March 3, 2009
Squeak Smith, TU Board of Trustees
George Lane, TU Tennessee Council
Erin Mooney, TU Press Secretary (703)284-9408
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
ARLINGTON, VA--Trout Unlimited (TU) applauds the decision by the U.S. Forest Service to protect critical brook trout habitat in North Carolina’s Upper Tellico Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trail system by recommending as its preferred alternative the closing of a 39-mile OHV trail system in the Nantahala National Forest.
The off-road activity in the Nantahala National Forest has caused severe erosion and was affecting the Tellico River, the headwaters of which are the most significant intact population of native southern Appalachian brook trout in western North Carolina, according to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, a 17-state and federal agency partnership. The Nantahala National Forest is located in the Tusquitee Ranger District, in Cherokee County, North Carolina.
For years, water quality has been declining in the Tellico River and its tributaries as a result of muddy runoff from the inadequately maintained trail system within the Tellico OHV area. These streams receive approximately 500 to 1,000 times more sediment than streams just outside the trail system.
In 2007, TU issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Forest Service for violations to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act stemming from the agency’s management of OHV activity. In 2008, TU intervened in a law suit brought against the Forest Service by OHV user groups.
In response to legal proceedings and impacts to native brook trout habitat, the Forest Service conducted a full-scale Environmental Assessment (EA) and has suggested six alternatives for long-term management of the area. The Forest Service’s “preferred” alternative is to completely close the Tellico OHV system.
“It was never North Carolina TU’s intent to seek closure of the Tellico OHV trail system. For the past 10 years all we ever asked the Forest Service to do was follow their own regulations,” said Squeak Smith, a member of TU’s Board of Trustees. “The ‘preferred alternative’, to close the Tellico OHV trail system, was based on extensive field work and a comprehensive analysis by the Forest Service. It was a bold, but necessary step in defense of water quality, and I applaud and support their decision.”
“The Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited is appreciative of the serious attention that the Forest Service is giving the erosion and sediment problems in the Tellico watershed,” said George Lane, chair of the Tennessee Council. “While it was not our request to ban OHVs but to allow usage only in areas that were appropriate, we applaud the Forest Service for fully examining the problem, and we concur with their recommendation.”
“The Forest Service made the right decision,” said Elizabeth Maclin, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Eastern Conservation. “Few places remain for native southern Appalachian brook trout, the Tellico River is one of them and it is critical to protect.”
The Forest Service is seeking public comments on its six alternatives for long-term management of the Upper Tellico OHV Trail System. The Forest Service is also seeking comment on a proposed temporary closure of the Upper Tellico OHV Trail System for resource protection. It would be effective from April 1, 2009 until a final decision is reached. A 30-day comment period ends on March 28, 2009. -30-