Southern Environmental Law Center Files Lawsuit Against Forest Service

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Knoxville attorney Shelby Ward, on behalf of Heartwood and Tennessee Heartwood, jointly filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday, alleging that the Forest Service is illegally endangering the soil, forests, and waters of the Cherokee National Forest and hiding those risks from the public.

At stake is Tumbling Creek, a cold-water trout stream running through the mountains of southeast Tennessee into the Ocoee River, popular with local families for fishing, wading, and picnicking. "Deliberately ignoring the disastrous effects of nearby timber sales on similar soils and slopes, the Forest Service recently decided to allow heavy commercial logging along the creek," said officials. 

For nearly four years, conservation groups said they tried to dissuade the Forest Service from taking risks on publicly-owned lands, with pictures, examples, and monitoring data to show what could go wrong.

“Dismissing legitimate citizen concerns is the most egregious aspect about this risky, ill-advised logging project,” said Sam Evans, staff attorney and Leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s National Forests and Parks Program. “The public came forward and said, ‘we don’t want to see these kinds of erosion problems on our lands ever again,’ but the agency simply refuses to learn from its mistakes. They are sweeping literal dirt under the rug.” 

In the 3,700-acre project area near Tumbling Creek, the Forest Service is proposing to sell 534 acres of timber for commercial logging, exposing steep slopes and erosive soils. Conservation groups are worried that soil loss will keep trees from growing on those slopes, as was the case with a recent logging project a dozen miles to the west of Tumbling Creek, and that sediment runoff will harm one of the healthiest watersheds and streams in the area, said conservation group officials. 

“It’s not that we just disagree with the Cherokee National Forest leadership about this project; it’s that they refuse to consider any science or data that might require them to do things differently,” said Davis Mounger, cofounder of Tennessee Heartwood. “This pattern of dodging our concerns has damaged the forest time after time, and they have left us with no other options.”   

The Ocoee District of the Cherokee National Forest offers recreation, scenic value, and economic benefits. In addition to recreation on Tumbling Creek itself, the area boasts whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River, mountain biking on the Tanasi and Brush Creek trails, and long scenic hikes into the iconic Big Frog Wilderness. 

“The public asked for a hard look at impacts from similar logging projects, without which there was too great a risk to move forward with this project as planned,” said Anne Passino, staff attorney for SELC. “The streams near Tumbling Creek are among the last clean waterways in the area--the few spared from sediment pollution--and are a special place for fisherman, local communities and families who visit this area to create memories.” 

"The mismanagement of comparable projects in the Cherokee National Forest containing similar slopes with erosive soils have left mountainsides barren, stripped of topsoil and, as a result, unable to support native plant and animal life. The impacts to hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities hurt local economies for surrounding communities. And when the Forest Service does attempt to remediate damaged areas, it uses taxpayer money that could be better spent on maintaining roads and trails for access to public lands," said conservation officials. 

Local citizens have attempted to raise awareness around timber sales in the past and have condemned the taxpayer dollars wasted trying to remediate them.

“The Forest Service is cutting out the public from the decision-making process that impacts our lands,” said Axel Ringe, conservation chair for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The agency should at least explain what it has learned from recent mistakes and why it believes they won’t happen again. This lack of transparency makes it impossible for us to trust that logging along Tumbling Creek will be any different than previous projects.”

Riverpark Boat Ramp Reopens

Congress Passes Measure To Protect Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest

2019 First Day Hike At The Prater’s Mill Historic Site Set For Jan. 1

The Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department reports the Riverpark Boat Ramp has now reopened. (click for more)

Congress for passed a measure that would designate as wilderness roughly 20,000 acres of public land in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. The measure, included in the Agriculture Improvement ... (click for more)

On New Year's Day, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019 at 3 p.m. at the Prater’s Mill Historic Site there will be a hike organized on the Norma Gordon Nature Loop and the Prater’s Mill Greenway. The guided ... (click for more)


Riverpark Boat Ramp Reopens

The Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department reports the Riverpark Boat Ramp has now reopened. (click for more)

Congress Passes Measure To Protect Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest

Congress for passed a measure that would designate as wilderness roughly 20,000 acres of public land in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. The measure, included in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), commonly called the farm bill, was originally introduced in April 2017 as the Tennessee Wilderness Act. It would protect important watersheds and wildlife habitats ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Officer Who Responded To Brainerd High School Melee: "It Was Mayhem"; Student Arrested With Gun On Friday

An officer who responded to a melee inside Brainerd High School late Wednesday morning said, "It was mayhem." And on Friday a Brainerd High student was arrested for bringing a gun to school. The incident happened after school dismissed, but it was on school grounds. The student had not been to school, but was arriving for an evening class. The school's SRO and assistant principal ... (click for more)

New Pro Soccer Team Is Interested In Building Training Facility At Camp Jordan Park

The Chattanooga Red Wolves professional soccer team may be coming to East Ridge. In Thursday night’s Agenda Session of the East Ridge City Council meeting, Red Wolves owner Bob Martino told the council that he wants to enter into a public/private partnership with the city to build a practice facility near the existing Weldon Osborne Stadium in Camp Jordan Park. The facility would ... (click for more)


Tom Caldwell Was Always A Champion For Orange Grove

Tom Caldwell was a devoted husband, father of four children and 13 grandchildren, veteran of World War II, Harvard University law school graduate, church member and outstanding corporate, tax and estate planning attorney at three of Chattanooga's leading law firms. His family, personal, legal, military, religious and civic duties are too many to list. As a member of the Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: So Long, 'Mr. Chaudion'

It’s been a couple of years ago, almost three, when I walked into a well-respected horse barn at the foot of Lookout Mountain, not far into Georgia, and caught sight of four black men, silently watching me enter. When I got to their midst, I nodded my respect to each of the four, as I was taught from the very start in my life, before I said, “I’d like a word with Mr. Chaudion Womble.” ... (click for more)