SELC and our partners are raising concerns about the U.S. Forest Service’s latest proposal for an enormous timber sale in and around northern Georgia’s Cooper Creek watershed. Of particular concern is the alarming change the Cooper Creek proposal represents from recent projects in the Chattahoochee National Forest due to its massive size, the prime older stands it targets, and its lack of true ecological justification.
The Forest Service recently released its draft Environmental Assessment of the project, which outlines options for logging between 1,600 and 2,300 acres. Much of the proposed logging would target healthy, mature forest, including some of the most beautiful, older oak stands and white pine forests on the Chattahoochee, some over 100-years-old.
“We believe this proposal is inconsistent with the Forest Service’s own forest management plan, because hundreds of acres of logging are proposed in an area that the plan designates as unsuitable for timber production,” said Patrick Hunter, staff attorney. “What’s more, the agency claims the project is needed to improve forest health, but the agency hasn’t identified any specific forest health problem in stands slated for logging, while obvious restoration needs elsewhere go unmet.”
Logging also is proposed within the riparian buffer established in the plan, and the groups worry that excessive sedimentation from logging activities would compromise water quality in Cooper Creek and other important tributaries that are home to native brook trout, salamanders, and other species. Although the project is dubbed the “Cooper Creek Watershed Project,” the project seems likely to degrade, not improve, water quality.
“Among the proposal’s problematic aspects are plans to ‘restore’ sparsely forested, open, grassy areas called ‘open woodlands,’ through timber harvesting, repeated burning, and herbicide spraying, yet the Forest Service has not shown that these ‘woodland’ conditions are appropriate for these sites within the Chattahoochee National Forest, which currently support healthy, diverse, mature hardwood forests” said Jess Riddle from Georgia ForestWatch “Attempts to create similar open woodlands on comparable sites elsewhere in the Forest have not yet been successful. We support science-based, ecological restoration, but this proposal misses the mark by a wide margin.”
SELC and our partners, Georgia ForestWatch and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, have been following the project since it was initially proposed last spring, and will weigh in on the draft Environmental Assessment with comments and recommendations to improve suggested alternatives. Public comments are currently due in early February.
“The Cooper Creek area is one of the jewels of north Georgia that holds immense ecological and recreational value, with crystal clear trout streams, long hiking trails, and towering diverse forest,” said Colleen Kiernan from the Sierra Club. “There are better uses for this area than intensive timbering, and we hope local citizens will let the Forest Service know the importance of preserving this special place.”