By Glynn Wilson –
There is still no word from the Obama administration’s Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service on whether a plan to open up most of the Talladega National Forest to natural gas drilling is still in the works or dead.
But the forest got a boost this past week when it was named in the Top Ten Most Endangered Wild Places in the South by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Now we’ve written more about the Talladega National Forest than any other news organization around, and our watchdog journalism was instrumental in getting the agencies to pull the lease sales at the last minute this past June, when we questioned the agencies on the transparency of their process and questioned the environmental groups fighting it about doing everything possible to stop it, including filing an intent to sue to stop it. You can see the SELC’s response to my questioning in the video at this link
Citizens who live in the area around the forest and make their living from tourism, including the Little River Canyon National Nature Preserve and Mt. Cheaha State Park and DeSoto State Park, fear the forest and local economies could be damaged if it is opened up to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a controversial method of pumping water and chemicals into coal seams to release the methane gas trapped inside.
“Fracking on 43,000 acres of the Talladega National Forest would damage beloved camping, hiking, fishing, hunting and other recreational spots, the habitats of several protected species, and jeopardize the quality of drinking water for local communities,” the group says.
The Talladega National Forest surrounds the state’s highest point, Cheaha Mountain, and has been cherished by generations of Alabamians and tourists alike for its majestic trees, flowing waterfalls, nature trails and camping sites. Roughly 600,000 fishermen, hikers, hunters and others seeking solitude or recreation visit the forest each year.
Sheltering watersheds that are a source of clean drinking water to nearby communities, including Anniston and Jacksonville, the clear streams and rivers of the forest foster several critical aquatic habitats. The forest is also home to numerous protected species, including the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, which nests and feeds in the Talladega’s dwindling pine forests at risk from over timber harvesting.
Fracking has been linked to many environmental and public health risks, including contaminating groundwater, rivers, and streams; polluting air quality; depleting water resources; and industrializing forests and rural lands—impacts that would seriously affect fish, wildlife, recreation and local communities in and around the forest.
The Bureau of Land Management violated several federal laws when it made plans to sell drilling leases without examining reasonable alternatives or analyzing the environmental effects on the publicly owned forest’s water, air, fish and wildlife, according to the law group.
The nine other places and issues on the list include drinking water reservoirs downstream from Atlanta, the Alligator River Wildlife area and the Cape Fear basin in North Carolina, creeks and rivers in Tennessee and South Carolina threatened by development, Appalachian Mountains targeted for mountaintop removal coal mining, a planned uranium mine in Virginia and a highway project.
Watch this video showing photos from DeSoto State Park, Little River Canyon, Sweetwater Lake and other sites in the Talladega National Forest.
© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.