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CHATTOOGA GORGE |  WARWOMAN  | APD BURNS  
N-P FOREST PLAN  |  STAFF UPDATES  |  UPDATES

For over 100 years, the free-flowing Wild & Scenic Chattooga River has abruptly stagnated into the backwaters of Lake Tugalo. We have joined with several local and national organizations to call for decommissioning the old Tugalo Dam, which creates the Lake Tugalo impoundment that floods nearly 4 miles of the Chattooga and 2 miles of the Tallulah River, as well as the confluence of these two iconic wild rivers. Decommissioning the dam would start the restoration of unique riverine and forest habitats in this biological hotspot and crucial migratory corridor. In short, removing Tugalo Dam could yield enormous social, economic and environmental benefits.

The relicensing process for Tugalo Dam is set for 2031-2036. However, GA Power recently filed for a licensing amendment that, if granted, would pre-empt the proper evaluation of whether or not to relicense Tugalo Dam in 2036, and the old dam could continue to block the Chattooga and Tallulah Rivers for another 40-50 years. GA Power wants to spend $25 million for dam modernization now, prior to considering the possibility of dam removal.

Thanks to a strong public response to action alerts, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) received over 250 comments in support of our position on the proposed licensing amendment! Additionally, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion to intervene in the FERC proceedings on behalf of the Chattooga Conservancy, American Whitewater, American Rivers, Upstate Forever, GA Canoeing Association and Naturaland Trust. We are waiting to hear back from FERC and GA Power, and look forward to announcing further action steps to Restore Chattooga Gorge!

In cooperation with the GA Mtns. Regional Commission and the GA Dept. of Natural Resources, we will be managing a new 319(h) cost-share grant to address certain water quality problems in the Warwoman Creek watershed in Rabun County, GA. Warwoman Creek is a polluted tributary to the Chattooga River, due in part to agricultural activities lacking best management practices on private lands, county road maintenance issues along the Earls Ford Rd., and dispersed camping and illegal ATV activities causing chronic negative impacts on national forest land and Warwoman Creek’s streamside zone.

Funding will help with implementing public education programming about home septic system maintenance and Leave No Trace camping practices; installing livestock exclusion fencing on a creek-side farm; and, working with the Forest Service to address instances of egregious natural resource damage on public lands in the Earls Ford Rd. area. Water quality testing will help measure the effects of these and other management practices on improving the health of Warwoman Creek. Stay tuned for project updates!

This October, the Andrew Pickens Ranger District (APD) released a “scoping notice” for their prescribed burning in FY 2022. The proposal targets over 8,600 acres for burning, of which over 5,800 acres are within the SC portion of the Chattooga River watershed. While the APD’s stated objective is to promote forest resiliency, we disagree with the scope, scale and intensity of the proposed burning.

Primarily, we are at odds with the Forest Service’s characterization that the APD’s forests should be mostly “fire-adapted,” and therefore should be subjected to a rhythm of very frequent fire cycles. The Chattooga watershed is a temperate rain forest, which does not give rise to a frequent fire cycle. Further, the proposed frequency, scale and intensity of the prescribed burning may cause harm to native plants and animals, as well as soils and air quality, and exacerbate the proliferation of noxious invasive species.

Ultimately, we believe the Forest Service’s expansive “fire-adapted” characterization is designed to manage forests with the goal of producing a higher percentage of tree crops, i.e., merchantable pine and oak species. This bias towards crop trees is driven by Forest Service culture, which is rooted in prioritizing timber production to meet politically motivated timber targets.

Our full comments and specific concerns with the APD’s proposed FY2022 burns are posted on our website here and the scope of the burns can be seen on our Interactive Map. We await the APD’s to response to our comments.

The revision process for the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan has been ongoing for almost 9 years! New federal forest planning guidance, combined with remarkable public interest and the COVID-19 pandemic, have prolonged what was expected to be a 3-5 year process. The new forest plan will govern national forest management in the upper Chattooga watershed in NC for the next 20 years—a crucial timeframe.

It’s now all coming to a head, with the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the revised forest plan anticipated in January 2022. This will mark the “objection period” for the Forest Service’s final decisions about how to manage our federal lands in western NC. Objections must be based on issues raised during previous public commenting opportunities, and follow other strict guidelines. The FEIS will be a massive and complicated document, with just 60 days allowed for its review and public input/objections.

From the start, we’ve promoted and pushed an agenda for protecting and restoring the Chattooga headwaters. This includes: Wild & Scenic River eligibility for Overflow Creek, the East & West Forks of Overflow, and the Thompson and Whitewater Rivers; potential wilderness area designations for the Ellicott Rock West Extension, Overflow Wilderness Study Area and the 5,441-acre Terrapin Mountain area; and, preservation of existing old growth stands—all pivotal for the future vitality of the Chattooga watershed. Check out the details here!

We want to give a special shout-out to the staff who have transitioned on from work at the Chattooga Conservancy to other adventures in the natural world! Molly Dougherty, our former Administrative Assistant, and Emily Anderson, former Program Associate, will be missed. We thank them both for their hard work and dedication to keeping the Chattooga truly Wild & Scenic!
    
We'd like to congratulate Buzz, co-founder, for his induction to the Southern Appalachian Whitewater Hall of Fame this fall! 
 

New Shirts Coming!


Stay tuned for fresh merchandise coming your way this winter!

 

Matching Gifts Campaign


Thank you to everyone who has already donated during our Matching Gifts Campaign! If you haven't had the chance yet, there's still time to double the impact of your contribution through the end of December!

     
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