Dear Friend of the Forest, These are exciting times at Georgia ForestWatch (GFW). We have enhanced our organizational capacity by hiring two additional staff members: Development Director Janice Eaton and Outreach Coordinator Andrew Linker. To learn more about them, please visit our website at gafw.org/project/staff. Last month, after Don Davis departed GFW for family and health reasons, I was honored to be chosen by the Board to serve as the new Executive Director. I am not giving up my boots, though! I will continue to serve as GFW’s Forest Ecologist.
Even with these internal changes, our focus remains on north Georgia’s remarkable mountains and the ecosystems that depend on them. Last month, with the endorsement of more than three dozen organizations, we had the great pleasure of releasing Georgia’s Mountain Treasures: The Unprotected Wildlands of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests (GMT). A full-color, 80-page illustrated report, GMT uses maps, photos, and detailed descriptions to showcase 40 unique and special areas that comprise 300,000 acres of the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forests (CONF). A guide to deeper enjoyment of our beautiful mountains, GMT is designed as a resource for you, as a public citizen, to use as you speak for greater protection of our forests. You will not be alone in speaking for Georgia’s Mountain Treasures. This year Georgia ForestWatch will build a large and vigorous grassroots coalition ready to advocate for the wild places we love. If you’d like to sign up to learn more about GFW’s ForestRoots Coalition and training and advocacy opportunities in your area, visit gafw.org/forestroots/. Join us!
All of these developments put Georgia ForestWatch in a strong position, which is essential because the threats to our forests are increasing. The Foothills Landscape Project spans from the South Carolina border to Chatsworth and encompasses 150,000 acres, more than a fifth of the entire Chattahoochee National Forest. The project includes a laundry list of management techniques and topics, including timber harvests, prescribed fire, road management, and recreation. It also includes some of our most cherished places:
- the lower Chattooga River, well-known for whitewater rafting, and one of our major wildlife habitat corridors
- the Jake and Bull Mountain trails, enjoyed by mountain bikers and horseback enthusiasts, and one of the most popular multi-use trail systems on the forest
- Grassy Mountain, home to the biggest block of old growth forest we have left in north Georgia
The impacts of the Foothills Landscape Project will be inescapable to people visiting the mountains. The Foothills are the gateway to the mountains, and even people visiting sites in other areas (like Lake Conasauga or Springer Mountain and the start of the Appalachian Trail) will pass through the Foothills. And the project is a big gamble. Previously, the Forest Service has pursued logging and land management projects one watershed at a time, leaving similar areas untouched. But with Foothills, they’re doing the entire landscape–and if they take the wrong approach, everything will be impacted.
While the Foothills Landscape Project is styled as a collaborative project, there has generally been limited public participation in the Foothills events organized by the Forest Service. At one workshop and several table discussions, Georgia ForestWatch has been the only participant representing the general public. And the biggest problem still remains: with more on the line, the Forest Service wants to give the public less information. They plan to withhold site-specific information until after official public comment periods close.
At the same time that the stakes are increasing, pressures are advancing at the national level to ramp up resource extraction from our forests. Under the Trump administration’s “get-out-the-cut” executive order issued in late 2018, logging will be expanded by 30 percent in the National Forest system—and forests with more active timber programs, such as the Oconee, will bear an outsized share of the burden. The Forest Service in Washington has also called for streamlining—i.e., reducing—public review and input processes and the environmental analyses required.
These Washington directives appear to be already influencing procedures in north Georgia. In two recent projects, the Mill Creek Culvert Replacement Project and the Storey Mill Creek Project, the Forest Service proposed using minimal environmental analysis and public review processes. GFW pushed for the clearly low-impact culvert replacement to go ahead and for a full review of the associated road change, which would impact a large roadless area. The Forest Service made the right call on Mill Creek, but we still await a decision on Storey Mill.
For a third of a century, Georgia ForestWatch has pursued our mission to preserve, protect, and restore the 867,510 acres of the CONF, and our organization has continued to grow and evolve as all healthy non-profits do. Part of that evolution in 2019 will be building our Georgia ForestRoots Coalition. Georgia ForestWatch has been pushing back against the gathering storm clouds, but matching the scale of the issues and the political pressure will require allies and informed advocates. With Georgia’s Mountain Treasures as a foundation and the release of the Foothills environmental assessment and public meetings imminent, now is the time for those who care about north Georgia’s rich and remarkable mountain landscape to come together. For ForestRoots to grow, we need your active participation–please take a moment to sign up as a ForestRoots advocate at gafw.org/forestroots.
Thanks to all of you who have given to Georgia ForestWatch in the past and made these exciting times possible. We hope you’ll continue to help Georgia ForestWatch protect Georgia’s Mountain Treasures by sending your tax-deductible donation today. Use the enclosed insert or go to gafw.org/donate. Please also consider ensuring our future by including a gift to GFW in your will or making a Qualified Charitable Distribution from your IRA this year.
Thank you on behalf of our forests,