Big timber sales come back in the Clinch

By Sherman Bamford
Forests Chair

This piece was originally published in the Winter 2016-2017 issue of the Old Dominion Sierran, the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter's quarterly newletter. The full issue can be found here. 

To get new issues of the Old Dominion Sierran delivered to your mailbox, join the Sierra Club.

In the 1990s and decades before, the Clinch Ranger District was one of the most heavily logged districts in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The Clinch is in Wise, Scott, Dickinson, Lee and surrounding counties of far southwest Virginia, just south and north of a region known for its coal mining.

In the past, few people fought for the forests in the Clinch Ranger District. The U.S. Forest Service knew this and planned an array of timber sales hundreds of acres in size. The drumbeat of logging never stopped. It was truly a case of environmental injustice.

Citizens became fed up and in late 1990s banded together to stop the Bark Camp Timber sale in the popular High Knob area. Thousands of signatures were collected and the Clinch Coalition, a watchdog organization, was formed. Since then, the Forest Service has done a better job listening to and working with the public.

But unfortunately, the era of big timber sales may not be over for good-- unless we get active again. The Forest Service is now planning the Nettle Patch timber sale, hundreds of acres in the High Knob area upstream from the Guest River.

Over 900 acres of logging, 3.8 miles of roadwork, and 6.6 miles of bulldozer lines (for prescribed burning) are proposed.

The Nettle Patch sale is in an area critically important for clean water and outdoor recreation by Norton, Coeburn and groups that wish to promote eco-tourism. I have witnessed black bear in the project area.

Several of the proposed logging units are located within the approximately 4,000 foot tall zone between High Knob and Eagle Knob. Logging units are proposed in areas with steep slopes. And an old growth forest, Pickem Mountain, recognized by Virginia Natural Heritage Program could be impacted by the logging proposal. This section of the Clinch Ranger District is recognized as one of the top biological diversity hotspots in the lower 48. Rich forests abound and dozens of federally endangered and threatened mussels live downstream in the Clinch River.

The Nature Conservancy stated in an April letter to the Forest Ser- vice, the streams of Nettle Patch “contribute to both local water sup- plies and the overall health of the Clinch-Powell River System. The Clinch-Powell contains one of North America’s highest concentrations of rare aquatic species and is a national conservation priority.”

In a few days, the Forest Service is expected to release a draft analysis on the proposal. Anyone can comment on the proposal, but there will be only a short window of time to participate.

Write to Barry Garten, District Ranger, Clinch Ranger District, 1700 Park Ave SW, Norton, VA 24273 immediately and ask for a copy of the Nettle Patch analysis and send in brief comments on the proposal.

Tell the Forest Service to eliminate or reduce the logging proposed at Nettle Patch in order to protect water quality, black bears, rare aquatic species downstream, rich forest communities and high elevation forests of the area.

Tell the Forest Service to protect the Pickem Mountain conservation site and set aside a linked network of other mature forest in order to establish a sizable tract of future old growth forest habitat throughout the Nettle Patch area.

According to the Clinch Coalition, the Jefferson National Forest “lies in one of the most landslide-prone areas in the entire country, and the Clinch District has been the victim of major landslides in the past. A 2001 ood in the Stony Creek watershed resulted in 27 known landslides. Landslides in our area have been linked to logging operations, as some landslides began with slope failures on Forest Service logging roads.”