Conservation Groups Call for Improvements to Proposed Cooper Creek Timber Sale
Blairsville, GA—Conservation groups have raised concerns with the U.S. Forest Service’s latest proposal for an enormous timber sale in and around the Cooper Creek watershed, near the Cooper Creek recreation area in Union County, located in the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Georgia ForestWatch, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center charge that the project represents an alarming change 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 is currently taking public comments on a draft Environmental Assessment, which outlines options for logging between 1600 and 2300 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 that are over 100 years old.
“We believe the 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 from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “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 other 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 open woodlands on similar sites elsewhere in the Forest haven’t yet been successful. We support science-based, ecological restoration, but this proposal misses the mark by a wide margin.”
Georgia ForestWatch, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and SELC 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.
“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.”
Public comments are currently due in early February.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About Georgia ForestWatch:
Georgia ForestWatch is a nonprofit organization organized under the laws of the State of Georgia and incorporated under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that works to promote healthy forests and watersheds in national forest lands in Georgia. www.gafw.org
About the Sierra Club:
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.