Yesterday, before leaving for the Holidays, US Forest Service officials "voluntarily withdrew" their decisions and analysis regarding their illegal ban on paddling the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River. The decisions and analysis were under intense scrutiny in the administrative appeals process, and are currently being challenged in Federal Court. The step is just the most recent in 14 years of avoidance tactics employed by local decision-makers in the agency. The river remains banned to boating.
"Effective immediately, the three national forests in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina have withdrawn their decisions to allow for additional analysis," said Liz Agpaoa, regional forester for the USDA Forest Service, Southern Region. Once the analysis is complete, the forests intend to issue three new decisions, probably in early spring.
During the appeal process, the Forest Service discovered some inconsistencies between various components of the decision documents, according to Paul Bradley, forest supervisor of the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests. While none of the appellants raised these inconsistencies in their appeals, the Forest Service decided to voluntarily withdraw the decisions. When Forest Service officials sign the new decision documents, they also will be subject to the agency's administrative appeals process, Bradley added.
These statements indicate that the Agency intends to delay the process for perhaps an additional year, and require the public to go through the burdensome administrative appeals process for the third time on the same decision (2004, 2009, and now 2010). The USFS now is asserting that the hundreds of pages of appeals, comments, and interventions filed by the public were a massive futile effort and the USFS has removed all of these documents from their website. The court case filed by conservation-oriented paddlers is now more relevant than ever, as the local offices of the Forest Service are sending a clear message that they are unwilling to, or incapable of, reaching a new and responsible decision without court intervention.
Conservation-oriented paddlers remain the sole community dedicated to bringing nationally consistent - and protective - management to the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River.
USFS Withdraws Chattooga Decisions and Analyses
December 22, 2009