Around the Forest Fall 2021

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Around the Forest

Blue Ridge District – Nick Nichols, District Leader

The Blue Ridge Ranger District has recently posted a number of SOPAs (Scopes of Proposed Actions), to which GAFW leaders have responded and which are detailed below.

Fall 2021 Recreational Events totaling 1862 “service days”.  GAFW recommended limiting the number of events and individuals.  GAFW fully supports more complete and in-depth monitoring of the increasing impacts of Special Use Permit (SUP) events in order to assess impacts and to avoid and prevent permanent damage to forest resources. 

Brawley Mountain Communication Tower:  A request has been made for a SUP to construct a radio communications tower on Brawley Mountain adjacent to an existing fire tower. Ground disturbance would be limited to a 30’x30’ area located immediately adjacent to the Benton MacKaye Trail. GAFW submitted comments suggesting that it would be desirable to locate the proposed improvements within the footprint of the existing access roads and other site structures and equipment, rather than to increase the areas of disturbance immediately adjacent to the Benton MacKaye Trail, and that the Trail should be buffered from construction and visual impacts to the extent possible. Screening of the generator and other buildings should be considered.

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest’s FY 2023 Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Nominations: Lands proposed for acquisition are within or adjacent to existing forest lands.  GAFW supports the addition of lands and out-parcels that “plug the holes and fill the gaps” within existing forest lands and can serve as buffers and corridors to and between forest lands.  These include: Etowah River, Stekoa Creek, Nimblewill and Bosshardt on West Armuchee Creek tracts.

Conasauga  District – Robin Hitner and David Govus, District Leaders

At this time the Armuchee/west side of the Conasauga District has very little activity.   On 9/2/21, District Leader Robin Hitner contacted new forest personnel – Daniel Morrill (Timber Management Assistant) and William Hunter (Silviculturist) who said that there have been no operations on either the Ponder Creek or the Dick Creek timber sales, both of which are part of the Armuchee Healthy Forest Project.

Georgia Forest Watch continues to monitor the Fightingtown Wildlife Project.

Conceived in 2016, the project consists of cutting 60 to 90% of the trees off of several

hundred acres in hopes of increasing the population of ruffed grouse. GAFW has been

skeptical of the project, as ruffed grouse are nearly non-existent in North Georgia due to multiple factors. They are at the very southern end of their range here, and as the climate has warmed, the West Nile Virus has infected and reduced the population. In January GAFW visited the site and reported to the Forest Service that the contractor had been operating his huge machines when conditions were too wet, resulting in soil compaction and rutting in violation of his contract. GAFW surveyors returned to the site in September and were surprised to find that the contractor had pulled off the job without making any attempt to heal the damage. GAFW reported this to the District Ranger who declared the logger in breach of his contract and put him on a strict timeline to repair the area.

Chattooga District – Marie Dunkle, District Leader

Much of the upcoming Forest Service work in the Chattooga District involves major road projects.  ForestWatch volunteers have been involved in monitoring and advocating for many of these improvements.

•      A series of new culverts is to be built for aquatic passage along Hale Ridge Road. 

•      Patterson Gap Road recently received additional gravel, and culverts were replaced. 

•      Darnell Creek Road is receiving major work to allow passage for normal vehicles, reduce sediment to streams and sustain better conditions. 

•      On the Upper Tallulah River Road bridge repairs are taking place as well as general road work to address mudslides, erosion and water damage. 

•      Charlie Mountain Road in the Upper Tallulah area has also received significant improvement work with the FS partnering with Towns County for repair resources.

District Ranger Ryan Foote recently expressed interest in having GAFW volunteers help assess the need for cleaning out culverts along forest roads and reporting on problem conditions.  Interested ForestWatch members can contact District Leaders Marie Dunkle or Melanie Vickers about this important effort.

The District’s Prescribed Fire Project for 2021-2022 focuses on five areas in Stephens County.  The objective is improvement of wildlife and plant habitat and wildlife urban interface issues.  The total acres involved will be 976 and controlled burns will take place primarily in the months February-March and May-June and be done on a 3 to 5 year rotation.  ForestWatch provided comments on this project that took issue with the frequency of burning.

The Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area Rare Habitat Improvement Project is also focused in Stephens County.  The project under Categorical Exclusion (CE) involves 1300 acres and is intended to restore and expand habitat for locally rare and Federally listed plant species like the Georgia aster and smooth coneflower and to reduce the density of forest stands.  Actions include prescribed fire, commercial and non-commercial tree thinning and herbicide use along roadsides. 

The Locust Stake OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) Trail System area in Stephens County has been a subject of concern and involvement by GAFW for many years because of impacts to water quality and surrounding forest as a result of OHV activity.  The Forest Service’s own assessment determined that because of soil conditions (including 12 foot deep through-cuts), repair of the area would be extremely expensive and unsustainable.  As a result, Locust Stake has been closed to OHVs since January 2012. However, GAFW volunteers have continued to observe illegal OHV activity in the closed area.  The District Ranger is aware of the continuing problem and recently submitted a proposal for Federal support to do environmental analysis.  This would involve bringing in a special NEPA team to do project planning for long-term remediation and management.  

The District Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA) includes a series of five Special Use Permits to commercial outfitters who requested use of Forest roads, trails and water areas for tours, camping, fishing, and led hikes.  ForestWatch comments on these have focused on monitoring and limiting SUP activities.

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