Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 26, 2023

Contact:

Jason Totoiu, Center for Biological Diversity, (561) 568-6740, jtotoiu@biologicaldiversity.org
Eric Hilt, Southern Environmental Law Center, (615) 921-9470, ehilt@selctn.org
Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue, (415) 535-9004, karim@mountaintrue.org
David Reid, Sierra Club, (828) 713-1607, daviddbreid@charter.net
Jen Parravani, The Wilderness Society, (202) 601-1931, jen_parravani@tws.org
Allison Cook, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3245, acook@defenders.org

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Nantahala-Pisgah Forest in North Carolina From Destructive Logging

ASHEVILLE, N.C.— Conservation groups filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service to protect the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest from a disastrous forest plan that threatens imperiled species, including endangered bats.

Tuesday’s notice says the Service relied on inaccurate and incomplete information during the planning process, resulting in a forest plan that puts endangered wildlife at risk and quintuples the amount of heavy logging allowed. The Southern Environmental Law Center sent the notice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife.

“It’s outrageous that this forest plan greenlights a fivefold logging increase in important bat habitat even as our bat populations plummet from disease, habitat loss and climate change,” said Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This misguided plan will destroy tens, if not hundreds of thousands of acres and jeopardize species like the Indiana, northern long-eared, Virginia big-eared and gray bat. We’ll ask a court to step in to protect these highly imperiled animals.”

The Forest Service plan, published in February 2023, is a blueprint for the next 15 to 30 years of management for the 1.1-million-acre national forest in western North Carolina. It outlines where activities like logging and roadbuilding are prioritized and where they are restricted.

The forests are a critical refuge for hundreds of rare species like the Carolina northern flying squirrel and Appalachian elktoe mussel. The plan prioritizes logging in the wrong places, even where it threatens endangered wildlife.

“The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are home to amazing diversity of animals and plants, including some of the most critically endangered species in the country,” said Sam Evans, leader of the national forests and parks program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The new forest plan was a missed opportunity to follow the law and the science and to do our best to help these remarkable species recover. We cannot sit back while this irresponsible forest plan puts them at risk. Forest plans are revised only every 20 years or so, and our endangered bats won’t last that long unless we get this one right.”

Some of the most critically imperiled bats in the country are harmed by logging and need intact mature forests to survive. However, the forest plan aims to dramatically increase the amount of heavy logging allowed, including in parts of the forest that are vitally important for bats.

“The Forest Service’s management plan for the Nantahala Pisgah National Forests is deeply flawed,” said Josh Kelly, public lands field biologist at MountainTrue. “The Forest Service put commercial logging first, ignored the best science available, and is needlessly putting endangered species at risk of extinction. Our incredibly diverse ecosystems deserve a better plan. The people who love and use these forests deserve a better plan. And MountainTrue and our litigation partners are willing to go to court to win a plan that we can all be proud of.”

The notice says the Service knew its plan put endangered species at risk, but withheld information about the risks to get approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees endangered species protection. It also says the Forest Service ignored public concerns and the best available science about the new plan’s harms to endangered species.

“It is unacceptable that the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan puts imperiled wildlife at even greater risk of extinction. The Forest Service has blatantly ignored the best available science and shirked its legal duties to protect forest resources at nearly every step of the way in this planning process, leading to a plan that prioritizes logging in the wrong places and trivializes intact mature and old-growth forest habitat,” said Jess Riddle, conservation specialist at The Wilderness Society. “At a time when wildlife species face unprecedented threat from the climate crisis, we must do everything we can to protect the biodiversity that we have. We need to use every tool in our toolbox to safeguard healthy, connected nature, including litigation, if necessary.”

“The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests serve as anchor points for sensitive habitat that protects a marvelous array of plant and animal species, which are increasingly under pressure,” said David Reid, national forests issue chair for the Sierra Club. “The recently released Forest Plan misses the boat for protecting key species by emphasizing activities that fragment and degrade habitat, especially for species that rely on mature and undisturbed forests. The N.C. Sierra Club will continue to work to protect the wildlife and habitats that we cannot afford to lose.”

“The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are home to several endangered bat species that have already taken a terrible hit from white nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that infects them while they’re hibernating,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “These bats rely on intact, mature forests to forage and to rear their young. Heavy logging in some of their last and best habitat on the East Coast may tip the populations over the edge. We must hold the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service accountable for violating their Endangered Species Act duties to get the science right in the forest planning process.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 200, including 100 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. southernenvironment.org

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