Today, the US Forest Service released their newest proposal regarding how to manage recreation on the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River, where they currently maintain a controversial ban on paddling. The proposal will, if it is implemented, allow more paddling than has been proposed by the Forest Service in prior proposals as soon as March of this year. It will also correct some of the degrading ecological conditions and will employ specific capacities for all visitors. However, like previous proposals, the new proposal would limit whitewater paddling by stream reach, season, and flow, while imposing no such limits on all other similar visitors. Specifically the proposal would:
The USFS is proposing paddling limits to “provide opportunities for boat-free, coldwater angling and other recreational activities.” In a press conference earlier today, Paul Bradley, forest supervisor for the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina stated, “Allowing boating in the Nicholson Fields would introduce unacceptable levels of conflict, and that’s something we’ve worked extremely hard to avoid.” The USFS has no evidence of such conflicts on the Chattooga or other similar rivers.
Bradley also noted, “The other forest supervisors and I hope today’s decisions will bring closure to the differences many folks have had over how this precious, valuable resource should be managed.” However, their decision contains all the same violations of law and policy that are now being challenged by conservation-oriented paddlers in federal court.
The USFS expects to be ready to allow paddling no later than mid-March of this year, assuming they do not grant stays of the decision as they did regarding a prior decision.
If implemented, this new policy would allow some legal paddling on the Upper Chattooga River for the first time since it was controversially banned in 1976. These opportunities would be the result of over 15 years of dogged efforts by American Whitewater and the thousands of people that believe Wild and Scenic Rivers – and Wilderness rivers – should be responsibly managed for sustainable recreation and natural resource conservation. This policy will grant American’s some well deserved time on the water while the remaining legal and policy issues are sorted out.
You can read the analysis and press release here.