Foothills Landscape Project

The Foothills Landscape Project is
the single most important Forest Service action
in Georgia in the last 15 years.

Foothills Landscape: Action Alert: 2021 Revised Programmatic EA

Stretching over 157,00 acres (larger than Zion National Park), the project would use logging, herbicides, and prescribed fire to manage forests while also altering trails and roads.  The Forest Service has issued a revised Environmental Assessment for the project, and comments are due this Friday, August 13th, 2021.

Your previous comments on this project made a huge difference–the Forest Service has restructured the project, committing to more meaningful disclosure of information, site-specific analysis, and a more robust process. Unfortunately, the revised plans leave much of the work of  addressing important ecological issues to future analysis and could easily lead to gridlock.

Thank the Forest Service for:

  • Using a programmatic EA.  The Forest Service has committed to use a two-step analysis for this project, first considering potential effects broadly before coming back to conduct  site-specific review and public engagement before taking any on-the-ground actions.   Previously they had planned to merely describe the kind of places they would log, burn, apply herbicide, etc., and could have taken action anywhere within the landscape for decades without further public notice or input. 
  • Committing to designate areas to manage for old-growth.  The Forest Service has committed to following their own internal guidance that requires a minimum area in each watershed be managed for old-growth attributes, essentially left alone.

Ask the Forest Service to:

  • Avoid gridlock by narrowing the project to focus on issues with broad support.  The project currently tries to manage all areas, activities, and resources at once, including many areas and activities that will be contentious.  The Forest Service could gain efficiency, do more, and gain support for a broad program of future work by excluding areas that will stir up disagreements and are widely acknowledged as being healthier than other areas.  For example, the Forest Service should limit the scope of the project to:
    • Exclude Georgia’s Mountain Treasures from commercial timber harvests
    • Restrict commercial timber harvests to “fire adapted” forest types.  Those forest types cover 77% of the Foothills Landscape and include  the areas where most people agree active management is most needed.
    • Exclude areas more than half a mile from a road.  “Temporary roads” actually last decades to centuries, and regardless of any good that logging accomplishes, access roads disrupt ground water, fragment habitat, and destroy soilStop plans to log in mesic (moist forests) 
  • Not cut all trees in attempts to regenerate southern yellow pine.  In some southern yellow pine stands, the Forest Service plans to cut most of the trees then come back later and cut the rest of the trees.  The second harvest is unnecessary and damages forest structure and wildlife habitat value.
  • Not to thin (cut half of the trees) in mesic (moist) forests.  Forests on moist sites naturally have dense canopies.  The Forest Service does not even attempt to justify their plans to thin these areas, and there is no ecological justification.
  • Manage forests the way they really work: Southern Appalachian forests naturally contain trees of many different ages, species that typically live over 200 years, and young trees growing in response to the death of one or a few trees.  In contrast the Forest Service manages as if all the trees in a stand should be the same age, trees are old at 80 years, and that disturbances typically wipe out entire stands of trees.
  • Choose Alternative 3.  Alternative 3 excludes areas that the Forest Service’s own plan identifies as “unsuitable” for “timber production.”

Thank you to all of those who have previously commented on this project.  There would be no hope of improving this project without your help.  Please comment by August 13th, 2021.

Timeline:

7/13/2021 Revised Draft Environmental Assessment released
4/28/2021 USFS facilitated virtual conversations.
4/14/2021 USFS facilitated virtual conversations.
1/10/2020 30-Day Comment period ended for Draft Environmental Assessment
12/11/2019 Official 30-Day Comment period began
12/2/2019 Draft Environmental Assessment released

Resources:

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