In the National Forest Management Act of 1976, Congress specifically directed the U.S. Forest Service to reduce clear-cutting, provide for biological diversity, protect streams and water quality, limit uneconomic timbering, and provide for public input. Responding to these mandates, the Forest Service in 1985 issued a final management plan for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Dissatisfied with the management plan, a coalition consisting of The Georgia Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Mountains, Georgia Botanical Society, Atlanta Audubon Society, and the Georgia Council of Trout Unlimited filed an appeal, or administrative lawsuit, of the plan with the Chief of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. In return for changes in the plan regarding preservation of special areas and the use of herbicides, the conservation groups withdrew their appeal. They also set up a process for continued review of Forest Service projects by a new citizen group called Georgia ForestWatch. (For information on how to participate in Georgia ForestWatch, see Appendix F.)
The Chattahoochee-Oconee management plan provides for 10 to 15 years of specific management direction and will affect the future of the forests for decades to come. It sets high goals for increasing timber harvest over the levels sold prior to the plan and, as a result, opens over 70 percent of the forest to logging. Conservationists have had to appeal and even litigate a number of timber sales over the years that threatened popular recreation areas, sensitive ecological sites, and potential wildernesses.
Fortunately, the National Forest Management Act also requires that forest plans be revised every 10 to 15 years, which means that the Chattahoochee and Oconee forests must be thoroughly replanned by the year 2000 at the latest. As mentioned in the preceding appendix, Southern Appalachian Areas, the Forest Service will consider lands on the forests for possible wilderness recommendations or other protective designations.
To assist in the replanning, a coalition of conservation groups, including The Georgia Conservancy, has published a proposal for the protection of a network of wildlands across the Chattahoochee National Forest, encompassing 44 natural areas with a total of 235,700 acres. Evidence of the compelling need to change the existing forest plan is that only 20 percent of these outstanding wildlands is currently protected from timber production and related road construction. (To obtain a copy of the report Georgia's Mountain Treasures: The Unprotected Wildlands of the Chattahoochee National Forest (1995), contact the Wilderness Society, listed in Appendix F.)
To help protect valued wildlands and become involved in the forest (re)planning process, write to:
George Martin, Supervisor, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, 508 Oak Street NW, Gainesville, GA 30501.
Ask to be put on the mailing list for planning. You will receive regular newsletters from the Forest Service about the process and be able to comment at key points on the drafting of the new plan.
Conservation groups are urging the Forest Service to make significant improvements in the flawed and outdated 1985 forest plan. For the full protection of the distinctive natural values of Georgia's national forests, the following changes are essential: an end to new logging road construction; a substantial reduction in the annual timber sales level; the elimination of below-cost timber sales; the protection of the wildlands in Georgia's Mountain Treasures, including ample wilderness recommendations, preservation of visual beauty, the establishment of well-distributed old growth forest restoration areas, a redirection of budget toward recreation, fish, and wildlife and land acquisition, wider no-cut buffers along streams, and more emphasis on unfragmented forest habitat for songbirds and other species of special concern; separate plans for these two dissimilar forests; and a reform in logging methods away from even-aged cutting.
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