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Opinion: Forest Service needs more freedom to manage forests

In the article written by Conner Evans in the Dec. 22-23 edition of The Times, I was not surprised to see that the preservationist groups (Georgia Forest Watch, Chattooga Conservancy, Georgia Chapter of Sierra Club and Wilderness Society) object to proposed timber management (harvest) on the Chattahoochee National Forest. They have been doing so since 1994, when the first lawsuits were filed and essentially halted all timber management on the forest.

The Chattahoochee National Forest is part of the two national forests in Georgia, the other being the Oconee National Forest. Forest Service officials began a lengthy and costly Land Management Plan in the mid-90s and completed it in 2004. With this plan, the agency had the guidance to begin managing all the resources in the forest, including timber, but with little success due to lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits from the preservationists.

The proposed management actions on the 157,000 acre Foothills Landscape Project has been under analysis since 2016. Public participation with numerous public meetings, articles, etc. began shortly thereafter. The claim by the preservationist groups that the public participation was not adequate is a blatant lie. Additional claims of not addressing carbon emissions, how future site specific projects will be analyzed and future Environmental Protection Agency review are also simply not true. These are clearly discussed in the 500-page final environmental assessment. However, the preservationists have not in the past nor presently been concerned with the truth.

National forests in the east created under the Weeks Act legislation in the early 1900s were done so among other things to “protect watersheds and provide for a sustained supply of timber.” The Chattahoochee National Forest over the past 10 years has proposed numerous projects that not only contained timber harvest but watershed restoration, wildlife and fisheries habitat work, prescribed burning, etc. Essentially all have been reduced by the Forest Service in scope due to objections by the preservationists to make them essentially insignificant. The forest is currently being managed under the new three conservation principles of collaborate, compromise and then capitulate to the demands of the preservationists.

The Chattahoochee National Forest underwent a collaborative process where everyone was invited to participate on the Foothills Landscape Project. As a retired individual with over 40 years of experience in wildlife and timber management in the southern Appalachians with the Forest Service and as a private consultant and contractor, I felt like this was something I should become involved in. Hopefully, this would be a valid attempt to gain consensus from the preservationists and actual  wildlife management through harvest could begin in the forest. I realize now this was just another ploy by them to keep the Forest Service involved in planning and not doing anything. 

It is time for the citizens of Georgia to realize that management of the Chattahoochee National Forest, or lack thereof, is not being planned by the dedicated, highly experienced and passionate Forest Service employees but by the preservationists, and to get involved in its management. 

Larry Luckett