- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

ATLANTA

Environmental groups are searching for new ways to fight a batch of management plans in five Southeastern forests they fear could lead to more logging and road construction in pristine wilderness areas.

After a two-year wait, the U.S. Forest Service last month denied an administrative appeal from conservation groups who argued that the plans could threaten wildlife habitat in 2.7 million acres of forestland in Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

Now the Southern Environmental Law Center and other green groups are debating whether to appeal the decision, while vowing to challenge the “worst” projects individually. They are also ramping up local efforts to pressure state governors to use their executive powers to protect more forestland.

“At the highest levels, the administration has decided not to respond to what the citizens and public wanted,” said Sarah Francisco, a staff attorney with the center. “It’s going to have real impacts on the forest. The plans allow for logging at much higher levels and forests are already aggressively pursuing this.”

She pointed to northern Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, where the new plan could allow 50 million board feet of timber to be harvested every year. That’s nearly double the 28.9 million board feet a year gathered through much of the 1990s.

The other plans targeted by the groups involve Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest, South Carolina’s Sumter National Forest and the National Forests of Alabama.

The federal government stands by the plans, saying that they drew upon unprecedented public participation and will foster better conservation and management of the forest’s ecosystem.

“Conservation of the forest in the South requires a lot of active management,” said Chris Liggett, the Forest Service’s director of planning for the southern region. “You can’t just stand back and let things go everywhere.”

Last week, members of Georgia Forestwatch rallied at the Capitol in Atlanta, brandishing more than 4,000 postcards that urge Gov. Sonny Perdue to expand wilderness designations and protect roadless areas.

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