Foothills Landscape Project

 

Foothills Landscape Project Summary

 

The Foothills Landscape Project was proposed to create, restore, and maintain resilient ecosystems through a variety of active management techniques that address unique habitats, forest composition and structure, risks to forest health, resilience to climate change, forest successional diversity, aquatic and terrestrial wildlife habitat, communities at risk of wildfire, and sustainable recreation opportunities.

This project is part of the Forest’s larger strategy to systematically approach the goals and objectives in the Land and Resource Management Plan, or Forest Plan, in the face of a dynamic, ever-changing environment. The range of management actions proposed are a necessary step to ensure these public lands remain healthy and resilient for generations to come.

A final Decision Notice which documents the decision and rationale for approving the proposed project was published on April 27, 2022, and is based on and supported by the October 2021 Foothills Landscape Project Programmatic Environmental Assessment (EA). These documents and supporting materials can be viewed on the project webpage at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52509

Location

Foothills Landscape MapThe Foothills Landscape – 157,625 acres – stretches across the Chattahoochee National Forest and marks the area where the mountains are visibly reduced to foothills. Shortleaf pine and pitch pine forests are the dominant forest types, with hardwoods accounting for about a quarter of the landscape. The area offers a plethora of recreation opportunities, with nearly 200 miles of hiking, biking, horse and OHV trails and dozens of recreation sites. It includes a portion of the Cohutta WMA and Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Habersham, Lumpkin, Murray, Rabun and White Counties.

Background

Since the Forest Plan was signed in 2004, monitoring results have consistently shown the Forest is not adequately meeting the goals and objectives outlined in our Forest Plan. After the first 10 years of plan monitoring results showed the Forest making limited to moderate progress toward management objectives, specifically on the Chattahoochee National Forest, managers realized the need to change our approach. Our traditional (smaller) scope and scale of project work alone is simply not resulting in meaningful gains toward our goals. Tasked with caring for the land and serving our public, and with future generations in mind, we began thinking differently about how to approach our work more efficiently and asked the public to do the same.

By the spring of 2016, strategic planning efforts were underway to explore opportunities for integrated resource management and landscape restoration. Despite initial apprehension from employees and public alike about taking a different approach, our forest communities came together to begin framing the need for restoration within the Foothills Landscape and design the conceptual framework for the Forest’s overarching Integrated Landscape Restoration Strategy. The results from those earliest conversations laid the foundation for much of what the project still is today.

The reality facing our forests is that without active management on the ground to increase the resiliency of these ecosystems and difficult decisions for the sustainability of our recreation program, these public lands and all their inhabitants are at severe risk. Fire-dependent forests and associated open habitat are in decline across the landscape due to decades of fire suppression. Young forest is practically non-existent. As one of the most biologically diverse regions, with climate change upon us, rare habitats and the species dependent upon them are at risk of extinction. Humans have played a critical role in shaping these landscapes, for better and worse, for thousands of years.

We have a responsibility to future generations to learn from our past and apply that knowledge toward the future. The Foothills Landscape Project offers a necessary and substantial step toward a healthier, more resilient Chattahoochee National Forest.

Community Collaboration

From the inception of this project, partners and community members from across North Georgia have been working together with the Forest Service to realize a shared vision to address the complex conservation challenges across this landscape.  The purpose of the engagement was to discuss and debate the restoration needs on the landscape and the potential tools to improve the ecosystem’s resilience to disturbance and sustainability.

In 2021, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest invited stakeholders and partners to help establish a collaborative working group to guide the implementation of the Foothills Landscape project. This could include identifying priority areas for projects and best tools and approaches for achieving desired outcomes and monitoring progress. The member-driven working group may also develop new ways to adapt, support, streamline and scope future efforts. By building in the flexibility to address conservation challenges adaptively and ensuring our public can be involved every step of the way, we can shape the future of the landscape together.

We hosted a series of facilitated, public meetings and conversations to discuss: What is the value of a Working Group? What are the benefits and barriers to participating? What’s possible? Now, a group of volunteers are working to co-develop the purpose and structure of a Foothills Collaborative Group. View Forest Supervisor Edward Hunter's opening remarks for the kick-off. Find more background information on the collaboration effort behind the Foothills Landscape Project.

Stay Connected! Sign up to receive information about the Foothills Landscape collaboration by email. 

Subscribe to updates on the Foothills Landscape Project 

If you have specific questions about the Foothills Landscape project, contact team leader Stephanie Israel at sm.fs.foothills@usda.gov or (770) 297-3095.

 


"The right work in the right places at the right scale and for the right reasons"