Jess Riddle, Executive Director
Blue Ridge Ranger District
In January, a tornado struck the Blue Ridge Ranger District, and it severely damaged trees across 60 acres near Highway 60 and the confluence of Cooper Creek and the Toccoa River. The District has proposed salvage logging this white pine dominated area, which would involve removing fallen and damaged trees. Georgia ForestWatch (GAFW) submitted comments supporting this activity where it can be completed by pulling logs to existing roads, but we opposed constructing temporary roads and log landings to support the harvesting, because they would cause more damage than could be justified.
Illegally driving vehicles off of designated roads and motor-vehicle trails continues to damage soils, impairing water quality across the forest, and Forest Service Road 42 between Suches and Springer Mountain has recently been a problem area. You can help by reporting this kind of activity to the Forest Service. The Forest Service has hundreds of miles of roads, and cannot keep track of all these issues on their own. When they know about problem areas, they can respond by concentrating law enforcement efforts and posting signage at problem spots. Signage in areas GAFW reported near Suches has helped, though more still needs to be done.
The Blue Ridge Ranger District has also issued the formal Special Use Permit that will allow Union County to move forward with constructing a target range near Brasstown Bald.
Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest
After seven years of development and numerous public meetings, the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest has released a draft of its new forest plan for public comment. A forest plan is the most important document produced by any national forest. For at least 15 years, it sets goals, such as restoring 10,000 acres of woodland, zones the entire national forest for different uses, such as backcountry recreation or watershed protection, and sets important guidelines for how management actions will be completed, such as keeping logging equipment out of riparian zones except at designated crossings. Our partners in North Carolina are poring over the more than 2,000 pages of associated documents, and we’ll work with them to bring you key highlights. Comments will be due May 14th, and to find where to comment online, search for “Nantahala and Pisgah NFs Plan Revision #43545” and look for the page with that title.
At a public meeting in late February, the Rabun County Commissioners indicated they no longer support the Forest Service selling tracts in the county, except for the 800-acre Boggs Mountain tract. That tract lies adjacent to the county landfill and the county is interested in purchasing it. Attendees at the meeting overwhelmingly opposed the land sales. GAFW remains neutral on the land sales overall, but certain tracts concern us, including the Boggs Mountain tract. It’s size and location help it function as a coherent ecosystem and support plant and animal movement. GAFW is in the process of surveying all the tracts proposed for sale.
Prior to the 2018 Farm Bill authorizing the sale of 30 tracts totaling close to 4,000 acres, most land sales on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest occurred through the Small Tracts Act. Surveying and other errors fairly frequently lead to adjacent private landowners building sheds, driveways, and other structures a few feet onto Forest Service land. The Small Tracts Act allows the Forest Service to sell small tracts to deal with those situations, and includes some provisions to try to prevent abuse by private landowners. The Forest Service is proposing to change the regulations implementing the Small Tracts Act to broaden the definition of structures that would trigger sale of tracts less than 10 acres and to allow the Forest Service to sell tracts of up to 40 acres that are “physically isolated, inaccessible, or have lost their National Forest System character”. Comments on the proposed changes are due April 27th and can be made by going to federalregister.gov/d/2020-03639 and clicking the green “submit a formal comment” button near the top right.