This fall, the Forest Service is reaching out to the public through a series of community conversations and an online forum to better understand how the public uses the Foothills Landscape in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The 143,419 acres that make up this landscape mark the area where the mountains are visibly reduced to foothills. The Foothills Landscape offers a wide variety of recreation opportunities, with nearly 200 miles of hiking, biking, horse and OHV trails, and dozens of recreation sites. The area includes a portion of the Cohutta WMA and Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Habersham, Lumpkin, Murray, Rabun and White Counties.

Forest Supervisor Betty Jewett and her staff want people to share their knowledge, insights and values right from the start of project development so the Forest Service can plan “the right work in the right places for the right reasons.” Ultimately, public input from these community conversations will help shape the Foothills Landscape Project, a large-scale management proposal expected to be released for public comment (and NEPA review) in a year or two.

The Foothills Landscape was selected as the first of eight landscapes to be discussed with the public because it is one of the least controversial landscapes; as such, it may be easier to flesh out the collaborative process with stakeholders. This collaborative approach – asking for public input before a project is scoped – represents a major shift in how the Forest Service will be approaching project planning in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.

But ForestWatch is all about details, and it is the size of these larger landscape-scale projects that is concerning. How the Forest Service can conduct the detailed site-specific analyses required by NEPA for such a large area is yet to be seen. Of equal concern is how the public can review these larger projects under the limited time frame allowed by NEPA (a 30-day comment period). This is why it is so critical that our members voice their opinions and participate in these community conversations.

After attending two collaborative planning meetings this past summer, and three of the Foothills Landscape Community Conversations, I am impressed by the Forest Service’s commitment to making this collaborative process work. So right now, the ball is in our court. We have an opportunity to let the Forest Service and others in our community know what areas are special to us, and how we would like to see these areas managed.

Please take advantage of this opportunity and tell the Forest Service about some of your special places in the Foothills Landscape and why they are special to you. It could be a favorite view, trail, old-growth forest, trout stream, etc. Let the Forest Service know how you value the Chattahoochee National Forest and what is important to you. These remarks can be very general – such as, protecting headwaters and keeping our forests healthy – but they can also be very specific.

In the next couple of weeks, ForestWatch will be posting more specific comments on our website (www.gafw.org) and Facebook page, and on the Foothills community forum page (http://www.communityremarks. com/conf/index.php). Some examples of our comments include: protect old-growth forests; thin pine plantations to restore these stands to healthier mixes of native tree species; restore woodlands on ecologically-appropriate sites; create early successional habitat from younger stands in need of management (not from mature forests that take more than 100 years to develop); and provide a diverse, quality trail experience that is maintainable and ecologically sustainable. These are just a few suggestions that will help promote sustainable recreation and forest management practices in the Foothills Landscape, and lead to diverse and healthy forests and watersheds.

You still have time to join the Foothills Landscape Community Conversations, and learn more about the process at the following locations:

North Atlanta:
Saturday, October 29, 9:30am-12:30pm
Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center
2020 Clean Water Dr, Buford GA 30519

Chatsworth:
Tuesday, November 1, 6:00-9:00pm
Cohutta Springs Conference Center
1175 Cohutta Springs Road, Crandall GA 30711
If you can’t make it to one of these face-to-face conversations, you can learn more about the Foothills Landscape at http://www.fs.usda.gov/ detail/conf/home/?cid=fseprd514937. You can share your thoughts, ideas and knowledge online until December 1st by visiting http:// tinyurl.com/FoothillsLandscape and also see what your neighbors are saying.

Or Mail Suggestions to:
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
1755 Cleveland Highway
Gainesville, GA 30501
Re: Foothills Landscape

Responses made by December 1, 2016, will provide a valuable framework for the Forest Service to build upon in this initial planning phase. The Forest Service will continue to collaborate with the community to develop a proposed project over the coming year. It is critical that you let the Forest Service and others in your community know what areas are special to you, and how you would like to see these areas managed. Thanks for being a part of the conversation!