U.S. Forest Service’s Chattahoochee National Forest management project silences public input for decades

Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest is the most visited public land, with popular attractions like the Upper Desoto Falls. Now, the U.S. Forest service is proposing a massive project there that involves logging, burning, herbicide application, and changing recreational access.

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a massive forest management project in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, the state’s largest and most visited public land. Comments on the proposal that came out right before the holidays must be submitted to the Forest Service by Jan. 10, 2020 and can be done here.

The mammoth project, known as the Foothills Landscape Project, would allow the Forest Service to log, burn, build “temporary” roads, and close or reroute trails at undisclosed locations within a massive 157,000-acre project area (roughly twice the size of the city of Atlanta) with no guarantee of participation from members of the public who visit and love those lands.

Ultimately, the proposal gives the Forest Service free rein to implement potentially detrimental actions for decades to come. The worst aspect of the Foothills Landscape Project proposal is that it would strip the public’s input on management decisions. As part of the project, the Forest Service will not make decisions about where logging, burning, and road building will occur until public participation opportunities guaranteed by law have passed.

No matter how you think national forests should be managed, eliminating the public from the decision-making process surrounding projects on their public lands is never the right approach,” says SELC staff attorney Patrick Hunter. “National forest users—including hikers, bikers, hunters, wildlife watchers and scenic drivers—won’t know which areas are on the chopping block until the opportunities for public involvement required by federal law have long passed.  These people deserve a seat at the table.”

Actions authorized under the project, which has no time limit, could begin immediately if it is approved. At the current pace of logging, it will take the Forest Service more than 40 years to complete all that it is proposing.

Critically, even the Forest Service does not know the locations of areas it will log, burn, build roads, or change recreation access but proposes to figure that out later, after public participation opportunities have passed. The most the agency is disclosing is that it plans to pursue the following activities somewhere in the 157,000-acre project area:

  • 60,000+ acres of commercial timber harvest
  • 50,000 acres of prescribed burning
  • Constructing 360 miles of new bulldozer paths to facilitate prescribed burning
  • Herbicide application across as much as 74,500 acres
  • Grinding vegetation to wood chips using industrial machinery on up to 83,000 acres
  • Building an undisclosed amount of “new temporary” roads
  • Rerouting up to 111 miles of trail
  • Decommissioning trails and dispersed camping areas

The proposal could impact multiple recreational areas, including the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River Corridor, DeSoto Falls, Warwoman Dell, Dicks Creek, and portions of the Bartram and Pinhoti Trails.

"The Forest Service is writing itself a blank check for logging, road building, burning and other activities that may not occur for a generation," Hunter adds. 

Public lands are owned and shared by all of us. The public should be made aware of all activities involving the management of their lands and should be given a meaningful opportunity to share concerns about specific actions. That requires knowing where actions will occur on the ground.

This blanket approval for a mammoth project—approximately 95 times bigger than the average Forest Service timber project in the Southern Appalachian Mountains—would go on for decades, and runs counter to how our national forests should be managed.

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