When the Weeks Act was passed by Congress 100 years ago, the region’s forests were, for the most part, in a severely cut over, degraded condition. Champion Fiber (later to become Champion Lumber), Ritter, Andrews, and Gennett Lumber companies, along with many others, had clearcut tens of thousands of acres in the Western North Carolina mountains in the early 20th century and left in their collective wake a landscape of silt-filled streams and fire-ravaged hillsides.
Massachusetts Con. John Weeks had seen the devastation in his own state for years and became a champion for the legislation that authorized the U.S. Forest Service to begin acquiring “the lands nobody wanted” from willing sellers in the eastern United States. This legislation established what are known as Purchase Units for the U.S Forest Service, which created boundaries around large areas of eastern states that authorized them to purchase land within.
... Today, the acreage of the Nantahala-Pisgah national forest totals 1.1 million acres. It is the defining natural feature of our landscape, and coupled with our remaining working farms and forests, rural communities, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, it makes for one of the most culturally and naturally rich landscapes in North America.
…So where are we 100 years after the passage of this critical legislation, with its emphasis on watershed and forest restoration, outdoor recreation, and sustainable timber supply?
...The demand for water will only grow in the region, and surrounding cities like Atlanta, Knoxville, and Charlotte will increasingly look to our mountains to meet their water needs for their own growing populations. They’ll also look here for their energy needs, which could include possible biomass from our forests and wind turbines on our ridgelines. With this comes the demand for infrastructure, along with the loss of working farms and forests.