The U.S. Forest Service ended more than two years of obstruction and delays regarding southern Appalachian forest management plans by issuing in July a final denial of administrative appeals filed by environmental activists.
Natural Threats Targeted
In early 2004 the Forest Service had approved limited timber harvesting to control disease, invasive species, and wildfire threats in national forests in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Environmental activist groups filed administrative appeals in April 2004, alleging the management plans would harm watersheds in the region.
Management plans for the forests at issue had not been updated since 1985. Revised plans were considered necessary to address changing conditions in the forests.
“After a thorough scientific analysis and consideration of thousands of public comments, the revised plan was approved by retired Regional Forester Robert Jacobs on April 16, 2004,” said Kimberly Feltner, spokeswoman for the Daniel Boone National Forest in Virginia.
Added Feltner, “These measures are aimed at reducing risks from insects, diseases, catastrophic weather, and other threats; focusing on the maintenance and restoration of habitat for native plant and animal species; improving water quality; and managing recreation activities to minimize negative resource impacts.
“The revised forest plan provides for clean water and habitat for thousands of native plants and animals and also provides various recreational opportunities within a natural and scenic environment,” said Feltner.
Opponents Vow to Persist
Nevertheless, activist groups such as the Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) vow to delay the projects still longer. Representatives of SELC have said they will challenge several of the projects individually in court, and they are debating whether to challenge the decision in its entirety.
“We will continue to file legal challenges to stop the worst projects on these public lands which citizens increasingly value [more] for recreation and environmental values than for timber,” said Sarah Francisco, staff attorney for SELC. “We’re not going to let them log our roadless areas or our old-growth forests. We’re not going to let them muddy our clean mountain streams or build roads through remote wildlife habitat. And we’re not going to let them scrape away the forested views along our trails.”
Forest Service Stretched
Stretched thin by the need to respond to incessant activist challenges regarding forest management plans, the Forest Service required more than two years to address the activists’ allegations.
Although the original proposal was affirmed, disease, invasive species, and potential fire tinder have gained a stronger foothold while the plan was being appealed. Additional legal challenges could further delay addressing such problems for years.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.