Consequences of cutting trees on Corps public lands at Hartwell Lake

USACE, Savannah District
Published July 15, 2022

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hartwell Lake Office, is investigating and pursuing restitution for three cases of major destruction to public lands surrounding Hartwell Lake.

The destruction cases represent an unprecedented increase in property owners illegally removing trees and vegetation along the lake's shoreline, according to Sandy Campbell, Hartwell Natural Resource program manager.

Consequences for destruction of public lands at Hartwell Lake may include fines, court appearances, and in some instances, revocation of shoreline use permits for private boat docks and other permitted structures and activities. The severity and reoccurrence of destruction on public lands dictates the severity of the consequences. 

"With increases in lakefront property sales over the last year, some people attempt to 'stage' their property when selling by clearing trees on public land, to improve the view of the lake," Campbell said. "Doing so is not only a violation of the Shoreline Management Plan and permit conditions, but it also has an environmental effect, impacting many facets of the reservoir."

The trees and vegetation surrounding Hartwell Lake serve as a buffer and a filter for run-off from private property, which may contain fertilizers and herbicides from lawns and farms, along with other pollutants from roadways. Without this natural filter, contaminants seep directly into the lake and can impact water quality. The forested corridors near the shoreline also provide cover and habitat for wildlife and reduce the potential for shoreline erosion.

"We urge all people with property adjacent to the reservoir to be good stewards and neighbors of the lake," Campbell said. "They would likely never go onto a neighbor’s property and cut down their trees. We would like the same courtesy extended to public land, especially since their actions affect the lake, water quality and the wildlife habitat.”

Hartwell Lake has the largest shoreline management program at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' lake in the nation. Fifty percent of its shoreline is zoned for limited private development, such as a boat dock or access walkway.

In some instances, the Corps of Engineers can issue qualifying, adjacent property owners a permit for limited cutting and removal of woodland understory vegetation and the thinning of tree seedlings on federally managed lands surrounding the lake. For questions about authorized activities on Hartwell Lake public lands, or to report potential violations of shoreline use, contact the Hartwell Lake office at 888-893-0678.


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Cheri Pritchard, Senior Public Affairs Officer
912-677-6039 (cell)

Release no. 22-015