This April marked four years since American Whitewater successfully appealed the US Forest Service decision to reinstitute a ban on paddling the Upper Chattooga River. The highest office of the USFS found that the ban violated the Wilderness Act and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as USFS policy. They gave the Sumter National Forest two years to conduct a user capacity analysis and issue a new decision. Last year the Sumter National Forest released an analysis of paddling on the river (though not a user capacity analysis) and recommended a continued ban on most of the river, new bans on tributaries, and allowing a miniscule amount of use on a portion of the river which will result in no use at all in many years. A final decision was scheduled to be released in December of 2008, at which point the Forest Service announced the decision would come "next year."
Since December, American Whitewater and our attorneys have been in contact with USFS officials at the local, regional, and National level. We have consistently asked for prompt resolution of this issue that includes an equitable and nationally consistent recreation plan based on a user capacity analysis, as is required by law. Thus far, the USFS has not produced a user capacity analysis or proposed a recreation plan that is legal, equitable, or adequately protective of the river.
Agency representatives have not shared with us a predicted decision date, or the cause of the delays within their agency. While we expect improving the management of the Chattooga to be a long term project, like many paddlers we are frustrated by the failure of the USFS to allow boating and protect the river in a timely and appropriate manner. We will continue to pressure the agency to do the right thing and do it soon, and will keep paddlers posted on opportunities to get involved.