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Fire in the forest
Download and read our position on fire in the forest.
Almost two hundred years ago, on May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law.
Passed just days earlier by the U.S. Congress, it is one of the darkest days in our country’s history that led to the forced migration of Georgia’s indigenous people, known as the Trail of Tears.
The Cherokee worked together to stop this relocation, but were unsuccessful; they were eventually forcibly removed by the United States government in an act of genocide. The Cherokee removal in 1838 (the last forced removal east of the Mississippi) was brought on by the ever-increasing population of nonnative farmers and the discovery of gold. The Cherokee homeland of north Georgia was highly attractive to farmers, resulting in many illegal settlements by pioneers. Long simmering tensions between Georgia and the Cherokee Nation were brought to a crisis by the discovery of gold near Dahlonega in 1829, resulting in the Georgia Gold Rush. Hopeful gold speculators began trespassing on Cherokee lands, and pressure mounted to fulfill the Compact of 1802. The U.S. Government promised to extinguish Indian land claims in Georgia.
While the final number is uncertain, an estimated 61,000 plus Cherokee, Muscogee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole were forcibly removed because of this legislation resulting in an upwards of 12,000 deaths from starvation, disease, weather, resistance, misery, and at the hands of the U.S. military under the official orders of the Commander in Chief President Jackson. Georgia ForestWatch (GAFW), headquartered in Dahlonega, acknowledges the national forests and “public” lands our organization seeks to preserve, protect, and restore have been occupied by humans for at least 10,000 years and are home to the indigenous people forcibly removed. GAFW acknowledges that forced human displacement was supported, authorized, and enacted as the official policy of the U.S. and Georgia governments.
Our organization seeks to partner with indigenous peoples, members of modern tribes, and like-minded organizations and individuals to pursue all appropriate measures to reflect, remember, and enact policy changes to address these shameful events.
Free Topo maps with contours and FS boundaries. “Download PDF” URL link can be imported into Azenza maps. Uses same 7.5 Quadrangle names as USGS.
The Motor Vehicle Use Maps shows the CONFs official road system, including all road numbers and names. You can either download a PDF of the map by district, or one big map for the whole forest. These are also available via Avenza map store, georeferenced for field use, at no cost.
2004 Forest Plan Prescription Map
The Land and Resource Management Plan, commonly referred to as the “Forest Plan”, was released in January 2004. Chapter 3 goes into more details about these Management Prescriptions
Georgia Mountain’s Treasures PDF Maps for Avenza:
Georgia’s Mountain Treasures Hiking Trails
Buy The Georgia’s Mountain Treasures Book
See GMT hiking trail list on AllTrails by clicking here.
This list is a work in progress and not comprehensive or sorted in any particular manner. Email email@example.com with any questions or comments.
Trails listed below are either completely within or mostly in Georgia’s Mountain Treasures! See the book here or get your hard copy by becoming a ForestWatch Member and requesting one.
- Broad River Trail MODERATE Chattahoochee National Forest
- Panther Creek Trail MODERATE Chattahoochee National Forest
- Watergauge Trail EASY Tallulah Falls, Georgia
- Burrells Ford Trail MODERATE Sumter National Forest
- Bartram Trail to Sandy Ford MODERATE Sumter National Forest
- Three Forks Trail MODERATE Sumter National Forest
- Three Forks Trail MODERATE Chattahoochee National Forest
- Rabun Bald Trail via Hale Ridge Road HARD Blue Valley Experimental Forest
- Rabun Bald via Bartram Trail MODERATE Blue Valley Experimental Forest
- Rabun Bald via Beegum Trail MODERATE Clayton, Georgia
- Bartram Trail: Wilson Gap to Rabun Bald MODERATE Clayton, Georgia
- Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald MODERATE Blue Valley Experimental Forest
- Hemlock Falls Trail EASY Moccasin Creek State Park
- Appalachian Trail: Dicks Creek Gap to Bly Gap HARD Southern Nantahala Wilderness
- Duncan Ridge Trail HARD Chattahoochee National Forest
- Frosty Mountain (via The Approach Trail) MODERATE Amicalola Falls State Park
- Old Buck Town OHV Road MODERATE Chattahoochee National Forest
- Springer Mountain and Ball Mountain via Appalachian Trail HARD Chattahoochee National Forest
- Bull Mountain Loop HARD Chattahoochee National Forest
- Appalachian Trail: Cooper Gap to Woody Gap MODERATE Suches, Georgia
- Appalachian Trail: Woody Gap to Gooch Gap MODERATE Suches, Georgia
Mountain Treasures BY CLUSTER:
Chattooga River cluster
Northern Blue Ridge cluster
Southern Blue Ridge cluster
Toccoa River & Spur Ridge cluster
Mountain Treasures BY COUNTY:
Mountain Treasures BY NAME:
Ellicott Rock Extensions
Southern Nantahala Extensions (partial)
Buzzard Knob (partial)
Kelly Ridge (partial)
Panther Creek/Tugaloo Uplands (partial)
Halting Clear-Cutting & Revisiting Thinning
Clear cutting is not the same as a natural disturbance—it is forest destruction pure and simple.
Identifying & Preserving Old-Growth
In 1991, the acting supervisor of the Chattahoochee National Forest declared that only four acres of old-growth trees remained in the forest.
Roads are the biggest source of sediment pollution of streams in forested landscapes.
Forest Service Projects
We investigate, monitor, and suggest improvements to a multitude of Forest Service projects.
ATVs & License Plates
In the ‘90s, All Terrain Vehicles were being issued license plates by mountain counties in north Georgia.
Roadless Rule Victory
A major legal victory that will help reduce respiratory ailments and control carbon dioxide emissions!
End of Clear-Cutting in Georgia
Chattahoochee National Forest clear-cutting rose from 13,000 acres in the 1960s to 36,500 acres in the 1980s, ultimately consuming nearly 100,000 acres of forest. To cut the trees, the Forest Service built hundreds of miles of roads, which have caused their own environmental damage as many deteriorate. Georgia ForestWatch’s efforts to halt this damaging practice peaked in 1995 when we appealed seven timber sales that proposed cutting mature hardwoods in roadless areas. After the appeal was denied the following year, ForestWatch joined six other groups to press the issue in federal court as Sierra Club v George Martin. The court ruled that the Forest Service had failed in its duty to monitor the effects of the timber harvest program, bringing a halt to this controversial logging practice. The Chattahoochee National Forest timber program has never returned to its pre-lawsuit levels.
Blue Ridge District Pine Thinning Revisited
By David Govus : District Leader and Board Member
In July of 2012, the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests (CONF) proposed thinning 7,000 acres of ‘overstocked’ pines to prevent disease. These 7,000 acres comprised some 120 stands. Stands typically are 20 – 80 acre sections of the forest that have a similar forest type. The entire CONF is mapped and divided into thousands of these stands. Georgia ForestWatch was skeptical of this proposal because many of the stands proposed for thinning are located in the Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area and in the headwaters of the Etowah River. To reach some of the stands, the proposal also included rebuilding bridges over Noontootla Creek that formerly were used to access clear-cutting areas. All of these areas are well known to Georgia ForestWatch, and it was difficult to envision most of them having thick stands of pines.
So, Georgia ForestWatch surveyed 20 randomly-selected stands over several days in August and found that only one stand had overstocked pines. Many of the stands had no pines at all. While discussing our survey at a meeting on site, the Forest Service acknowledged that most of the stands did not need thinning, and the proposal was shelved.
This summer the Blue Ridge District reintroduced the pine thinning proposal in a much more modest and acceptable form. The project acreage was reduced from 7,000 acres to 700 acres, and the stands from 120 to 20. Several Georgia ForestWatch members field-checked the new proposal, and of the 15 stands examined, 12 did in fact contain overstocked pine. Although the reason for including any inappropriate stands in this second proposal is unclear, the quick turnover of foresters on the district may have something to do with it. The forester who first proposed the thinning left shortly after our on-site discussion, and the current forester is now leaving after less than a year on the district.
Fortunately, Georgia ForestWatch has a deep institutional knowledge of the forest and is staying engaged. It should be noted that most of the stands currently identified for thinning are old Forest Service clear-cuts that would be mature diverse forest by now if not for earlier ‘treatment’.
Old Growth Forests
Old growth forests in Georgia? Yes, indeed — and way more than anyone thought. For years, questions persisted whether any of Georgia’s public forests had escaped the saw. Searches for these “original” or “old growth” forests on similar landscapes of North Carolina were turning up surprising discoveries. Georgia ForestWatch went in search of the answer and found it.
Georgia ForestWatch discovers 11,000 acres of rare old growth forests
Back in 1991, eastern old growth forest researcher Mary Byrd Davis (author of Eastern Old-Growth Forests: Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery, 1996) sent an inquiry to the acting supervisor of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, requesting information on known old growth. She received a letter responding that only four acres existed, along with maps showing the location of two 2-acre stands. Active ForestWatchers at that time knew better.
In 2001, ForestWatch was finally able to hire expert woodsman Jess Riddle to lead the search and answer the question, “How much old growth is left?” Initially, Jess spent many hours meeting with regional old growth researchers poring over maps, honing an approach to identify likely candidate sites. Then Jess hit the woods, spending days and weeks tracking through rugged territory and documenting his findings. At that time we focused on searching unprotected areas that were still open to logging, hoping to locate, describe and map them before they might be cut.
Over a four-year period, Jess and volunteer Georgia ForestWatch assistants located over 11,000 acres of old growth forests! We are continuing to push hard for these ancient natural forests to be preserved and protected.
On our “wish list” is securing the funding necessary to survey already protected areas (those with official designations including Wilderness, Scenic and Natural Resource Areas), so that all of these rare forests remain for ecological, scientific and enjoyment of the people who own them.
Want more infor?
Click here to read Jess Riddle’s old growth report narrative.
Click here to see Jess Riddle’s old growth report data.
Rich Mountain Wilderness Illegal Off-Road Activity
When in 1973 the Forest Service acquired their last major tract for the Chattahoochee National Forest, they also acquired a very steep and deteriorating road that wound for 10 miles across the Rich Mountains. The Forest Service refused to acknowledge ownership of the road, alleging that the road belonged to Gilmer County. However, no easements had been granted, and the county had made no claims on the road. With no maintenance and steep grades, the road deteriorated into an epic mudbogging course, drawing off-road vehicles from hundreds of miles away. Unauthorized ATV trails snuck off the ‘road’ into the Rich Mountain Wilderness. Georgia ForestWatch sued the Forest Service in 2004. The settlement agreement resulted in the western third of the road being obliterated and the rest being rebuilt and gated during the winter. Illegal off-road activity ceased.
The Frosty Mountain Road Protections
Near Amicalola Falls State Park, Frosty Mountain Road closely parallels the Appalachian Approach Trail and stretches from Nimblewill Gap over Frosty Mountain the turn off to the Len Foote Hike Inn. The road served no particular public or Forest need but had deteriorated badly due to a lack of Forest Service maintenance and frequent use as an off-road course by convoys of street legal 4-wheel-drive vehicles. These vehicles created a giant mudbog within sight of the Appalachian Approach Trail, and spinning rough tread tires on the many steep sections of the road have significantly increased road deterioration. During the Forest planning process of the late 1990s, ForestWatch and other conservation groups argued that the Appalachian Approach Trail was legally entitled to the same protection as the Appalachian Trail itself and that the Frosty Mountain Road was inappropriate. Georgia ForestWatch frequently documented damage to the road from the convoys coming and going from Amicalola Falls State Park to Len Foote Hike Inn. Riparian areas along this access road had been turned into mudbogs. After a decade of documentation and complaints, the Forest Service gated the road at Nimblewill Gap and at the turnoff to the Hike Inn. Although gates were torn down multiple times, perpetrators were caught and faced hefty penalties under a new fine schedule. As of 2019 the gates were up and the road is closed for good.
The Tray Mountain Road Damage
The Tray Mountain Road served as an ugly example of the problems affecting the 1500-mile plus road system on the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest. Tray Mountain Road, FS 79, stretches from highway 17, north of Helen for 8 miles to Tray Gap, then another 4 miles to highway 356. Elevations over the course of this road range from 1400’ to 3841’. The very steep eastern section of the road known as the Chimney Mountain Road is the eastern border of the Tray Mountain Wilderness Area. With little money for maintenance, over time the road deteriorated dramatically, particularly on the steep eastern section. By the 2010s, it had become passable only with high clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Convoys of street-legal vehicles from the cities churned up and down the road, further increasing the damage until even these rugged vehicles became stuck and wrecker services in nearby Cleveland, Georgia regularly received calls from stranded drivers. Riparian areas alongside the road were turned into mud bogs. Georgia ForestWatch members documented the damage with photos and letters. Ironically, riding enthusiasts regularly posted YouTube videos of their mudbogging exploits. In the spring of 2018 Debbie Gilbert, a reporter for the White County News, wrote an article illustrating the road situation. Shortly thereafter, the Forest Service temporarily closed the eastern part of the road with portable barricades and signs. Perpetrators destroyed the barricades and signs and the damage continued until the spring of 2019 when a major enforcement operation resulted in numerous expensive tickets. At this point, the cost of rehabilitating the eastern half of this road is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. ForestWatch hopes that the Forest Service will permanently close the road, and given a chronic lack of maintenance money, we have urged the Agency to consider closing other non-essential roads before they cause similar serious damage.
ForestWatch investigates, monitors, and suggests improvements to a multitude of Forest Service projects. Following are examples of successes.
In December 2005, the Forest Service announced a plan to heavily harvest timber across 735 acres of mature forest on Brawley Mountain. Once the trees had been cut and harvested, they proposed to burn the area repeatedly and kill re-sprouting hardwoods with herbicides, with the aim to restore a woodland. Georgia ForestWatch observed that significant project acreage was mature oak forest and showed evidence that a “woodland” had never existed at this site. Consequently, Timber harvesting for this ill-advised project was reduced from 735 to around 400 acres, sparing much of the mature oak forest. The Forest Service also improved the monitoring schedule needed to determine any success or failure of this experimental forest management.
Monitoring Timber Cutting
In addition to commenting on proposed projects, Georgia ForestWatch monitors projects that have been approved and are being implemented to assure that environmental safeguards are in place and that the timber contractor follows the project guidelines. During a visit to the Brawley project in 2015 Georgia ForestWatch surveyors discovered a number of tractor trailer vans parked on site. Further investigation revealed that the contractor, in violation of project guidelines, was chipping small diameter trees and hauling the ground pulp to a subsidized biomass plant. This flagrant violation of the contract had gone unnoticed by the Forest Service and the stewardship partner in the project. ForestWatch reported the violation to the District Ranger, and law enforcement visited the scene to halt the activity.
7,000 Acre ‘Pine’ Thinning
In July 2012 the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest (CONF) proposed thinning 7,000 acres of ‘overstocked’ pines to prevent disease. These 7,000 acres comprised some 120 stands, theoretically areas of similar forest type and age that generally range from 20 to 80 acres. The entire CONF is mapped and divided into thousands of these stands by the Forest Service. The area of proposal was well known to ForestWatch, and it was difficult for us to imagine that a great many areas had thick stands of disease prone pines. ForestWatch surveyors looked at 20 random stands over several days and found that only one stand had ‘overstocked’ pines. Many stands had no pines of any type. When challenged by District leader Jim Walker, the Forest Service acknowledged that most of the stands did not need ‘treatment’. The project was shelved, then reissued for only about 500 acres.
The Upper Warwoman Timber Sale and Tuckaluge Road
In 2013 the Forest Service proposed a series of timber sales in the Warwoman Wildlife Management Area which they labeled as the Upper Warwoman Landscape Management Project. The project encompassed some 1,200 acres of timber harvest, prescribed burning, herbicide use and road reconstruction and construction. Georgia ForestWatch spent a significant amount of time in the field examining the project and was able to negotiate some substantial improvements before the project was finally approved in 2015, A stand of old growth timber was identified by ForestWatch Forest Ecologist Jess Riddle and this was dropped from the project. In addition, Forest Service plans to rebuild and extend a road up the west side of Tuckaluge Creek were abandoned. Georgia ForestWatch pointed out that according to the Agency’s own estimates, the rebuilding and extension of the Tuckaluge spur road on the west side of the creek would cost $900,000 and significantly impact the creek. In addition, a permanently open reconstructed road up the west side of Tuckaluge Creek would have sliced off part of the Windy Gap Area roadless area. The rebuilding and extending this road would also have allowed tractor trailer trucks to access the mature timber on the west side of Tuckaluge Creek and the upper part of the water shed. The existing roads on both sides of the creek were and are unsuitable for tractor trailer traffic. In fact, many of the steep narrow roads found in this Forest are unsuitable for such vehicles and designing timber sales around criteria of big truck access is often unfeasible. However, for economic reasons, qualified timber contractors only use tractor trailers to haul timber.
Cooper Creek Settlement
September 2021. A recent settlement brought to an end a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Georgia ForestWatch and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club concerning controversial timber cutting plans in the Cooper Creek project. The lawsuit was filed in the spring of 2019. (Georgia ForestWatch, et al. v. the USFS). Under the terms of the settlement, the Forest Service agreed to cancel approximately 285 acres of commercial timber harvests in Management Prescription 7.E.1 which is designated by the Forest Service as “unsuitable” for timber production. In addition, the Forest Service agreed to pay $30,000 to the Southern Environmental Law Center towards legal expenses.
The Land and Resource Management Plan for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest divides the 867,000 acres of the forest into different zones. These zones are referred to as “management prescriptions” and each is accompanied by a list of what should and should not happen in each area. The list of should and should nots is itself developed based on the management emphasis of each prescription—e.g., recreation, timber, conservation, etc. Every prescription is designated as either “suitable” or “unsuitable” for commercial timber production. Management Prescription 7.E.1 areas have as their focus recreation, with timber production prohibited (i.e., “unsuitable”) unless such harvests are necessary to accomplish a crucial site-specific goal. As part of its lawsuit, ForestWatch argued that the Forest Service had not made this showing sufficient to justify commercial logging in Prescription 7.E.1.
Jim Walker with a large red oak in Coopers Creek Watershed Project area The Cooper Creek project planning began in 2012 and was formally announced in the spring of 2014. The project originally contemplated 2,315 acres of commercial timber harvest, of which 253 acres were clear-cuts and the rest involved removing half the trees. 11,000 acres of burning were planned, as was the liberal use of herbicides. Georgia ForestWatch surveyors made numerous visits, examined all the areas scheduled to be cut, and wrote extensive comments. Perhaps the most inappropriate areas discovered that were scheduled for clear-cutting, were 2 blocks of old growth Northern Red Oaks on steep ground high up on the northern face of Duncan Ridge. Pictured here with one of the trees is Jim Walker, one of the most active investigators of the project.
In January 2018 the Forest Service announced its decision to proceed with a scaled down version of the project. The blocks of old growth Northern Red Oaks had been eliminated from the planned harvest and the total acreage of commercial harvest was reduced to 1397 acres. With the settlement, the Forest Service agreed to abandon commercial harvests in Prescription 7.E.1, reducing the acres to be cut (as previously noted) by another 285 acres, including 98 acres of planned clear-cuts. In the future, we hope the Forest Service will only propose timber production in areas designated in its Land and Resource Management Plan as “unsuitable” for that activity if the harvest meets the limited exceptions allowing that activity.
The efforts of Georgia ForestWatch’s staff and volunteers to reduce the Cooper Creek project’s impacts to our soil, water, and forest resources have been successful, and we are hopeful that future monitoring of the project as it is implemented on the ground will reduce these impacts even further. This big win for the environment could not have been possible without the support of our legal partner, the Southern Environmental Law Center. They deserve a hearty thanks from all who love our public forest. Great work to all involved!
In the late ‘90s, All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) were being issued license plates by mountain counties in north Georgia, and with plates they could ride legally on Forest Service roads. Once on the roads, they ran wild and opened up old logging roads and trails all over the 867,000 acres of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (CONF), including wilderness areas. Forest Service law enforcement was overwhelmed. Georgia ForestWatch looked into the matter and discovered that under existing Georgia code ATVs were not entitled to plates, and in 2001 with the help of Mary MacLean Asbill, an attorney with the Turner Environmental Law Clinic, pressured the state to order the offending counties to quit issuing plates to ATVs. However, many attempts to change state legislation followed, and over the next seven years, various bills were introduced attempting to legalize ATVs on public roads. ForestWatch, along with other conservation organizations, worked to block all of these attempts. Conservative landowners in South Georgia became allies in this endeavor when ATVs began accessing their private lands via public roads. Private landowners became very active to keep ATVs off public roads. Now, illegal ATV trails on the CONF are rare. None of this would have been possible without the help of Neil Herring, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, who showed us the ropes down at the state capitol and worked on the issue year after year.
Protecting Cashes Valley
Cashes Valley lies at the head of Fightingtown Creek, northwest of Ellijay, on the eastern slope of the Cohutta Mountains. The upper part of the valley is in Gilmer County, while the lower part is in Fannin County. The Valley can only be reached by an old public road that fords Fightingtown Creek, four times. During winter or periods of high water the deteriorating road becomes virtually impassible. Parts of the Cashes Valley watershed comprise the eastern end of the 12,000 acre Mountaintown Inventoried Roadless Area, which is the inventoried largest roadless area on the Chattahoochee National Forest. Formally identified roadless areas are eligible for Wilderness protection. The Mountaintown Roadless Area was in fact proposed for Wilderness designation in all the draft versions of the current Forest Plan. At one time Cashes Valley contained the village of Ai, a school, church, post office and numerous residents. Several cemeteries testify to this. Electrical service never reached Cashes Valley. The last resident, Boyd Johnson, died in the early 1990s. The Forest Service by this time owned 90% of the land in Cashes Valley. The wildest section in Georgia of the Benton MacKaye Trail curls around the top of Cashes Valley for over a dozen miles. With the rise of All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), in the late 1980s, Cashes Valley became a playground for illegal off-road activity. User created ATV trails emanated in all directions from the public road. The Benton MacKaye Trail came to resemble an off-road vehicle course rather than a foot-travel-only trail. Many of the structures in Cashes Valley were looted and burned to the ground, including the beautiful 100-year-old Church of Christ. Beginning in 2000, Georgia ForestWatch initiated a campaign to end illegal ATV activity in the valley and protect the integrity of the Mountaintown Roadless Area. At the urging of Georgia ForestWatch, the Forest Service made several attempts to block illegal trails. These efforts were not robust enough and failed. A major problem was that, in violation of Georgia law, ATVs were allowed to ride the public road in the Valley with impunity. As a former Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), Jim Wilson, noted, “How can we keep them out of the woods if we can’t keep them off of the roads.” In 2006, Georgia ForestWatch petitioned the Forest Supervisor to allow Forest Service LEOs to enforce the law and to prohibit ATV travel on public roads crossing Forest Service land. Unleashing the LEOs in Cashes Valley made a huge difference. Georgia ForestWatch surveyed the remaining illegal ATV trails and joint ForestWatch/Forest Service work projects in 2008, 2013 and 2016 created robust blocks at the remaining illegal ATV trails. As of 2019 all traces of ATV use in the valley are gone. Thanks go to Rangers Michelle Jones and Jeff Gardner, who responded vigorously to the problem.
The Shame of Locust Stake
The first Forest Management Plan for the Chattahoochee National Forest in 1986 created several off-road vehicle areas, among them Locust Stake in Stephens County, near Toccoa, GA. This area proved to be a disastrous selection for an ORV area. Sitting on the headwaters of the North Fork of the Broad River with highly erodible soil types and steep slopes, the area soon turned into a mess. All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) ran wild and trails became trenches, in some cases 10 feet deep, polluting the North Fork of the Broad River with literally tons of sediment. In 1996 Forest Service recreation staff surveyed the trail system and documented illegal user-created trails and “un-refutable evidence of unacceptable soil movement and off-site displacement.” The economics of Locust Stake were also untenable. Forest Service representatives noted that the district’s entire annual trail budget would be inadequate to properly maintain the trails, and closure of the trails was recommended. Despite these findings and recommendations, the area remained open. In 2010 Georgia ForestWatch, led by the late Joe Gatins, District Leader, mounted a campaign to close Locust Stake. Additional evidence of damage was submitted to the Forest Service, and the area was temporarily closed in 2013. The following year, the Forest Service proposed to rehabilitate the area and in the meantime temporarily closed the majority of the Locust Stake trails. Georgia ForestWatch and the Southern Environmental Law Center responded strongly that if the area were opened under any scenario, the damage would resume, violating not only Forest Service regulations but state and local erosion and sedimentation laws. Nonetheless, the Forest Service chose to clean up the area and reopened a much shortened trail system. Georgia ForestWatch continued to document the renewed destruction, and a 2019 study by the Forest Service’s Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory confirmed that the area was discharging unacceptable levels of silt into the North Fork of the Broad River. Locust Stake was closed in 2019 and remains closed.
Campaign to Close Anderson Creek ORV Area
On May 23, 2008, the U.S. Forest Service announced that after five years of analysis, the agency would permanently close the Anderson Creek Off-Road Vehicle Area. This decision culminated a decade-long campaign by Georgia ForestWatch to end the damage that off-road vehicles were causing in this sensitive area. ForestWatch volunteers and staff spent countless hours hiking the eroding ORV created trails and documenting degradation of this portion of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This included production of a short video of ORVs mudbogging spring heads and damaging steep slopes that was shown to Forest Service officials. This, along with news media articles and a threat of legal action, turned the tide to finally close the Anderson Creek off-road vehicle area.
Aiding Law Enforcement
From its inception, Georgia ForestWatch has cooperated with Forest Service Law Enforcement by reporting illegal ATV trails, torn-down gates, illegal dumps, squatting and other violations. By the mid-2000s, it became clear that the fines for violations were not nearly high enough to deter criminal activity. Most violations carried fines of $50, little more than a user fee. In 2008 the head of law enforcement on the Forest initiated a campaign to increase the schedule of fines called the collateral schedule. This effort turned out to be a complicated bureaucratic process. The schedule of fines had to be approved by all federal agencies managing land in the Northern Judicial District of Georgia as well as all Judges, Magistrates and Prosecutors in the District. Led by Dan Bowden, longtime Georgia ForestWatch member and former board member, Georgia ForestWatch pitched in with a letter and phone call campaign to contact all involved, informing them of the importance of the issue and the need to accelerate the process. In 2016 after eight long years the schedule of fines was substantially increased. Georgia ForestWatch received thanks from the Forest Service for our support.
2001 Roadless Rule Victory Extends Protection Nationwide
Approximately 64,873 acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas are designated as Roadless Areas in Georgia. In addition, 8,590 acres have been recommended by the Forest Service as “Wilderness Study Areas” to be considered for future inclusion in the National Wilderness System.
by Darren Wolfgang – Forest Ecologist
On October 21, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, Colorado, issued a unanimous decision that found that the roadless rule did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act, Wilderness Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act, or the National Forest Management Act as opponents to the 2001 Roadless Rule alleged. As a result, the U.S. Forest Service will be required to adhere to the land management standards outlined in the 2001 Inventory Roadless Area Conservation Rule — protecting about 49 million of the 58.5 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas in the United States.
On the Chattahoochee National Forest here in Georgia, approximately 64,873 acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas have been designated under its Land and Resource Management Plan. In addition to our roadless areas, 177,183 acres have been designated by Congress as Wilderness. Areas currently designated as roadless serve as the best chance to be designated as Wilderness in the future. Of the 64,873 acres of roadless areas in Georgia, only 8,590 acres have been recommended by the Forest Service as “Wilderness Study Areas” to be considered for future inclusion in the National Wilderness System. These protective designations apply to roughly 27% of the 867,000 acres of the Chattahoochee- Oconee National Forests. Georgia ForestWatch, along with numerous other conservation partners, will continue to advocate for preserving an adequate portion of our public forests to retain their wild and scenic character for the enjoyment and appreciation of current and future generations.
“Setting some aside” is a prudent measure to ensure the health of our ecosystems, the quality of our air and water, and to ensure the numerous other benefits of large tracts of intact land will be around for future generations to benefit from and enjoy. As our society and population continue to grow and expand, lands of the “public commons” such as National Parks and National Forests will continue to grow in importance and will likely become the last remaining “wild” areas and open spaces in the future.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, national forests serve as the prime source of clean drinking water for 60 million Americans. Further, these forests provide valuable habitat for more than 1,600 threatened or endangered plants, fish, and wildlife species. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that National Forests generate a significant portion of the outdoor industry’s $750 billion in annual revenue. While some opponents of this legislation argue that too much protection will have adverse effects on local resource extraction industries, this legislation will prohibit excessive roads building and perhaps help the Forest Service address and avoid increasing its $10 billion backlog in road maintenance. In many cases, the revenue temporarily derived from timber harvesting is simply insufficient to support the ever-increasing annual road maintenance costs associated with adding more and more miles to an already fiscally unsustainable road’s infrastructure.
It is worth noting that Inventoried Roadless Areas are not as restrictive as Wilderness. They differ from Congressionally designated Wilderness in that programmatic approach of certain management activities will be permitted on a case-bycase basis in the roadless areas. Among them:
*Limited road construction to fight fires, address forest health, and protect public safety.
*Logging of certain timber to reduce the risk of wildfires.
*Circumstantial expansion of oil and gas operations within existing or renewed leased areas.
This decision, largely considered one of the most significant conservation victories in several decades, was born from a decade long fight to uphold the 2001 Rule. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Washington), introduced legislation – the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2011 – with 130 co-sponsors to codify the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.
Federal Court Strikes Down EPA’s Biomass Emissions Loophole
Georgia ForestWatch played an important role in this major legal victory that will protect the forests that we love, help reduce respiratory ailments and control carbon dioxide emissions!
A key federal court ruling on July 12, 2013, confirmed that the Clean Air Act limits on carbon dioxide pollution apply to industrial facilities, including tree-burning power plants that burn biomass. The ruling upholds the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) authority to regulate pollution that drives climate change. Georgia ForestWatch played an important role in this major legal victory that will protect the forests that we love, help reduce respiratory ailments and control carbon dioxide emissions!
This ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed in August 2011 by Georgia ForestWatch, Wild Virginia, the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Council for Maine. The lawsuit asked the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn the carbon dioxide exemption for wood-fired power plants and other “biomass” incinerators. Although the EPA announced in June 2010 that they would begin to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as pollutants, after aggressive lobbying by the Forest Products and Bio-energy Industry, the EPA changed course and exempted wood and biomass burning facilities from carbon dioxide emissions for a period of three years. This change not only freed these plants from carbon dioxide regulations, but also exempted these plants from the requirement that they use “best available” technology in constructing or revamping their plants to burn biomass.
This free pass for the Bio-energy Industry could have a large impact on the vast acreages of public and private forest land located in the Southeast, where it could create increasing pressure to cut native, standing forests for fuel. The EPA ruling touched off a rush to build or convert facilities to burn biomass that were unfortunately eligible for misguided subsidies. At the time, Kevin Bundy, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “The science is clear: Burning our forests for energy makes no sense as a strategy for dealing with climate change. Widespread biomass development, which the EPA’s illegal exemption aims to facilitate, will undermine our ability to meet critical near-term greenhouse gas reduction goals and further degrade our nation’s forest ecosystems.”
Several Georgia ForestWatch members gave sworn declarations concerning the effects of global warming on our forests. This was a necessary step to establish “standing” on the part of Georgia ForestWatch to challenge the EPA action.
This past week the conservative DC Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the environment and common sense, and struck down the EPA exemption. In their ruling, the court noted that “the atmosphere can’t tell the difference between fossil fuel carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide emitted by burning trees.” In fact biomass plants produce more carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy produced than fossil fuel plants, and nearly all existing biomass plants are out of compliance with existing air quality regulations. This does not even take into consideration the energy expended to cut, chop and transport biomass, and the impact clear-cutting has on soil, water, forests and wildlife.
We thank our long-time legal partners, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Attorney Frank Rambo (Senior Attorney and Leader of their Clean Energy and Air Program) for their excellent work!