Groups Challenge Timber Sale Near Lake Keokee

A proposed timber sale near Lake Keokee in the Jefferson National Forest would cause soil erosion, harm water quality, and degrade mature forest habitat and the significant scenic and recreation values of the area, conservation groups said in an appeal filed with the U.S. Forest Service.  The proposed Wells Branch timber sale also violates several federal environmental laws, the appeal claims.

The timber sale would involve logging 285 acres of forest and constructing nearly 2.5 miles of new roads.  Much of the logging  would take place around the popular Keokee Lake Recreation Area.  Logging and road construction also would occur in the headwaters of nearby Laurel Fork, in a remote area known as the Roaring Branch area, which the Forest Service once recognized as a roadless area and is still valued for its roadless qualities.  In September 2011, members of the local community turned out to voice unified opposition to the proposal, but the Forest Service announced its plans to proceed with the sale this spring.

The appeal- filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of The Clinch Coalition, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Virginia Forest Watch, and Wild South- points out that much of the project area lies atop highly erosive soils and steep slopes unsuitable for logging and road-building.  The appeal also claims that the Forest Service failed to fully and fairly consider a number of reasonable lower-impact alternatives that were suggested by members of the public during comment periods.

"Given the proximity of the project area to Lake Keokee and the Roaring Branch area, the Forest Service should have fully considered forest restoration and other lower impact alternatives to the proposed sale," said Chris Clark, associate director of the Clinch Coalition.  "In an area already so heavily impacted by logging and strip mining on private lands, locals especially value Lake Keokee and its surroundings as an important refuge for recreation and solitude."

"Although much of the logging and road construction would occur on steep slopes with soils prone to erosion, the Forest Service's environmental analysis does not fully and fairly acknowledge this serious risk and the erosion and silting of streams that is likely to result," said Sarah Francisco, senior attorney and director of the Southern Environmental Law Center's National Forests and Parks Program.

"Everyone knows that soil runs downhill when steep slopes are disturbed.  In this case, there are valuable water resources at risk.  The Forest Service knows the value in protecting public water resources as well as the consequences to those resources of poorly planned logging and road-building projects.  We are eager to see the Forest Service do better," said Bud Watson, Executive Director of Virginia Forest Watch.

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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 50 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.

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