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Forest Service Announces Flawed Chattooga Study Plan (NC/SC/GA)

Posted: 08/16/2006
By: Kevin Colburn
At a July 27th meeting, the US Forest Service announced a deeply flawed plan for conducting the User Capacity Analysis for the Chattooga River. The analysis was ordered over 18 months ago by the highest office of the US Forest Service. AW research professionals reviewed the plan and uncovered study flaws that would make the study unsafe, scientifically invalid, biased, exceedingly expensive, and unlikely to produce information useful for decision making. American Whitewater is sending comments to the US Forest Service urging them to adopt safe and affordable methods that will actually meet study objectives. However, Forest Service managers were clear at the meeting that the study design was final, and public comments would not be considered or addressed.

This flawed study – which will have no public review - comes with a hefty price tag. The Forest Service estimates the cost will exceed $1,000,000 to the taxpayers. The high cost of the study is a direct result of 3 decades worth of mis-management with limited data collection on the resource. The outcome is a need to hire professional consultants, at huge taxpayer expense, to carry out the study because of inadequate in-house river management experience.

The consultants, hired by the Forest Service, are top-notch and are highly capable of designing and implementing a high quality and relatively affordable user capacity analysis. The study methods selected by the Forest Service however, deviates from all past studies and accepted methodologies. The disconnect between the design of the expert panels, accepted river safety, and study protocols is staggering. It appears obvious that the Forest Service has either cherry picked or totally disregarded the expensive and respected consultant’s recommendations. Kevin Colburn, American Whitewater National Stewardship Director, states, “American Whitewater entered this analysis expecting the Forest Service to conduct a comprehensive, fair analysis that would form the basis of a new responsible and legal management plan for the resource. It is now abundantly clear that this is not the case. While the American taxpayers have hired and paid for a Rolls Royce, we are getting taken for a ride in a Yugo.”

In May of 2005, American Whitewater submitted a potential on-water study plan design to Robert Jacobs, the USFS Regional Forester at that time. This study plan was an attempt to set the stage for a collaborative discussion to restore floating access on the Headwaters section of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River for non-commercial, hand-powered canoes and kayaks. Unfortunately, none of the suggestions contained in that letter were ever openly discussed. 

During the entire three-plus year study, the USFS will only allow 5-8 paddlers to travel down the upper river reaches. Unrealistically, the study requires these select few to rush to the river on a moment’s notice, to paddle with others they may or may not know, and to paddle 21 straight miles of Class IV-V whitewater in one day. These events will occur a maximum of three days this winter and serve as its only real-time measurement of capacity on the Chattooga Headwaters. Most disturbing, however, is that pre-selected anglers, hikers and other users will be stationed along the banks of the river on the same day to record their impressions, i.e., to drum up alleged conflicts that would never arise during self-regulated, high water use patterns. American Whitewater is not aware of any previous attempt at a similar study on any river system in the United States. In short, the plan has insurmountable logistical, financial, and scientific hurdles.

Mark Singleton, Executive Director of American Whitewater comments, “Our organization is committed to introducing management to the Chattooga River that meets the guidelines established in the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The User Capacity Analysis was supposed to form the basis for that management. Instead this opportunity is being squandered, and will result only in more questions, more challenges, and continued mis-management of a national treasure at significant taxpayer expense. American Whitewater finds these outcomes unacceptable.”

To read our comments and learn more about the user capacity analysis:

To learn more about the Chattooga Issue:


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