The Sumter National Forest (SNF) told AW today to expect even more delays in the release of their
Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding recreational use in the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga
River corridor. The EA will include a user capacity analysis and proposed new management plan for
the upper river, as ordered by the highest office of the US Forest Service. The pending release
of the EA is already a year later than the final decision was required to be released, and the
most recent delays are part of a continuing trend.
- In April 2005, 7 months late, the highest office of the USFS gave the Sumter National Forest 2 years to complete a User Capacity Analysis and fix the problem. 2 years passed.
- On May 25, 2007, they gave a release date (for the EA) of late October.
- On November 8, 2007, they gave a release date of mid December.
- On December 21, 2007 they gave a release date of February.
- On February 29, 2007 they gave a release date of March 7, 2008.
- On March 7, 2008 they were unsure when the EA would come out.
After the EA is released, the SNF will then have to make a new decision. It is unclear how long
this will take. The SNF has yet to issue a single draft document in this process – all
documents are issued final and are not revised based on public comments. This effectively
eliminates stakeholder input as directed in by the Chief’s office. The EA will be no
The SNF has studied and studied recreation on the Chattooga, and has yet to find a single reason to continue to discriminate against paddlers. Millions of dollars have been spent studying what has been painfully obvious from the beginning – boating is a wilderness compliant and low impact activity that the SNF should fully support. Still, the last time we saw the alternative management plans that the SNF was going to analyze, not a single one was consistent with national laws and policies.
Paddlers will recall that this process was initiated when AW appealed the flawed 2004 decision to ban boating. We won our appeal; for starters the boating ban was found to violate the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Chief’s office ordered a user capacity analysis (we have yet to see capacities defined for users). They ordered the whole upper river studied (yet they did not study 2 miles). They ordered a new decision in 2 years (it has been 3 and still no decision). They ordered that uses should be limited equitably if limits are needed (yet 9 of 10 alternatives fail to do so). The SNF has disregarded their orders from Washington.
It is impossible to predict what the EA will propose when it is finally released. One thing is sure though; the SNF has effectively maintained their boating ban through yet another paddling season - without any justification whatsoever.