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In his recent letter, Monte Seehorn claimed "Whitewater groups are suing to stop stocking on the Chattooga River."
This is not true. We are merely asking that an illegal ban on paddling be lifted and that the river be protected. So don’t take Mr. Seehorn’s bait; it comes with a barbed hook.
While our lawsuit discusses stocking, we do so only to show the U.S. Forest Service’s double standard in managing the river. The USFS claims paddling (a minor, low impact use) must be banned because there are too many "encounters" while at the same time dumping 70,000 non-native fish into the river each year to attract anglers, thereby increasing encounters.
It is not fair or legal to ban one wilderness-compliant use while artificially increasing another use. Limits should not be placed on any wilderness-compliant users unless the number of visitors naturally attracted to the river exceeds the river’s capacity.
Even then, limits should be applied equitably and only after less drastic measures have failed. It is logical, and mandated, that programs that artificially attract visitors to an "overused" river be stopped before a low impact use like paddling is banned. Our lawsuit never says "stop stocking," but argues that the USFS cannot both stock exotic fish and ban boating.
Mr. Seehorn described how anglers, state agencies and the USFS work together to stock 70,000 trout in the Chattooga each year. Yes, these fish are not native and thus "exotic," and impacts on native fish, insects, amphibians, water quality and riparian vegetation are harmful. This is well documented in the volumes of peer-reviewed research cited in our lawsuit.
Mr. Seehorn was a USFS employee who championed stocking and the founder of the "Chattooga Coalition" which plays a large role in organizing the program. This coalition has fought to prevent a small number of people from floating down the publicly owned National Wild and Scenic Chattooga River for 34 years. They have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and now solicit your help by falsely claiming paddlers seek to end stocking.
The upper Chattooga is the only river in the Southeast where paddling is banned, and the USFS has failed to document a single impact of paddling. This challenging river is predicted to attract small numbers of paddlers on a few days each year when flows are high. Anglers avoid these high flows and paddlers avoid low flows. Just like on every other river, water levels naturally separate paddlers and anglers. Mr. Seehorn and the USFS are making a mountain out of a molehill.
For thousands of years, humans have paddled and fished on the same waters. Mr. Seehorn is asking you to help change that by asking the USFS to zone rivers for different uses. Which rivers will you give up and never fish again? Never swim in or float down again?
Don’t take the bait: Support sharing public rivers with other paddlers, anglers, swimmers and hikers.
The Chattooga should be managed for resource protection and shared public recreational use, like all other rivers. We have revealed severe neglect and mismanagement of a treasured public resource and are working to bring nationally consistent river management to the Chattooga.
President, American Whitewater, Marietta