Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.


  • Updated
  • 0

Forest rangers found the logs exactly where the anonymous letter said they would: near a clear-cut area of Pisgah National Forest southwest of Asheville.

Twelve-penny nails had been driven in the ends - one to three nails per log.Compared with live-tree spikings in California, Oregon and Washington, the North Carolina job could be considered amateurish.

But it has brought a swift focus to what environmentalists and foresters say is a growing opposition to clear-cutting in national forests in the southern Appalachian mountains.

Loggers clear-cut by using heavy equipment to take every tree, whether stately or sapling.

Pisgah rangers decried the spiking this past week as ``environmental terrorism' that could damage equipment and seriously injure loggers or mill workers. The Forest Service, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and sheriff's departments in Transylvania and Henderson counties began investigating. T&S Hardwoods of Sylva, owner of the spiked logs, offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the spiker's arrest and conviction.

No one said clear-cutting would stop.

Each year, loggers bid to harvest trees on an estimated 10,000 of the state's 1.5 million acres of National Forest, said Paul Schuller, director of timber management for the National Forest Service in Asheville.

About 4,000 of those acres are clear-cut.

The remaining gaps, by most accounts, are ugly. But many foresters consider the clear-cuts a necessary part of forest management.

``It looks like the Army's been in there,' said Stan Bingham, who co-owns Bingham Lumber Co. in Denton and harvests lumber from the nearby Uwharrie National Forest.

``Looks like there's been tanks and bombs. That's a clear-cut. For someone to appreciate the beauty of a forest, then to go back there ... I can see how there'd be resentment.

``But there are times,' Bingham said, ``when it's desireable.'

Not to the author of the letter received March 9 by forest rangers and Asheville area media, however:

``This here is a notice and warning: Clear cutting ain't good for nobody or any living thing,' the letter reads. ``Trees and logs have been vaccinated with spikes to stop clear-cutting in Pisgah National Forest.

``We don't want no one to get hurt. Just leave the trees alone. Please stop. Or we won't.'

Art Rowe, district ranger for the Pisgah Ranger District, fears someone will be hurt, either a logger using a chain saw or a sawyer working with circular saws more than 50 inches in diameter or band saws up to 10 inches wide.

It wouldn't be the first time.

George Alexander of Hopland, Calif., was seriously injured in May 1987 when a saw blade struck a spike in a redwood log at Louisiana Pacific Corp.'s mill in Cloverdale, Calif. The blade shattered.

Alexander was wearing protective headgear. But parts of the blade flew into his face, breaking his jaw and cutting his face and his jugular veins.

Earth First! - a loosely organized, militant environmentalist group that gives followers directions for tree-spiking - claimed the spiking that injured Alexander was the work of a John Birch Society member.

Jackie Taylor, spokeswoman for Earth First! in Asheville, said the group had not spiked the T&S logs, either. ``It could not even have been an Earth First! individual, simply because we are into preserving the living trees,' she said. ``We would have marked each tree with an 'S' with spray paint, so no one was injured.'

Loggers and mill workers have been finding metal in trees for years: nails from clotheslines or children's tree houses; horseshoes hung so long ago that branches grew around them.

It was enough of a problem for Troy Lumber Co. that company president Fred Taylor bought a metal detector about a year ago.

``If you haven't ever had anybody hurt with it, you're lucky,' he said. ``It's scary. You never know when it might happen. Things fly every which way.

``We've gotten along a lot better since we got the metal detector.'

Rowe isn't counting on technology to fight terrorism, however.

Rangers in North Carolina national forests will cut down any tree they find spiked, he said.

``The reason for that is there's a potential safety hazard in the future. Somebody could cut that tree down for firefighting, or maybe it becomes a hazard tree later on, and the chain saw operator would not be aware of the spike in there. He's facing the same hazards the logger might today.'

``Mainstream' environmentalist groups also have decried tree-spiking, saying it hurts their credibility.

``When we get frustrated, we hit the streets,' said Mary Kelly of Asheville, coordinator of the Western North Carolina Alliance. ``We don't hit the trees.

``We don't advocate a ban on clear-cutting,' she said. ``But we have seen it being prescribed across the board and for all different purposes, in too many situations.'

Foresters say clear-cutting can be beneficial, even necessary, in some areas.

``One problem we've had ... is for years we've selectively harvested the stands,' said Rick Hamilton, an extension forest resources specialist at N.C. State University.

``Every time the timber was harvested, they've taken the best,' he said. ``We're left with the poor species - the insect and disease infested, the crooked.

``When a timber stand has either been degraded by continual removal of the very best trees, leaving the worst, then clear-cutting would be a better method if we could put into a better species mix.'

But better ``mixes' won't always grow, argue environmentalists who fear clear-cutting threatens biological diversity.

``The problem is not to get trees to grow back,' Kelly said. ``The mountains are good at growing trees all by themselves. It's a question of what species. Clear-cutting favors species like poplar that require a lot of light.'

Hamilton argues that clear-cutting helps wildlife, providing necessary open areas for deer and turkeys.

But it destroys habitats for many species, in particular the black bear, said David Wheeler of Sylva, organizer of the activist group Rescue Rangers, and Peter Kirby, regional supervisor for the National Wildlife Federation. The national forests are believed to be the only areas left in the state where the bears will live.

``The black bear's not endangered, but it's facing so many intense habitat pressures,' Wheeler said. ``Their population is going to really be threatened.'

Kelly also argues that clear-cut areas waste many high-quality small trees, which could be left to grow if selective harvesting were used. Instead, many trees wind up as pulpwood for paper manufacturers, she said.

Hamilton predicts a growth in other types of logging.

``I think there's more of a trend toward selective harvesting, in a controlled sense,' he said. ``Trees would be marked. We'd try to upgrade the stand by selectively harvesting, doing it under supervision of a forester to be certain poor quality trees are removed along with the good ones.

``There is some resentment and resistance in the timber industry,' he said. 'They don't want every acre tied up in it. It's very expensive.'

With the right equipment, timber companies today can make use of almost every part of a clear-cut harvest. Bark goes to nurseries, sawdust to brick manufacturers. Wood chips can be used in paper manufacturing; better wood becomes boards for building or furniture making.

High-volume lumber producers often prefer clear-cutting, because ``economically, it's easier for them,' said Bingham, owner of the Denton lumber company.

``We do quite a bit of this now,' he said. ``But I don't like to see it. I support thinning.'

Bingham attributes his mixed feelings to the two years he worked with the National Forest Service in Oregon, marking trees for felling.

``Gosh I hated to mark some of those trees,' he said. ``It's beautiful. So beautiful. There are areas where nothing is cut, and if a tree dies and falls it'll be there 100 years.'

But Bingham clear-cuts when he feels he must - either because private landowners demand it or because other companies are doing it, and he has to compete.

``I guess it's a sad business to be in,' he said. ``But it's essential.'

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News