U.S. Forest Service Grants Stay of Plan to Allow Boating on the Upper Chattooga Wild and Scenic River and Through the Ellicott Rock Wilderness

For immediate release — March 26, 2012

Today the U.S. Forest Service granted a stay, halting the Forest Service’s plans to permit boating on 17 miles of the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River this season.

“This was the only appropriate decision given how flawed the government’s plan was,” said Rachel Doughty, the Greenfire Law attorney who filed the request for stay on behalf of three conservation organizations, Georgia ForestWatch, the Georgia Sierra Club, and Wilderness Watch. “The Forest Service should consider management of the entire Wild and Scenic Corridor at once, instead of piecemeal. This wonderful, wild area will cease to exist if the Forest Service does not address the fact that five million people a year use these National Forests, and it is quite possible to love them to death.”

The Forest Service had sought to permit boating this year for the first time in more than 35 years on the upper portions of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River and through the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. The most glaring immediate problem with this plan was the proposed “interim” access, which would encourage use by large numbers of people of unmanaged trails and user creation of put-ins and take-outs. The conservation groups’ concerns were heightened because boating use occurs mostly during rain events when soils are at their most vulnerable to erosion. The groups other major concern is that the Forest Service has set no enforceable limits to the number of boating trips per day, so the experience of solitude and wildness — present on the Upper Chattooga where boating is banned but not in the Lower Chattooga where there are 89,000 floating trips per year — could be lost.

The three conservation groups have filed an appeal with the Forest Service because the management plan violates environmental and public lands laws. Five other appeals were filed as well. The Forest Service has said it will make a decision on the appeals by this summer. The stay prohibits the Forest Service from issuing permits for boating on the 17 mile stretch in the interim, but allows it to go ahead with related planning.

Georgia ForestWatch, the Georgia Sierra Club, and Wilderness Watch remain united in their efforts to challenge the Forest Service to better manage the headwaters of this outstanding Wild and Scenic River and the Ellicott Rock Wilderness.

Original stay request.

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