Earlier today the US Forest Service released a Draft Environmental Assessment that proposes to continue denying the American public the simple right to float in canoes and kayaks down the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River for most or all of the year depending on the section of river.
The decision comes as the latest setback to citizens who connect with nature most strongly through paddling wild rivers like the Upper Chattooga. For more than a decade, paddlers have challenged the mismanagement of recreational and environmental values on the Upper Chattooga River.
The proposal marks a success for paddlers’ efforts to secure new conservation measures in that it proposes to bring sprawling campsites and user-created trails up to standards, set capacities for all visitors, and monitor the river’s condition and use over time.
While successful in advancing some of the paddling community’s conservation goals, paddlers remain singled out for inequitable and harsh limits based solely on the Agency’s unfounded belief that user conflicts would occur if boating were allowed.
“Let’s be clear,” says Kevin Colburn, American Whitewater’s National Stewardship Director. “The user conflicts the USFS is basing the boating limits on are imaginary: they have never occurred, do not occur elsewhere, and will not occur on the Upper Chattooga. This federal analysis of imaginary impacts is costing taxpayers millions of dollars, and is damaging the relationship that citizens have with the agency, the river, and each other.”
The USFS estimates their proposal would allow nine days of potential boating use annually, spread over a six-week winter period on one section of the river and another six-week winter period on a different section. The upper and lowermost reaches, as well as tributaries remain completely banned. All other similar uses (hiking, fishing, swimming, etc) have access to the river 365 days per year.
The proposal comes at a time when federal agencies like the Forest Service are struggling to reconnect Americans with nature through outdoor recreation as part of the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative. “The Agency has a great opportunity to advance these important goals of the AGO initiative on the Upper Chattooga.” explains Colburn. “Instead, they are doing the exact opposite.”
Conservation-oriented paddlers are currently suing the Forest Service over the Agency’s continued mismanagement of the Upper Chattooga. The goal of the case is to bring fact-based, protective, and nationally-consistent management to the upper reaches of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River.
“The membership of American Whitewater will be encouraged to submit public comments once we have conducted a robust review of the Forest Service’s analysis,” Colburn explained. “The Forest Service is accepting comments on their analysis until Aug. 15, and we hope the public tells the Forest Service that citizens that choose to paddle the upper Chattooga River should be managed the same way as those who prefer to hike, fish, or swim there.”
ABOUT AMERICAN WHITEWATER. Founded in 1954, American Whitewater is the primary advocate for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers throughout the United States. In order to achieve its mission to conserve and restore America’s whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely, American Whitewater serves as a hub of information and activism for its members who comprise a broad diversity of individual whitewater enthusiasts, river conservationists, and more than 100 local paddling club affiliates across the United States.