The Rape of Rabun Bald
Forest Service okays massive timber cuts in wilderness areaBY BUZZ WILLIAMS
On Nov. 3, Forest Supervisor of the Chattahoochee National Forest, George Martin, signed the papers to implement the controversial Tuckaluge Project.
The project, as currently designed, would extract more than eight million board feet of timber from the previously inventoried Rabun Bald Roadless Area in the Chattooga River watershed, and develop more than nine miles of road in the Tuckaluge Creek drainage.
The decision dismisses an overwhelming public outcry against the project, ignores contemporary scientific opinion, disqualifies the proposed 14,000-acre Rabun Bald area from the current roadless area inventory, and demonstrates U.S. Forest Service inflexibility by failing to consider any alternative to the project's present design.
Martin's decision ignores scientific guidance and misuses the research produced by the Forest Service's three-year Chattooga River Basin Ecosystem Management Demonstration Project, which was funded by $ 1.5 million in taxpayer money.
The consequences of implementing the Tuckaluge Project include the loss of scarce, critical habitats for the Rabun Bald area's unique plants and animals, and sedimentation of the Tuckaluge Creek drainage, whose pristine waters are documented as native brook trout habitat. This sedimentation would be the result of the project's road-development.
New road building on public lands in the Chattooga watershed directly contradicts the recommendation of the Forest Service's $60,000 study, which states, "A significant reduction in the density of open graveled and unsurfaced roads would have a greater influence on water quality in the Chattooga watershed than any other single recommendation.."
Paul Carlson, lead researcher for the Forest Service Demonstration Project's study on old growth forest, said, "The high ridges of the Rabun Bald area contain one of the greatest concentrations of old growth forest remaining in the entire Chattooga watershed."
Regarding the loss of critical habitats, former Forest Service researcher, Dr. Robert Zahner, professor emeritus of forestry at Clemson University (and endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter to serve on a biodiversity "committee of scientists") said, "The construction of more roads in, and the fragmentation of one of the largest areas of relatively mature forest remaining in the Chattooga watershed is unacceptable to me. The disturbance resulting from the removal of over eight million board feet of timber, no matter how carefully accomplished, in my opinion will effectively destroy the integrity of the area."
Forest Supervisor Martin has ignored an overwhelming display of public opposition to the Tuckaluge Project. A month-long vigil atop Rabun Bald protesting the proposed project drew the support of more than 300 citizens. Some 150 people attended a public meeting with Forest Service officials, representing a very broad cross-section of citizens who clearly expressed strong opinions to either stop the project altogether or create an alternative design that would be smaller and less destructive.
In addition, a solid majority of written public responses recorded in the Forest Service's project file oppose the Tuckaluge project.
If implemented, the road building activity associated with the Tuckaluge Project would disqualify the previously inventoried Rabun Bald Roadless Greats outstanding 14,000-acre block of undisturbed forest from inclusion in the Forest Service's current roadless area inventory.
Once inventoried, management direction for these critical areas can be decided in the full public forum of the upcoming Forest Plan revision process but only if their existence is recognized and tallied up in the inventory process now underway.
Unfortunately, Martin has preempted this inventory process with his decision on the proposed Tuckaluge Project. He has demonstrated total inflexibility by not considering or offering any alternative compromise proposal, such as the one carefully designed by Dr. Zahner and the Chattooga River Watershed Coalition.
This alternative would allow a smaller, more environmentally sensitive timber sale to go forward, while maintaining the ecological integrity of the Rabun Bald area and the Tuckaluge Creek basin.
The forest supervisor's decision to implement the Tuckaluge Project in spite of overwhelming public opposition, scientific guidance to the contrary, the incomplete inventory process, and without considering or offering any alternative proposal constitutes extreme inflexibility by Forest Service officials. Martin and the agency he represents are unwilling to work constructively with the public to conserve the vital natural resources that the Forest Service holds in trust for the American people.
Buzz Williams is executive director of the Chattooga River Watershed Coalition.