Yesterday a hearing was held in US District Court in South Carolina regarding the Forest Service's illegal bans and severe limits on paddling 21 miles of the Wild and Scenic upper Chattooga River.
The Forest Service banned paddling in 1976, just two years after Congress designated the Chattooga a Wild and Scenic River in large part because of its outstanding value as a paddling destination. That ban was renewed in 1985 and 2004 with little or no analysis. Conservation-oriented paddlers successfully appealed the 2004 decision, resulting in the Washington Office of the Forest Service requiring an analysis and subsequent new management decision by April of 2007 that was to be fair, equitable, legal, and rational. In the fall of 2009 the Forest Service had failed to produce the required analysis and decision, so paddlers filed a complaint in US District Court. With a court decision nearing, the Forest Service finally produced an analysis and decision in 2012. The analysis is inadequate and the 2012 decision violates all the same laws, regulations, policies, and public interest considerations that the 2004 decision did.
Yesterday's hearing centered on the Forest Service's most recent request that the Court dismiss the case against them brought by conservation-oriented paddlers seeking fair, environmentally sustainable, and consistent management of the river.
The Court denied the Forest Service's motion to dismiss, and set an accelerated schedule for the amendment of the paddlers' complaint to directly address the Forest Service's illegal 2012 decision, for briefing by all parties, and for resolution of the case. A hearing was tentatively scheduled for February of 2013 with a final decision on the case anticipated in March of 2013.
This is great news for members of the public who connect with nature, their friends, and their family on rivers.