The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Barry Sulkin [PEER] (615) 313-7066; DJ Gerken [SELC] (828) 258-2023;
Michael "Squeak" Smith [Trout Unlimited, North Carolina Council] (828) 205-2355;
George Lane [Trout Unlimited, Tennessee Council] (865) 414-1527; Ben Prater

Tellico River Watershed Closed to Off-Road Traffic

Conservationists Applaud U.S. Forest Service Action to Restore Water Quality


Conservation groups concerned about water quality in the Tellico
River watershed in national forests in North Carolina and Tennessee
from a degraded off-road vehicle (ORV) area hailed the final decision
announced today by the U.S. Forest Service as a win-win approach to
resolving the problem. The agency will close most trails in the Tellico
area and invest substantial resources to restore those lands, and
convert the remaining ORV trails to forest roads for public access for
other types of recreation. ORV use will no longer be allowed anywhere
in the area.

Today's decision brings to a close a years-long
process that began when the conservation groups took steps to sue the
agency in 2007 for failing to meet federal law and its own standards to
protect the watershed from pollution caused by excessive ORV use in the

"We support the agency's decision to do what is
necessary - and what is required by law - to protect this critical
watershed, and will stand by them to defend this decision if
necessary," said DJ Gerken, Senior Attorney with the Southern
Environmental Law Center.

Muddy runoff in the Tellico watershed
has been devastating one of the last, best strongholds for brook trout,
a native species in decline in North Carolina and Tennessee. The
Tellico area, located in the Nantahala National Forest in the
headwaters of the upper Tellico River, was one of the largest and most
heavily used ORV destinations on public lands in the Southeast. The
almost 40 miles of designated trails - not counting illegal trails -
are double what the Nantahala forest plan allows for the Tellico.

"The results of the Forest Service's extensive study make it clear that
the agency could not maintain this trail system to acceptable
standards," said Michael "Squeak" Smith, with the North Carolina
Council of Trout Unlimited. "Because the Forest Service can't operate
this ORV area without degrading this important habitat for native
southern brook trout, it had no choice but to take this step. We're
grateful the Forest Service took this problem seriously and took the
steps necessary to fix it permanently."

The Forest Service's
action will improve water quality in the Tellico River which flows from
north Carolina to Tennessee. "I have been fishing in the Tellico River
in Tennessee since I was a boy. Closing this unsustainable ORV area
will ensure that future generations will have the same opportunity,"
said George Lane, Council Chair of the Tennessee Council of Trout

Over the years, intensive ORV use and extensive
erosion turned many ORV trails into huge ditches, some more than seven
feet deep. The Forest Service has estimated that more than 25,000 tons
of sediment have washed off from the trails into the Tellico's
tributaries over the years. The Forest Service's evaluation of the
trail system found that many trails cut through unstable soils. "Many
of the Tellico's trails were badly designed and put in the wrong place
long before the Forest Service acquired the area," said Tennessee PEER
Director Barry Sulkin. "The agency's study confirms that these ORV
trails simply cannot be maintained to protect water quality with any
reasonable budget."

The Forest Service has a legal mandate to
protect water quality and wildlife habitat. "The National Forests are
an important recreation resource," said Ben Prater, Associate Director
of WildSouth, "but no recreation use can be allowed to degrade wildlife
habitat entrusted to the Forest Service's stewardship. Water quality
must come first."

See the Forest Service announcement on closure of the Tellico

Read about the three-year struggle to save the Tellico

Look at the damage off-roading is inflicting on public lands

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.