.
Town leaders voted 3 - 2 to reserve the right to conduct limited timber harvests in the watershed if deemed ecologically sound. While the watershed emerged as an election issue, those who favored forest management provisions kept their seats.
Peter Bates, natural resources professor at Western Carolina University and president of Forest Stewards board of directors said the harvest plan doesn’t jeopardize the town’s primary goals of conservation and water quality protection.
Town manager Lee Galloway said he feels the Town is ready to “take action” on the white pine harvest plan.
The recommendation comes from the Waynesville Watershed Advisory Board, which Galloway says is comprised of people knowledgeable of forestry practices as well as ordinary citizens. It is also based on a comprehensive management plan for the watershed created by Lamb and Bates,
After the comment period the town board will ultimately decide whether or not to go ahead with the white pine harvest.
“If they decide to go ahead and we advertise the timber sale it could be several months before the bid is completed,” Bates said.
Lamb said he is confident, “… we will get some good bidders.”
Want to weigh in?Public input on whether to selectively log an old white pine plantation in the Waynesville watershed will be accepted through Nov. 12. The proposed harvest plan is available on the town’s website or hard copies may be picked up at Town Hall.