Saturday, January 19, 2008

Western North Carolina Mountain Slopes Clear-Cut for Resort Development. Will Landslides Follow?

Mountain Slope Resort Development in Mars Hill, North Carolina

The mountain slopes of Western North Carolina are being cleared for expansive resort development. Will these activities weaken the landslide prone slopes of Western North Carolina?
In early December 2007, storms hit Southwest Washington. Barren mountain slopes collapsed, triggering massive landslides in the Stillman Creek area of the state. A little more than three years earlier the Weyerhaeuser Company had received state permission to clear cut 106 acres on a slope facing the creek that was the site of the catastrophic mudslides.

During a state Senate committee meeting January 10, 2008, University of Washington professor David Montgomery told the members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, "As a geologist I see no surprises here. When you clear-cut potentially unstable slopes, you increase the risk of landslides up to tenfold." Timber industry officials defended logging practices in the Willapa and Chehalis river basins, blaming the mass wasting of soil and trees on a freakish amount of snow, rain, and wind over a three-day period. Please see John Dodge's article "Logging officials defend practices" in The Olympian, January 11, 2008.

For additional information about clear cutting on unstable slopes please see
"Mudslide photo spurs look at logging practices, " Seattle Times, December 17, 2007.

According to Tyler Clark, chief geologist with the North Carolina Geological Survey, "There have been landslides in the North Carolina mountains since prehistoric times, but now more people are vulnerable because more people are choosing to live in areas that may be prone to landslides. When you add to that hurricanes or other storms that could start a landslide you have a really dangerous situation."

"Our studies of landslides across North Carolina over the last year and a half indicate that a large number of them occurred because of things that people have done to alter the landscape. These activities have included construction of roads, house building, and the cutting of trees. When you try to develop land on a steep slope, you can change a stable condition to an unstable one."

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