Upper Chattooga Boating Issue Update
ForestWatch granted intervenor status in boating court case; Forest Service denies administrative appeals; Appellants file new comments on proposed boater access
ForestWatch Allowed to Intervene in South Carolina Case
In early May Judge J. Michelle Childs granted ForestWatch intervenor status in a boater lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. District Court in Greenville, S.C. The boaters, led by American Whitewater and the American Canoe Association, are seeking immediate access to the entire Upper Chattooga limited only by actual, demonstrated damage to the Wild and Scenic River, as well as a visitor capacity analysis not yet in existence. We agree that a visitor capacity analysis is a good idea, but disagree with the boaters’ assertion that the Forest Service does not have the right and, in fact, an obligation to limit uses of the National Forest to protect natural resources and to provide a range of recreational experiences. The Upper Chattooga is a designated Wild and Scenic River and traverses the magnificent Ellicott Rock Wilderness and the Chattooga Cliffs area. It provides habitat for a great diversity of plants and animals, some rare, and solitude for wildness-seekers that is not available on the lower sections of the Chattooga, which is dominated by boaters. We look forward to presenting our concerns to Judge Honorable Mary G. Lewis, who has recently been reassigned to the case.
At the end of June, the U.S. Forest Service denied the joint administrative appeal of ForestWatch, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Wilderness Watch. Click here to review the appeal denial. Our appeal challenged the decision to allow boating and to provide boater access (portage and approach trails, put-ins, take-outs) on 17 of 21 miles of the portion of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic Chattooga River above the Highway 28 bridge. We sought protection of resources from sedimentation caused by unplanned access, user capacity limits to protect resources, and consideration of enforceability of proposed access rules, among other things. The Forest Service has denied all appeals of its decision, including those of Chattooga Conservancy, Whiteside Cove Association, the Rust Family, Georgia ForestWatch board advisor William “Butch” Clay, and American Whitewater and other boaters.
ForestWatch has filed a request with the Chief of the Forest Service requesting that he exercise his discretion to review the appeal denial. Click here to read this filing. The next step, should the Chief not reverse the appeal decision, is to take the issue to court—either by trying to file a case that would be consolidated with the existing boater case in South Carolina (making ForestWatch a party instead of just an intervenor) or elsewhere—in North Carolina or Georgia. ForestWatch and its partners are considering their options and strategy in the case that the Chief does not reverse the appeal decision.
Comments on Boater Access
ForestWatch and its partners filed a detailed comment letter with the Forest Service regarding proposed boater access features–trails, put-ins, and take-outs–along the Upper Chattooga. Click here for the comments. The comments were based on excellent groundtruthing conducted by ForestWatch volunteers and friends in recent weeks. What we found was that the proposed features were poorly thought out—most require carrying or dragging boats up or down steep, eroded, non-system trails, for example. If ultimately boating is allowed in the Upper Chattooga, our position is that resource protection should be the highest priority in designating access features.