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Environment in 2005

Outdoor recreation and the environment go hand in hand. Paddlers like clean rivers, hikers prefer old-growth forests over those that have been logged, road bikers generally disapprove of red alert ozone days and fishermen hate it when the property adjacent to their favorite fishing hole turns into a gated community.

Here’s some highlights from this year’s environmental news affecting WNC.

Biodiesel station opens

Blue Ridge Biofuels Cooperative, the first biodiesel station in the region, is located at 405 Haywood Road in West Asheville just off I-240 at exit 2. Biodiesel is a vegetable oil based fuel that can be used in any diesel engine and in oil furnaces.

Air quality inspections

Vehicles in Haywood County now have to meet an emissions test as part of the annual vehicles safety inspections. A state law requiring automobile emissions testing was passed in 1999. The requirement was phased in starting with the most populous counties first. The emissions testing applies only to the most populous 48 counties, and therefore does not include Swain, Jackson and Macon counties.

Exotic aquatics

The N.C. Wildlife Commission tightened oversight on stocking rivers, creeks and ponds with fish, ending the free-for-all by implementing a permit system aimed at protecting native species and ecosystem.

Homeowners endowing their backyard creeks with trout, developers outfitting subdivision ponds with ornamental goldfish, campgrounds stocking catch-out ponds and sport fishing clubs stocking rivers with trophy trout are now required to obtain permits before dumping fish into public waters. The move was prompted over concerns of exotic aquatic species hurting native fish species.

Happy Birthday, Smokey

The National Forest Service turned 100 this year. In 1905, the first national forest tracts — some 63 million acres — were placed under the Department of Agriculture. Now the Forest Service manages more than 193 million acres and has about 35,000 employees.

Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester in 1905, established the famous “greatest good” yardstick for managing the forest: “Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question will always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

A century later, the debate over what exactly is the greatest good — whether it’s logging, outdoor recreation, wilderness conservation — rages on.

Red days get costly

A new state law was passed imposing fines of up to $10,000 for people who burn brush piles on red alert ozone days.

Nantahala threatened

Nantahala National Forest received special mention in a report on the most endangered national forests in the country.

The report, called “America’s Endangered National Forests: Lumber, Landfill or Living Legacy?” was published by the National Forest Protection Alliance. The Nantahala National Forest did not make the top 10 — slots largely reserved for forests in the West where logging occurs on a much larger scale — but it did receive special mention due to an increase of large scale logging operations relative to its size and increased pressure from encroaching development.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration reversed restrictions imposed four years ago on roadless areas within national forests, reopening 142,000 acres of designated roadless area in North Carolina — mostly in WNC — to the possibility of logging and related road building.

Cleaner utility

The Progress Energy coal-fired power plant in Asheville became the first in the state to meet the strict new emissions standards set forth in the Clean Smokestack Act passed three years ago. Under the terms of the act, power consumers agreed to absorb the cost of emissions upgrades in their electric bills.

Sustainable practices

A new Web site was created to document “Best Sustainability Practices” in the Southern Appalachian Highlands. Erosion control practices employed by Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County are featured on the site. Other examples include organic farming practices and land rehabilitation projects.

See www.nbii.gov/datainfo/bestpractices/appalachia/index.html.

Park gets hybrid cars

Toyota donated four new Toyota Prius hybrid fuel vehicles to be used by park rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The fuel efficient hybrid vehicle will raise awareness for air pollution in the park and reduce auto emissions by patrolling rangers. The vehicles, valued at $20,763 each, were donated to Friends of the Smokies, which immediately turned the vehicles over to the park.

Saving forest commodities

Concern over a decline in galax — a native Southern Appalachian forest plant prized by the floral industry — prompted a ban on the collection of the plant in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests between May 1 to June 15, a critical growth period for galax colonies.

The round glossy galax leaves are sturdy, have a long-shelf life and hold up to shipping, making them a hot commodity in floral arrangements. It is estimated that up to 2 billion galax leaves are harvested annually at a value of more than $20 million.

A new rule also went into effect for ginseng diggers. The minimum age for ginseng roots being exported was increased from 5 years old to 10 years old. The move was intended to give ginseng a better chance at reproducing, as it takes several years before a ginseng plant is mature enough to produce seeds.

Share a ride

A new on-line carpooling database was created to match up commuters in WNC with the aim of reducing air pollution from vehicles.

Emissions from fossil-fuel power plants are gradually being reduced through legislation that sets a timeline for phasing in pollution controls. Meanwhile, however, vehicle miles per capita are growing exponentially and could soon be the largest contributor to air pollution.

To find a fellow commuter in your neighborhood with a similar work destination, check out www.sharetheridenc.org.

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