Sunday, July 18, 2004
Environmental Studies Professor at UNC-Asheville Speaks on Protecting Our Watershed
Asheville should follow other responsible communities and protectwatershed from logging By DEE EGGERS, SPECIAL TO CITIZEN-TIMES July 14, 2004 6:24 p.m.
Some people agree with the old idea that "a standing tree is a wasted tree." In truth, a standing tree is a working tree, especially in a watershed.
Some on City Council see dollar signs when they think of logging in our watershed. What they might not see is the tremendous value of leaving those trees standing. There are several economic and scientific reasons why leaving the trees in our watershed standing is a better idea than logging. Preserving the forest while generating revenue from the sale of logging rights to a conservation trust is a far better possibility.On Tuesday, Asheville City Council will consider a draft management planthat is a thinly disguised rationale for logging in the watershed.
There are many problems with logging in a watershed. First, logging can cause problemswith water supply. When we most need reliable water is during a drought. Haveyou ever wondered why rivers keep running even when it has not rained forweeks? They are fed by water seeping in from the ground along their banks. Thesame is true in a reservoir. Our source of water during a drought is rainwater that fell weeks or months ago, hit vegetation, splashed into smaller droplets, fellto the ground as a heavy mist, soaked down in to the soil (getting a high-qualityand free cleaning in the process) and then flowed slowly through the ground and finally into the reservoir.
In logged areas, most of the rainwater runs off quickly, resulting in less groundwater flowing into the reservoir duringdrought - and therefore less water available for use. This is called "decreasing safe yield" and it is one of the worst things that can happen to a public water supply.
It means, as a community grows, it will need to tap another water supply and build another multimillion dollar water treatment plant sooner than it would have had it protected the safe yield. Those standing trees are saving us money every day.The plan also includes a scary fire scenario that seems like it was written for a bad action movie, perhaps "The Fire That Ate Southern Appalachia."
According to a forestry expert I contacted, the scenario is exceedingly unlikely. Ironically, the fire scenario could be used as a reason NOT to log. Miscanthus, a problem exotic invasive, sun-loving, readily-burning grass, flourishes in the watershed. It should absolutely be controlled and removed. If the area were logged and if the areas around roads were cleared (logged) as proposed, itwould increase the rate at which this flammable grass spreads, increasing the fire hazard. Also concerning is the implication that logging would benefit biodiversity. It is theoretically possible to minimally log in the watershed with negligible environmental impact and even increase biodiversity. But just because something works in theory does not mean it is economically feasible.
The more "environmentally sensitive" the logging technique, the more expensive it is and therefore, the lower the profit. City Council is interested in this as a financial opportunity, not because they have suddenly embraced environmental stewardship. The bottom line: There is not likely to be a win-win solution that combines profitable logging with responsible protection of our water resource and the ecosystem. This proposal reads like a piece advocating logging - listing many interpretations of the benefits but not adequately addressing problemscaused by logging. Although the proposal has many good scientific points regarding problems in the watershed, the science does not support logging as a solution to those problems. A pristine watershed should be the last place a government considers logging for profit.
It is like tearing down a cathedral to sell the stones for whatever the market pays for stone - and completely failing to see the value of the cathedral.
What would be best in this instance is for the City Council to increase protection of our watershed by placing it all under permanent legal protection for the longest and best use of our water resource. Fortunately, there is an excellent alternative to logging.
Asheville can sell the logging rights to a conservation trust, which would then "retire"them, permanently protecting them from being logged.
This would generate significant revenue while protecting our water. Canton has already done this; Montreatand Woodfin are in the process. Local environmental groups are providing City Council information on this option and identifying available funds.
If this alternative appeals to you, let the members of City Council know. At the core of this complex issue is one simple fact: logging ourwatershed as a way out of a fiscal tight spot is a bad idea. Trees don't vote, but people drinking the water do. I know our City Council is a group of capablepeople who can find other, sensible solutions to our temporary problems.
Dee Eggers, Ph.D, is an assistant professor in the Environmental Studies Department at UNC-Asheville. She lives in Asheville.