Addition to Chattahoochee National Forest Protects Key Watershed and Wildlife Habitat
By Steven Bekkerus
The U.S. Forest Service and The Conservation Fund are pleased to announce the addition of a 272-acre tract of land to the Chattahoochee National Forest. The property is located along the Etowah River approximately 10 miles northwest of Dahlonega, Ga. The additional lands include 1.2 miles of riverfront and help consolidate the Upper Etowah watershed within the national forest so that it is protected from development. The lands were acquired and held by national nonprofit, The Conservation Fund, while the Forest Service awaited funds through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Today, the land is permanently managed by the Forest Service and available for public access.
“The Forest Service’s acquisition of this land will reduce forest fragmentation and improve public access and resiliency to climate change in the national forest in an area of high biological diversity,” said Andrew Schock, Georgia State Director at The Conservation Fund. “This tract of land is critical to protecting water quality and quantity for downstream users in the Coosa Basin.”
The Etowah River flows through the acquired lands and provides important habitat for many aquatic species, including the Federally Endangered Etowah Darter and State Endangered Etowah Crayfish (see map below). The Etowah River is also a popular recreation resource to the millions of people in the greater Atlanta and Chattanooga areas. The new lands acquired include the confluence of the Etowah River and Jones Creek, a popular watershed that is stocked with trout.
"Every acre of national forest system land in Georgia was purchased or donated to permanently conserve these lands and waters for generations to come," said Edward Hunter Jr., Forest Supervisor for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. "The Etowah River and Jones Creek are special waterways that provide clean drinking water and excellent habitat for endangered fish and other wildlife. We need to act now, to keep forests as forests with the help of our partners and elected officials, before these areas are sold and developed.”
The LWCF received permanent funding through the Great American Outdoors Act, and expands Forest Service conservation efforts on national, state and private lands through voluntary land acquisition. Since 1990, LWCF has permanently conserved nearly 3 million acres in 53 states and territories. Federal investments to date leveraged more than $1 billion in contributions from state and local partners. The U.S. Congressional delegation representing Chattahoochee National Forest includes U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and U.S. Representative Andrew Clyde.
"I am pleased to join in the announcement of this expansion for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. I remain committed to protecting Georgia's precious wild places for conservation and recreation,” said Senator Jon Ossoff.
“I’m proud of our efforts to support the Chattahoochee National Forest, which will create jobs and provide even more access for wonderful recreational activities for all Georgians,” said Senator Reverend Warnock. “This acquisition will help ensure Georgians can enjoy the many benefits of this national forest for generations to come. I want to extend my deep thanks to The Conservation Fund for their work on this important endeavor for our state’s economy and environment.”
The acquisition of the additional 272 acres of land and 1.2 miles of riverfront is supported by numerous partners and groups, including: The Conservation Fund, the Coosa River Basin Initiative, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Lumpkin Coalition, Upper Etowah River Alliance, the Nature Conservancy and Limestone Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council.
Strategic conservation through LWCF acquisitions enhance public access, strengthen local economies, and provides a wide array of public benefits including clean water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration and recreation opportunities. High quality recreation opportunities provide many benefits to people and businesses in communities near public land. Counties with public land enjoy higher economic growth and residents report higher quality of life. Approximately 150 million recreation visits occur on National Forest System lands each year and visitors spend approximately $10 billion in communities near national forests and grasslands, which sustains more the 148,000 full and part time jobs.
Increased development along the boundaries of the national forest is a key threat to forest sustainability and raises concerns about the effects on wildlife and water, and about an increasing scarcity of recreational opportunities in parts of the South. An estimated 23 million acres of forest land in the South is projected to be replaced by urban land uses by 2057.