Cooper Creek Watershed Project Information

What do I need to know?

The Forest Service is analyzing the Cooper Creek watershed, located southwest of Blairsville and just north of Suches, Georgia, covering approximately 29,600 acres. The primary focus of the Cooper Creek watershed project is to make the forest more resilient and sustainable by reestablishing a healthy range of age and diversity of tree species, improving wildlife habitat and increasing watershed function.

Historically, fires were a natural part of the Cooper Creek watershed and resulted in areas of open, park-like stands dominated by young oaks and grassy woodlands. Through extensive site analysis using an Ecological Classification System, scientists have determined that six out of seven forest ecosystems in the watershed are highly departed from historic conditions. Less than one percent of the area has the young forest essential for numerous songbirds, deer, wild turkey and ruffed grouse.

2015 Forest Conditions

  • Where oak should be the dominant tree cover, it has been displaced by white pine in 22% of the project area.
  • Approximately 88% of the project area has canopy so dense that little to no light reaches the forest floor.  This limits hardwood tree diversity and wildlife habitat.
  • There is no remaining high elevation woodland habitat in the project area which was once typical and depended upon by species such as the state endangered golden winged warbler.
  • Six of the seven ecosystems within the project area are more than 50 percent departed from healthy conditions largely due to lack of fire.
  • Less than one percent of the project area has the young forest essential for deer, wild turkey, many songbirds and ruffed grouse.

Draft Environmental Analysis Modified Proposed Action

  • Young, open forest would be established throughout the project area to create essential habitat for ruffed grouse, wild turkey and other wildlife.
  • There is no "clear cutting" whatsoever. More than 90 percent of the project area would see no thinning whatsoever.
  • More than 1,834 acres of forest with an average stand age of 120 years would be designated as old-growth, where no thinning would take place. This incorporates desire to conserve old growth. 
  • Three percent, 912 acres, of the project area would be improved through noncommercial thinning (felled trees would not be removed from the site), leaving 20-60 standing trees per acre. 1,679 acres would be improved through commercial thinning, also leaving an average of 20-60 trees per acre. This thinning would occur in small increments over several years.
  • There would be no ground based commercial thinning on steep slopes (35 percent sustained grade or more.)
  • The project is specifically designed to reduce visual impacts as much as possible including maintaining the ‘viewshed’ on popular trails and ‘feathering’ thinning edges.
  • Prescribed fire would be the single largest tool used to restore health to the watershed.  Over the course of a decade, 2-4 thousand acres of prescribed fire would be applied each year. Fire managers would focus on the south and west slopes, and north slopes would see low intensity backing fire only. This mimics historic, natural fire conditions, and the amount of acreage to be treated each year is consistent with the current prescribed fire regime in this part of the forest.
  • More than 1,100 acres of proposed thinning were eliminated from the original scoping notice to reduce erosion and sediment concerns in the watershed. This was in direct response to public concerns.
  • No broadcast application of herbicide would occur, as this is not an approved practice for the Chattahoochee National Forest. Site-specific-only application would protect streams and riparian areas.
  • Road system work would be implemented over the course of 10 years, minimizing the likelihood of large-scale soil erosion or sediment delivery to streams.

More Information

The complete Cooper Creek Project record, including the full draft Environmental Analysis and maps, is available atgo.usa.gov/3JQs3

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In accordance with federal regulations, the Forest Service will offer a 30-day formal comment period on the draft Environmental Analysis, which will begin with a legal notice published in the paper(s) of record. The legal notices are expected to be published during the week of January 4, 2016. All comments meeting 218 standards will be analyzed and incorporated into future analysis. A final Environmental Analysis and draft Decision Notice is expected in the spring of 2016. A 45-day formal objection period will follow at that time.

Comment on the Cooper Creek Watershed Project