SELC Files Suit On Behalf Of The Clinch Coalition

 

Below are two articles dealing with the lawsuit that was filed in Big Stone Gap this past Friday, January 8, 2021 by SELC on behalf of The Clinch Coalition and 8 other organizations from across the south. Below that is the press release that was sent out to local press:

 

Environmental groups sue to block Trump administration land use rule

MIKE STILL Kingsport Times News

 

    BIG STONE GAP — A Southwest Virginia environmental group is among nine organizations suing the U.S. Forest Service and federal officials to strike down a rule they say reduces public oversight of logging and utility projects on public land.

 

The Clinch Coalition is a plaintiff in the suit, filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center Friday in Big Stone Gap U.S. District Court against the Forest Service, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources James E. Hubbard, the Council on Environmental Quality and council Chair Mary Neumayr.

 

The suit claims that the Forest Service in Nov. 2020 finalized a rule which bypasses the National Environmental Policy Act and allows for categorical exclusions to full NEPA and public review.

 

According to the suit, the “Final Rule” exempts logging operations, road construction, private uses and utility projects on Forest Service land from NEPA-required environmental impact statements or assessments if:

 

— A logging operation is 2,800 acres or smaller in size along with up to three miles of logging road

 

— A road construction project is no more than two miles long

 

— A private-use project affects no more than 20 acres

 

The suit argues that the use of categorical exclusions would allow the Forest Service to allow logging or pipeline projects without adequate review of their environmental impacts.

 

Biologist Wally Smith, The Clinch Coalition’s vice chair, criticized the Final Rule.

 

“Public voices and scientific studies are critical when considering commercial projects in our national forests,” Smith said in a statement Friday. “Taking away those voices takes away the best tool we have to ensure these wild areas are sustained for future generations.”

 

TCC board member and former USFS Clinch Ranger District staffer David Skinner also questioned the NEPA Final Rule implementation.

 

“I am gravely concerned that the new NEPA regulations will prevent me and others from participating in the decision making process to make sure our public lands are managed in a way that is in the best interest of the local citizens,” Skinner said Friday.

 

“In short, the Forest Service’s rule allows more commercial exploitation with less public accountability, and that’s a terrible shift in balance,” SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program leader Sam Evans said Friday. “National forests, and especially those in the Southern Appalachians, are resources for everybody. But the Trump administration wants to give logging lobbyists louder voices than the rest of us.”

 

The other plaintiffs include: Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Chattooga Conservancy, Cherokee Forest Voices, Defenders of Wildlife, Georgia Forestwatch, Mountaintrue, Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Wild Virginia, Inc.

 

The suit seeks to have the Final Rule, categorical exclusions and associated regulations set aside and declared not in compliance with federal law; prevent the defendants from implementing and enforcing those regulations; and award the plaintiffs costs and legal fees.

Actual Lawsuit can be found here or at:

https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/words_docs/2021-01-08-_TCC_v_USFS_NEPA_Complaint.pdf

 

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Southwest Virginia lawsuit seeks to stop rollback of protections for all national forests

The Roanoke Times

Laurence Hammack Jan 8, 2021

 

Weakened regulations will lead to more logging in the Jefferson National Forest and other federal woodlands, conservation groups said Friday in a lawsuit that seeks to reverse the rollbacks.

 

The U.S. Forest Service recently finalized changes to a set of rules that provided public oversight over logging, road-building and other commercial projects in national forests.

 

“The changes are part of an onslaught launched by the Trump administration against the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA,” the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents a coalition of nine organizations, said in a news release.

 

Nearly every logging project in the Southern Appalachian forests of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia would be aided by the new regulations, which the lawsuit claims will eliminate transparency, public input and science-based reviews.

 

The federal lawsuit was filed in Big Stone Gap, near the headquarters of its lead plaintiff, The Clinch Coalition.

 

Although focused on the forests of Southern Appalachia, the lawsuit is a nationwide challenge of all Forest Service actions under the revised NEPA. It asks a judge to vacate the rule, calling it “arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with law.”

 

A Forest Service spokesman declined to comment Friday, citing the agency’s policy of not talking about pending litigation.

 

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Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC)

The Clinch Coalition (TCC), Wise, Virginia

For Immediate Release: January 8, 2021

 

Contact:

Mike Mather, SELC Communications; cell/text (434) 333-9464; mmather@selcva.org

Wally Smith, TCC Vice President; cell/test (678) 617-0791; whsmith01@gmail.com

David Skinner, TCC board member; 276-365-8877; dls1958@gmail.com 

 

Lawsuit: Stop Trump administration’s parting shot at national forests

Conservationists challenge rule blocking citizens and science from forest management

 

BIG STONE GAP, VA — A lawsuit filed today seeks to reverse the Trump administration’s elimination of critical safeguards that have protected national forests from unneeded, ill-conceived and destructive logging, road building, and utility right-of-way projects.

 

The U.S. Forest Service – under orders from President Trump to sell more publicly owned forests for lumber – recently finalized a rule that would eliminate transparency, public input, and science-based review from many of the agency’s most environmentally consequential decisions. The changes are part of an onslaught launched by the Trump administration against the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

 

“Public voices and scientific studies are critical when considering commercial projects in our national forests,” said Wally Smith, biologist and Vice Chair of The Clinch Coalition. “Taking away those voices takes away the best tool we have to ensure these wild areas are sustained for future generations.”

 

The Clinch Coalition (TCC), an environmental group located in Wise, Virginia is one of the 9 plaintiffs represented in the suit. 

 

NEPA ensures that the people most affected by government actions, like roadbuilding, will have prior notice and an opportunity to raise concerns and offer alternatives. The Act has also been a key target of Trump-friendly energy industry and logging interests that seek to put profits ahead of both the environment and the public. The Trump administration last summer authored a major and damaging downgrade of NEPA safeguards to favor industry over communities.

 

The Forest Service is the first agency to exploit the newly weakened NEPA protections.

 

The Forest Service’s rule would severely restrict opportunities for the kind of public review that communities have depended on for decades to speak up for places they care about. Public involvement has protected thousands of acres of old-growth forests, backcountry areas, rare habitats and clean waters. Many local economies depend on the recreational opportunities that draw visitors to public lands.

 

“In short, the Forest Service’s rule allows more commercial exploitation with less public accountability, and that’s a terrible shift in balance,” said Sam Evans, leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program. “National forests, and especially those in the Southern Appalachians, are resources for everybody. But the Trump administration wants to give logging lobbyists louder voices than the rest of us.”

 

Under the new rule, that public oversight would be lost for nearly every logging project in the Southern Appalachian forests of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

 

The Southern Environmental Law Center is representing The Clinch Coalition (TCC), Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Chattooga Conservancy, Cherokee Forest Voices, Defenders of Wildlife, Georgia ForestWatch, MountainTrue, Virginia Wilderness Committee, and Wild Virginia in challenging the new Forest Service rule.

 

“I focused my career on managing natural resources for several federal agencies, including the US Forest Service right here in southwest Virginia,” stated David Skinner, TCC Board Member and former Clinch Ranger District employee. “I am gravely concerned that the new NEPA regulations will prevent me and others from participating in the decision making process to make sure our public lands are managed in a way that is in the best interest of the local citizens.” 

 

“Forests, especially the national forests of the Southeast, are critical strongholds for imperiled wildlife, and are essential to addressing the effects of climate change,” said Peter Nelson, director of federal lands for Defenders of Wildlife. “On its way out of office, the Trump administration has attempted to roll back the very law that ensures the American people have a voice in decisions affecting our national forests and the wildlife that depend on them. We ask that the Biden administration create a new way forward for our national forests and uphold the original intent of NEPA.”

 

Separately, SELC also is in the midst of litigating the Trump administration’s changes to NEPA’s implementing regulations, which are themselves unlawful.

Actual Lawsuit can be found here or at:

https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/words_docs/2021-01-08-_TCC_v_USFS_NEPA_Complaint.pdf

 

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Quotes from other participating organizations:

 

“The forests of Southwest Virginia are very vulnerable to being fragmented by new roads and utility rights-of-way. When that happens, invasive species can take root and proliferate. Native wildlife, including endangered species, are put at risk. Public voices and scientific studies are critical when considering commercial projects in our national forests, and taking away those voices takes away the best tool we have to ensure these wild areas are sustained for future generations.” -- Walter H. Smith; biologist; vice president of The Clinch Coalition

 

“I focused my career on managing natural resources for several federal agencies, including the US Forest Service right here in southwest Virginia. Through that work, I came to understand how important NEPA is to making sure the public has a role in how public lands are managed. I’m retired now, but I still have a strong land ethic and believe wholeheartedly that the public should have a say in how public lands are managed. I am gravely concerned that the new NEPA regulations will prevent me and others from participating in the decision making process to make sure our public lands are managed in a way that is in the best interest of the local citizens.” – David Skinner, TCC Board Member and former Clinch Ranger District employee

 

“When projects were proposed in the George Washington National Forest, we have in the past relied on the government’s independent scientific study to better understand what is at stake. But under this new rule, those environmental assessments will be cut. That means we’d have to hire our own experts and researchers to better understand the consequences. Frankly, a small organization like ours can’t afford that. This rule makes it harder for the public to have a voice in decisions affecting our national forest lands, and it needs to be stopped.” – Kate Wofford; executive director of the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley

 

“This new rule is designed to fast-track objectionable projects so a group like mine won’t have the time to fully understand the proposals and the risks. If the Forest Service determines a project is exempt from NEPA, we’ll have just a short period to study it, analyze the impacts, and submit our comments. That would be nearly impossible, which the Forest Service not only knows, but is counting on.” – David Sligh; resident of Crozet, Virginia; and conservation director of Wild Virginia

 

“I spend a great deal of time in the George Washington and Jefferson national forests. I believe I have hiked practically every trail within them. I relish that experience all the more because for years the Virginia Wilderness Committee has had a hand in protecting these lands through collaboration and compromise with various stakeholders. But under this rule, many of the tools that help us work together simply disappear. This new rule shifts the important burden of scientific research to small citizen groups like ours, but we don’t have the resources to step into the Forest Service’s shoes.” -- Mark Miller; executive director of the Virginia Wilderness Committee  

 

“I grew up hiking in the Chattahoochee National Forest. It stimulated my curiosity, helped me connect with family and friends, and led me see the value in protecting the plants and animals that call it home. But this rule undercuts the critical role people like me and organizations like Georgia ForestWatch play in preserving balance in our national forests. Among other things, this rule would allow most logging operations to move forward without review, and worse, to stack up several small projects at the same time, all just small enough to escape environmental review. That cumulative impact could be devastating to the Chattahoochee National Forest, and under this rule it could happen without meaningful public input.” -- Jess Riddle; resident of Dahlonega, Georgia; executive director of Georgia ForestWatch

 

“In college, I worked as a raft guide on the Chattooga River. I so fell in love with its beauty that I have spent my career protecting it. This new rule is built on the flawed notion that the bureaucracy of the U.S. Forest Service is the only group that knows what’s best for our forests and watersheds. That wrongly discounts the decades of experience citizens like me and those I work with have amassed and bring to bear when faced with challenges. We have a long history of rolling up our sleeves to help craft the best management practices for our watershed, and this rule seeks to cut out folks like us from the process. It is the height of hubris and arrogance.” -- Nicole Hayler; resident of Mountain Rest, South Carolina; executive director of Chattooga Conservancy

 

“I have personally seen the difference an informed public can make on forest management. Some projects have not been controversial. On the other hand, some projects have been very bad as proposed but have changed dramatically to avoid harm and to satisfy public concerns. Taking away the public voices responsible for those improvements would be a huge mistake.” -- Catherine Nell Gidens Murray; resident of Johnson City, Tennessee; director of Cherokee Forest Voices

 

“It’s hard to read this rule as anything other than the government stacking the deck against its citizens. NEPA was an important tool that provided the public with ample documentation to fully understand proposed projects but, without that, we’ll have to rely on open-records requests that take months, even years, to fulfill. By then I worry people like us who care about the forests will be locked out of the process.” -- Josh Kelly; resident of Asheville, North Carolina; public lands field biologist for MountainTrue

Actual Lawsuit can be found here or at:

https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/words_docs/2021-01-08-_TCC_v_USFS_NEPA_Complaint.pdf 

 

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12 Beautiful Color Photos From High Knob Available!

Would you like a beautiful nature print by local photographers Bill Harris, Wayne Browning, Chris Allgyer, or Bonnie Aker? The print will be sized in order to maintain the integrity of the original but typically will be either 11 X 14 or 11 X 17. View the slideshow and make your choice(s) using the suggested minimum donation amounts given for each photo. The suggested donation amounts were determined by the highest bid for these items at the Holiday Gathering. Orders must be received by January 31, 2021. Thank you for supporting the work of The Clinch Coalition.

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HIGH KNOB NATURALIST RALLY PRESENTATIONS STILL AVAILABLE

 

 

The Clinch Coalition launched its annual Naturalist Rally online Saturday,

September 26, 2020.  The wide array of program topics includes edible and medicinal mushrooms, raptors, poison ivy, nature journaling, wildflowers, nature photography, birds, High Knob landforms, reptiles/amphibians on High Knob, the Virginia Big Tree Project and solar energy.  All programs are still accessible through TCC's Facebook page and website.  The presentations are free and open to the public.

 

The Clinch Coalition Naturalist Rally began in 2008. This year experts, educators and

knowledgeable naturalists will continue to explore the unique world of southwest Virginia through 12 to 15 minute programs.  Organizations participating include the University of Virginia at Wise, Bays Mountain Park, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, Appalachian Voices, Natural Tunnel State Park, The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) and the Virginia Master Naturalist High Knob Chapter.

 

The Clinch Coalition formed in August 1998 when a small group of concerned citizens

organized to protect southwest Virginia's great natural resources.  The group endeavors to make the public aware and actively involved with the environment through educational Programs, guided hikes, trail work and the High Knob Naturalist Rally.    

 

The Clinch Coalition works with the U.S. Forest Service make the High Knob Naturalist Rally possible.

A BIG THANKS TO OUR RALLY SPONSORS

Virginia Organizing

Environmental Monitoring, Inc.
Eastman Credit Union
Scott County Tourism

Valley View Animal Clinic

​R-Mac Realty
Diana Withen
Broadwater Trading Company

The Scott County Virginia Star

 

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Clinch Coalition voices concerns to state about Spearhead Trails

WCYB TV interview with Wally Smith, TCC Vice President:

 https://wcyb.com/news/local/clinch-coalition-voices-concerns?fbclid=IwAR3H5P7ZAkQmN8EHjZHqKV1z4gl8D-eijaEWRYavMVXYxnhoJj70sCXz8Kw  

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 The Clinch Coalition

PO Box 2732

Wise, VA 24293

clinchcoalition@gmail.com

WIX