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TN Groups Sue Feds Over Treatment of Cherokee Forest

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Tumbling Creek feeds into the Ocoee River, site of the whitewater events for the 1996 Olympics. (Natures Paparazzi/Flickr)
Tumbling Creek feeds into the Ocoee River, site of the whitewater events for the 1996 Olympics. (Natures Paparazzi/Flickr)
 By Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN, Contact
March 19, 2018

CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Covering more than 650,000 acres, the Cherokee National Forest is one of Tennessee's many crown jewels for outdoor recreation and scenic vistas. But conservation groups are concerned about the treatment of part of that land.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of the Sierra Club Tennessee Chapter and Tennessee Heartwood, filed a lawsuit in federal court late last week, alleging the U.S. Forest Service is illegally endangering Tumbling Creek near the Ocoee River.

Sam Evans, SELC national forests and parks program leader, said people should be concerned about a decision to sell 500 acres near Tumbling Creek to commercial logging companies.

"About a dozen miles away, the Forest Service is still trying to clean up its last mess from a five-year-old logging project there," Evans explained. "Heavy logging on steep slopes caused massive erosion. The Forest Service has spent already a tremendous amount of money, but can't get the forests to grow back."

Evans and others predict the erosion and water pollution that would result would damage the forest and water quality. The groups have been expressing their concerns to the feds for four years, and claim they have gone unheard.

Supporters of logging say it is necessary to clear the forest of trees for regrowth, and would not have an impact on the health of the forest.

Evans added the groups are surprised at the lack of response from the Forest Service, in the midst of many examples of partnerships between environmental groups and the federal government.

"We don't take likely filing a lawsuit against an agency that we count on as a partner, in some cases," he said, "but here, they just haven't responded to our many, many attempts to get them to do the right thing voluntarily."

The plaintiffs allege the Forest Service is illegally endangering the soil, forests and waters of the Cherokee National Forest and want the agency to explain how it will prevent damage similar to other projects, if this one is allowed to proceed.

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