Earlier this week the USFS granted Georgia Forest Watch's request to cancel USFS plans to allow a paltry six days of paddling on one small section of the upper Chattooga River (NC/SC/GA). Once again, the entire Upper Chattooga River is banned to all canoeing and kayaking, while all other existing uses have no limits.
When it rains it pours on the Chattooga River. Recent rains have brought the upper sections
up to perfect boating flows, while paddlers’ efforts to prevent simply paddling down the
river from remaining a Federal crime have also risen. We are challenging the recent Forest
Service's August decision to continue their boating ban on two parallel tracks: a lawsuit in
federal court, and the administrative appeals process of the Forest Service.
On Thursday, October 19, 2009, we had our first hearing before the Judge overseeing our lawsuit. The judge granted our request that our administrative appeal should not affect the ripeness of our court case, and he also agreed that several of our pro bono attorneys can formally represent us in his court. He will accept the Forest Service’s response to our lawsuit in Mid-December and hold our next hearing sometime after late January, at which point paddling access could be granted under our requested preliminary injunction. We are very pleased with this outcome.
On Monday, October 19, 2009, we formally appealed the USFS decision to renew the boating ban on all but up to 6 days on one small section of the river. Georgia Forest Watch (GFW) and an individual also appealed requesting no boating access, the Chattooga Conservancy appealed requesting modified boating access including bans, and the group calling itself “Friends of the Upper Chattooga” requested modified language banning boating. Subsequently, GFW requested that the USFS immediately decide to not allow the few planned days of paddling to occur this winter. Earlier this week the USFS agreed to fully ban boating this year. AW refuted all of GFW concerns in a response to the USFS but our opinion was not persuasive to the USFS. As expected the USFS implemented a “Stay of Implementation” that will not allow any paddling to occur on the Upper Chattooga this year. There will likely be many more filings over the next few weeks, and the USFS has until late next spring to reach a decision on the appeals, after the proposed legal boating season is over.
Our team of AW staff, partners, local paddlers and awesome volunteer attorneys are consistently presenting a solid case against the Forest Service at every opportunity in every venue. Through this work we will strengthen the way the agency uses the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and Wilderness Act to protect wild rivers across the country and allow their enjoyment.
We are going big with our efforts to promote consistent and responsible river management by the Forest Service. American Whitewater greatly appreciates the support that our affiliate clubs and members have provided for this work. While our attorneys represent us on a pro bono basis, AW faces significant court costs and other legal fees in this case. For those wishing to make an additional donation to this project, we have created a dedicated Chattooga River Defense Fund. To donate to the Fund, simply write “Chattooga” as a comment with your online donation, or as a memo on your check to American Whitewater.
You can review all the appeals, interventions, stay requests and other documents here.