16smA survey, coordinated by the WNC Alliance, and with the assistance of the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition and the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, has documented 77, 418 acres of delineated old growth forests. This increases the previously recorded acres of old growth forests by over 400%. The two national forests total more that 1.1 million acres of public forests.

Rob Messick conducted the survey. Messick spent more than six years researching the two national forests for stands of old growth. The Grandfather District, in Pisgah National Forest, contains the most old growth acreage, totaling 38,937 acres. The rough topography and unique geologic features of the Blue Ridge Wall prevented logging in this particular area.

14smIn the Nantahala National Forest, the largest assemblage of old growth was found in variegated mountain ranges near Topton, NC. These areas totaled 16,827 acres of old growth. Messick found a wide array of forest communities in the Topton area forests, including Rich Cove forests. Unicoi and Black Mountains clusters were also found in these old growth areas. A total of 30 forest communities were tallied in the survey.

Michael Schafale, an ecologist with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program says, “this project represents a tremendous step forward in what we know about old growth in the Blue Ridge.” Rob Messick said, “For the first time we have a landscape scale view of old growth forest communities in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests. One of the most surprising findings was that 17 old growth sites in this national forest are over 1,000 acres in size. These large sites constitute three-quarters of the old growth acreage that was found.”

11smMessick is concerned that 42% of the recorded old growth forest does not have any permanent protective status. Only 21% of the recorded old growth forest has permanent protective status in Wilderness or Research Natural Areas. Thirty-seven percent of the recorded old growth forest is being considered for permanent protection in the inventoried roadless areas. President Clinton, in October 1999, initiated the process of gaining protection for the roadless areas. However, this initiative has not been approved by Congress.

Messick says, “We are asking that the US Forest Service give interim protection for these rare old growth forests from now until the next round of plan revisions for the Nantahal-Pisgah National Forests. Old growth forests are exceedingly rare in the eastern United States. Commercial logging should not be allowed in the last uncut forests on public land.”