By : Nick Nichols
Last October, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced a proposed Special Use Permit for a target range to be located on Chattahoochee National Forest land in Union County. Located off Highway 180 near Brasstown Bald, the 15-acre gun range would be constructed by Union County on property leased from the USFS. It would be managed by the private-membership Union County Gun Club, and on most days, would be used exclusively by Gun Club members or the Union County Sheriff’s Department.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires the USFS to conduct environmental studies on certain proposed activities like the proposed gun range. This process includes requirements for public notice and “scoping” of the proposed action; preparation of draft and final reports; soliciting and responding to public comments; draft decision of approval or rejection; an objection and objection resolution period (ended 9/23/2019), and then a final decision. Approximately 225 comments (75%+ opposed) were submitted on the public notice and scoping; 70 comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment; and 30 objections to the Draft Decision for Approval. The Forest Service has now issued its final Decision and Finding of No Significant Impact authorizing the project.
Georgia ForestWatch continues to strongly oppose a target range located one mile from the Appalachian Trail (directly down range), one-half mile from the Brasstown and Mark Trail Wilderness Areas, and adjacent to the Brasstown-Russell Scenic Byway. The proposed range is less than 3.5 miles from the existing under-capacity Chatuge Gun Range, also located on USFS lands.
ForestWatch conducted a test that indicates the constant noise generated by the shooting range, from dawn to dusk, will be heard by users of the Appalachian Trail hikers and campers in the two adjacent wilderness areas and by nearby residents. We recorded a decibel level of 78.5 on the Appalachian Trail, far exceeding the “annoyance” level of 55dB. The tests, noise modeling and other studies conducted as parts of the Environmental Assessment, report or project noise levels significantly less than those recorded by the GAFW. ForestWatch also has concerns about errant bullets, lead contamination, and increased siltation of adjacent streams. The environmental documents have been disappointing in the lack of comprehensiveness and inaccuracy of the analysis and conclusions. Significant questions have been asked and deficiencies pointed out to the USFS, but these things have not been addressed. This unnecessary proposal has the potential for significant permanent adverse impacts to the unique qualities of the Chattahoochee National Forest.ForestWatch appreciates and supports the legitimate need for a shooting range (many of our members are hunters and shooters), but there is already a target range 3.5 miles away in Towns County. We believe there are far more suitable locations for such a facility and have asked Union County and the USFS to identify and evaluate other potential locations. Georgia ForestWatch, and our allies (Georgia Sierra Club, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and others) will continue to oppose this project. You may view the project documents, comments, responses and objections to form your own opinion at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54559.