Sunday, July 27, 2008

Celebrating the Chattooga

Wilderness or water-park? Which will it be for the Upper Chattooga River? The deadline is August 1 to submit comments urging the Forest Service to protect this living treasure.

Compared with sections of the Chattooga downstream, the Upper Chattooga as it flows through North Carolina is especially rich in rare plant and animal species. From the Chattooga Conservancy:

The headwaters of the Chattooga have been described as the salamander capital of the world, home to several species in the plethodon family of salamanders and potential habitat for the endangered green salamander. These animals are interesting because they breathe through their skin, must remain in moist areas all the time, and emerge from their underground burrows only at night or in the rain. Additionally, the headwaters contain several rare, threatened and endangered species of plants including rock clubmoss (Huperzia porophila), fir clubmoss (Huperzia selago), Biltmore sedge (Carex biltmoreana), divided leaf groundsel (Senecio millefolium), dwarf filmy fern (Trichomanes petersii), and sword moss (Bryoxiphium norvegicum). Obviously, increased use in this area could affect these species and we believe that a through environmental assessment should be completed to determine the potential threats to these and other sensitive species which are found in this area.

I took the photos displayed here in October 2007 near Bull Pen. If you go out Bull Pen Road, you’ll reach an old steel bridge from which you can see how the river has carved deep potholes into the rock. A short walk upstream from the bridge takes you through a great diversity of habitats along the river, including a rich cove, white pine forest, a seepage with club moss, a narrow gorge and a system of cliffs.

A little farther northeast is what’s known as the Terrapin Mountain tract. The Wilderness Society has compiled a report called Western North Carolina Mountain Treasures, identifying remarkable natural areas that remain at risk. Terrapin Mountain is one of these sites, bounded by the Upper Chattooga just south of Whiteside Cove Road. Among the rarities found in the area was a living 19-inch diameter American chestnut tree.

A “wild river” means different things to different people. For some, it means whitewater gushing over rocks. For others, the meaning of a wild river is more inclusive, taking in the wholeness of the plants and animals and mountains that give life to, and get life from, the flowing waters.

The industry group, American Whitewater, imposing its myopic view of “wild river” on Forest Service policy regarding the Upper Chattooga, is eager to compromise the latter in favor of the former. Maybe it's not too late to stop them.

From the Chattooga Conservancy:

For as long as the Chattooga has been Wild and Scenic, there has been concern for potential use conflicts. The 1971 Wild and Scenic Study Report on the Chattooga River concluded that the river was not "overused," but it cautioned that future demand could reach saturation and cause a degradation of the Chattooga's wilderness "experience". Consequently, the report recommended development to be guided by preserving a primitive experience as a priority over demand.

Click on Act Now to Protect the Chattooga for more background and instructions on submitting comments prior to the August 1 deadline.

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