The U.S. Forest Service announced Monday that it has reopened areas of the Nantahalah National Forest to logging that had been closed following the discovery of endangered bats.
"At this time of year, all the bats are back in their winter caves, and resuming these sales poses no risk to the bat," said Larry Hayden, a planning and ecosystems staff officer for National Forests in North Carolina.
The Forest Service allowed about half of the originally suspended timber sales to resume last month after surveys were completed to determine whether there were more colonies of the Indiana bats nearby.
Originally, the agency suspended timber sales in Graham, Swain, Cherokee and Macon counties in August after wildlife biologists found 28 bats, including a female that had recently given birth, roosting in a tree in Graham County.
The Indiana bat has been listed as an endangered species since 1967.
Environmentalists praised the agency's response following the discovery of the bats, but loggers condemned the decision. About 120 loggers were put out of work as a result, timber officials said.
"We know the loggers who had purchased timber from the Forest Service have been hurt by our temporary suspension of timber harvest in Graham, Swain, Macon and Cherokee counties," said Forest Supervisor John Ramey. "We now want to complete formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as soon as possible so we can implement future projects with the assurance the Indiana bat and its habitat will be adequately protected."
The Forest Service will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that enforces the Endangered Species Act, to make sure the bat's long-term survival is not compromised, agency officials said.
U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, a Brevard Republican, praised the decision to restart timber sales.
"I want to thank the Forest Service personnel in western North Carolina for their hard work toward this goal. It shows what can happen when scientific forest management and silviculture is applied to questions of forestry management policy," Taylor said.
He termed the original closings the result of "the hysterical pandering of Washington."
Taylor had sought federal disaster aid for loggers put out of work as a result of the closings.
Area environmental groups and logging industry officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Environmentalist have said that the Forest Service needs to do continual monitoring for the bats in the timber areas.