U.S. Forest Service Clinch District Ranger Michelle Davalos on Tuesday said a final decision and management plan was signed March 7 that will allow timber harvesting on 577 acres of forest in an area running from the Clear Creek area south of Norton to the Machine Creek and Burns Creek areas south of the Tacoma community between Norton and Coeburn.
Davalos said the Nettle Patch project was designed to bring a “healthy mix of young and open woodlands” while improving hunting, camping and other forms of recreation by allowing logging and thinning of trees.
Davalos and Steve Brooks, a member of environmental group The Clinch Coalition, each said that the finalized plan addressed environmental concerns about water quality, soil erosion, recreational use, climate change and effects on aquatic life and other native species.
The three creeks in the plan area feed into the Guest River, Davalos said.
When the management plan started development and review in 2016, according to Brooks, logging was proposed for a 1,419-acre site including Pickem Mountain. After negotiations between the Forest Service, The Clinch Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center progressed, Pickem Mountain was removed from consideration for logging, Brooks said. That lowered the total area for logging to the final 577 acres.
The final plan approved this month also eliminated 1,122 acres of controlled burning of land in the Nettle Patch plan zone. Clinch Coalition president Harry Warren credited Forest Service officials for listening to his organization’s concerns over burning and the Pickem Mountain logging.
Davalos said the decision now allows the Forest Service to begin what will be at least a three-year process of marking trees for cutting and setting specific areas off-limits for logging. Value of timber in the area will have to be assessed, she said, and a process for soliciting bids, developing a contract and awarding to a timber contractor will follow.
Once a contract is awarded, Davalos said, the contractor typically has three to five years to complete logging and work under the contract.
“This and future projects will allow us to use stewardship authority to take timber sale receipts and reinvest them back on the forest for activities such as wildlife habitat improvement, non-native species treatments, and road maintenance,” Davalos said.
“The Forest Service’s agreement to not log on Pickem Mountain was critical to protecting these incredibly special areas,” Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Kristen Davis said in a statement released Monday. “In the end, the Forest Service listened to public concerns and worked with us to resolve them. I appreciate how committed everyone was to getting this right.”
"We very much appreciate that the Forest Service took time to meet with us, listen to our members' concerns and make changes to their plans accordingly,” Clinch Coalition vice president Wally Smith said.