Roadless Rule could affect Roan Mountain

By Jennifer Lassiter
Star Staff

Spring is in the air. Hikers are making their way to Maine, crossing the Appalachian Trail. Roan Mountain views are spectacular, the world seemingly untouched by man. Until...the sound of chain saws...cutting and hauling trees from our forest.
   Environmentalists say this could be the future 4,400 acres of our Cherokee National Forest in Carter County, if the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is reversed. The Roadless Rule prohibits construction of roads and logging on National Forest land to preserve old-growth forest for wildlife and recreation.
   However, Forest Service officials say these areas are protected regardless of the Roadless Rule because of their New Land Management Plan, which keeps these forests in protected status even if the Roadless Rule doesn't exist.
   Slide Hollow Roadless Area in Carter County, which consists of the Elk River and Sugar Hollow Creek, is currently protected, but recently a similarly protected National Forest in Alaska was reversed by the Bush administration, which could mean other forests are in consideration for timber cutting.
   Keith Sandifer, Planning Staff Officer for the Forest Service said, "We don't clear cut as many people think. We strategically select areas for habitats."
   Environmentalist feel logging in the county's national forest could damage tourism. Many vacationers come to our area for pristine views of untouched forest. Carter County offers everything from golfing, fishing, hiking, watersports, cross country skiing and hunting.
   The latest economic report states that in 2001, $20.12 million came into the local economy, and in 2000 for every dollar invested in tourism, $23.83 came back in return. These are significant numbers that are growing an average increase of 4 percent per year, according to Larry Gobble, director of the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Council.
   In 2001, 160 people in Carter County were employed through tourism. These people make a living by working at local restaurants, motels, area marinas and summer employment.
   Logging not only could affect tourism, but wildlife also. Many species that live in our area are indigenous to the Appalachian Mountains. Black bears need ample room to breed, and oftentimes will not cross roads to reproduce which limits their inhabitants.
   Sediment and silt run-offs are of primary concern to the Carter County area, since the area of Slide Hollow is remembered for its early history of mudslides. Environmentalists feel the construction of these roads would only add to the demise of the rivers and creeks downstream.
   Sandifer, of the forest service said, "If tree harvesting is done incorrectly it could have an effect, but our standards are much higher than the state's."
   "The Southern Appalachian region, particularly the Cherokee National Forest, is at risk because we have so few roadless areas," said Hugh Irwin, a conservation planner for Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition.
   "The roads being built aren't used by the public, but our tax money funds these roads and the maintenance of them," said Jackie Dobrinska, spokeswoman for the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition. Dobrinska also said, "If the Roadless Rule doesn't prevail the forest will be logged, which decreases clean water and recreation."
   Roadless issues in this county are often overlooked, but once old-growth trees are cut down, they simply can't be replaced. Many of these trees are hundreds of years old, and the Roadless Rule is the only thing protecting them.
   Extensive logging has been done to the area south of Stoney Creek, which used to be an area considered for protection. Since logging has started, this pristine area has been excluded from roadless protection.
   Issues involving the environment can be confusing at times. According to Forest Service's Public Affairs Officer for the Cherokee National Forest, Terry McDonald, some of these roadless areas are designated as "wilderness areas," which means that most of these areas are protected regardless of the Roadless Rule.
   Environmentalists are fighting to save what we have left of old-growth forest in the southeast. The forest service has the same underlying intentions, but the future of our forest is uncertain. There's only one certain thing, logging has an affect on more than just economics.