Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
The Forest Service has decided not to move forward with 120 acres of proposed salvage logging at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area as part of the Birmingham Ferry Salvage project. Instead of implementing timber sales across seven units in the Birmingham Ferry and Cravens Bay areas, the Forest Service has approved plans to cut and leave damaged trees within 75 feet of existing roads and recreation infrastructure. Firewood permits may be issued to the public after safety issues are addressed. This decision closely follows recommendations made to the Forest Service by Kentucky Heartwood and our partners in the Coalition for the Preservation of Land Between the Lakes.
The Forest Service proposed the project under a “Categorical Exclusion” or “CE,” allowing for only one comment period and no Environmental Assessment. Through an analysis of various map data, Kentucky Heartwood discovered that the Forest Service had failed to disclose that the harvest areas included portions of two Core Areas – special areas generally off-limits to logging. The Core Areas were originally designated as part of LBL’s designation as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve while under management by the Tennessee Valley Authority (LBL would be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service in 1998). The Core Area designations were carried forward in to the LBL Area Plan.
The tornado impacts in the Core Areas, as well as most other parts of the project area, were scattered and limited. We observed no real “stand replacing” disturbance in our surveys. While some large and old trees came down singly or in groups, the level of disturbance we witnessed reflects normal forest developmental processes. The formation of canopy gaps and additions of large-diameter standing and down dead wood in the forest are integral to the development of old-growth forest structure and function – the stated management emphasis for Core Areas.
The main impacts of concern, had the salvage logging moved forward, stem from the ground disturbance necessary to remove the timber. While the Forest Service did not include this information in the initial proposal, they would have had to construct log landings and temporary roads through the forest to remove the fallen or damaged trees. Soil compaction, the spreading of invasive species into forest interiors, and aesthetic changes would have been among the expected impacts.
This welcome decision comes amidst early work toward a new and more cooperative approach to timber and heritage management at LBL. In November the Forest Service approached Kentucky Heartwood and the Coalition with a preliminary proposal to transition to logging only non-native loblolly plantations established by TVA with generated funds used, in part, to help the Between the Rivers community establish interpretive signage to memorialize their history. With approximlately 6,000 acres of loblolly at LBL, this work could go on for more than a decade. We’ll be writing more on that proposal as things develop, so stay tuned.
Below you can download and read the two comment letters we submitted to the Forest Service about the project. You can read the Forest Service proposal and decision on the Forest Service website by clicking here.
On November 29th, the U.S. Forest Service published their decision to approve the Commercial Harvest in the Beaver Creek Watershed timber project on the Cumberland District of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The decision allows the Forest Service to move forward with 268 acres of new commercial harvests in areas on the southwest side of Cave Run Lake. Of that acreage, commercial thinning on 133 acres will remove about 50% of the canopy, while the remaining 125 acres will be cut using shelterwood harvests – a regeneration method removing about 80% of the canopy.
The project originally included a total of 303 acres of timber harvests. However, Forest Service biologists recently found an endangered Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus) in a cave less than a quarter mile from a 35-acre stand proposed for a shelterwood cut. That particular stand is a nice area of forest with mostly mature white and black oaks near the head of Joes Branch, upstream from the Leatherwood Loop Trail. Logging the stand would have required many stream crossings to haul out the large amount of merchantable timber. Removing this stand from the harvest plan was necessary to comply with the Forest Plan and the Endangered Species Act. Regardless, the Forest Service should be commended for doing the appropriate surveys and modifying the project accordingly. This hasn’t always been the way of things.
The proposal originally included the construction of 0.9 miles of new permanent road that would provide no public access and dead-end in a harvest unit on the shore of Cave Run Lake. The Forest Service currently does not have the resources needed to maintain their existing road system, and is supposed to be reducing their road liabilities. Another 1 mile of “temporary road” construction was also part of the proposal. These so-called “temporary” roads are anything but, and are a blight on the forest. They are bulldozed through the forest and across slopes to get to timber and then abandoned. But they’re not gone from the landscape, can act as vectors for invasive species introductions, and provide access to off-road vehicles. The roads issue was something that Kentucky Heartwood pushed hard on, and many of you submitted comments expressing these same concerns. As a result, the Forest Service adopted an alternative approach (the “swing landing” method) that will enable timber removal without any new road construction (permanent or temporary).
As part of this alternative harvest system, the footprint of the log landings will be reduced by half. Log landings represent some of the most severe and lasting impacts associated with timber sales, with large areas cleared and compacted for processing and loading logs. The Environmental Assessment (EA) stated that the original landings would have been about 0.2 acres each, though we have seen them much larger in some project areas. As approved, the landings will be only about 0.1 acres each. In addition to making them smaller, after harvest the Forest Service will plant native “soft mast,” including plums, persimmon, dogwood, black cherry, and native hawthorns, in the landings. These native trees are often underrepresented in our current forests and provide benefits for wildlife.
The project had also included 170 acres of herbicide applications (stump-treatments) on cut red maples and sassafras to promote oak regeneration. Instead, the Forest Service has now agreed to a follow-up non-commercial thinning in 10 years to reduce competition, largely to promote oaks and hickories. Without some kind of follow-up treatment, the harvested stands could end up like many previously harvested oak-hickory and oak-pine stands in the Daniel Boone that are now dominated by stump-sprouted red maples. The Forest Service also agreed to reduce the impacts of non-native invasive plants in harvest areas through manual and mechanical treatments. Kentucky Heartwood raised concerns about non-native invasive plants early, particularly because some of the harvest units have significant infestations of aggressive species on their edges. Harvesting them without mitigation would encourage encroachment of invasive plants into forest interiors.
Knowing that the impacts of this project will be lessened because of our involvement doesn’t offer much consolation when standing in a beautiful forest that will, as a result of this decision, be cut. Kentucky Heartwood made clear to the Forest Service – as did many of you – that we believe these areas would be better off left alone. But the reality of this project was that there wasn’t much to stop the timber harvesting from moving forward. Our laws are not designed to stop logging, and while we’re not completely satisfied with the analysis, the EA was well-documented and thorough. Absent a significant public outcry, in many cases the best we can do is work around the edges to make sure that important places are spared and the impacts are as limited as possible. Sometimes better is better. And sometimes that’s not enough.
Below you can download comments submitted by Kentucky Heartwood to the Forest Service for both the scoping period and Environmental Assessment. Forest Serive documents for the project are available here.
For the past two years, Kentucky Heartwood has been active in the effort to stop Kinder Morgan's plans to repurpose the roughly 70 year-old Tennessee Gas Pipeline as it crosses 6 states and 18 Kentucky counties. The company's plan is to take this aging 24" line that was built to transport natural gas from the gulf coast to the northeast, and reverse the direction of flow to send hazardous natural gas liquids, or "NGLs," to processing and export facilities in Louisiana and Texas. These NGLs are hydrocarbon byproducts of fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shales, and pose unique and increased environmental and safety risks over the natural gas currently transported in the line. Of particular concern is that a significant portion of the NGLs remain liquid under ambient pressure and can severly contaminate water and soil. You can learn more about the project by reading Kentucky Heartwood's detailed comments on the Environmental Assessment (EA) by clicking here.
Kentucky Heartwood's involvement, as an organization, is in large part due to the risks this pipeline repurposing project poses to the extraordinary biodiversity of the Green River upstream and through Mammoth Cave National Park, as well as its connected karst ecosystem. The Green River is a world biodiversity hotspot. Historically the river harbored 66 mussel species, or 22 percent of North America’s mussel fauna, and today provides habitat 151 species of fish. While it is one of the healthiest remaining refuges for freshwater mussels, twenty-nine of the Green’s mussel and fish species are considered imperiled or vulnerable, and seven are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Either a slow leak or major rupture of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline where it crosses the Green River, or across the karst (cave and sinkhole) plain that connects its surface and subsurface waters, could be catastrophic. In the EA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided that pipeline failures were uncommon, and the effects not worth considering.
But Kentucky turned up and spoke out. And we have a lot to be proud of.
Over the course of the comment period on the EA, over 500 people submitted comments. And since the beginning of the formal proceedings by FERC, more than 900 comments have been submitted. Nearly all of these comment letters expressed concern over the risks posed by the NGL conversion, requested a full EIS, or opposed the project outright. Nearly every comment letter is from someone in Kentucky, despite the pipeline crossing five other states.
And the number of county and municipal governments, agencies, and associations that have taken strong stands on this issue is remarkable, reflecing an impressive level of community-level organizing, education, and outreach. Among those who submitted comments expressing serious concerns about the project are:
The Madison County, Fiscal Court, the Clark County Fiscal Court, the Boyle County, Fiscal Court, the Marion County Fiscal Court, the Barren County Fiscal Court, Kentucky State Senate Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon, the Bluegrass Areas Development District (representing elected officials and citizen members in a 17-county area), the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Danville, the Danville Independent School District and Danville Schools Board of Education, and the Rowan County Board of Education. In addition, planning and zoning ordinances relating to hazardous liquids pipelines were adopted by Madison and Boyle Counties out of concern for risks posed by NGL pipelines, with the Madison County ordinance supported by Eastern Kentucky University and Madison County Schools. Clark County is considering a similar ordinance.
It is also notable that our Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife provided thoughtful comments that recognized that pipeline failures are a real risk and need to be considered. Other natural resources agencies from other states failed to address this critical issue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through the Kentucky Field Office, has also been excellent in demanding that FERC consider the ACRP (the abandonment decision) and UMTP (the conversion to NGLs) as a single action, despite FERC wrongfully separating the two. And the National Park Service at Mammoth Cave (Kentucky, of course) also raised serious questions about pipeline failures and the effects on the area’s important aquatic and karst fauna.
And, of course, an excellent list of organizations played a major part, including Frack Free Foothills, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, the Kentucky Resources Council, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. The Allegheny Defense Project and Center for Biological Diversity joined Kentucky Heartwood in writing our comments on the project.
Kentucky Heartwood will stay on top of this project. We are one of only two organizations in Kentucky with “intervenor status,” giving us standing to bring an administrative and legal challenge if FERC fails to properly follow the National Environmental Policy Act or other rules and laws in making a decision. But our technical arguments are backed and strengthened by the outpouring opposition from you and everyone else that submitted comments opposing the project.
So well done, Kentucky. You’re awesome.
And if you support this work, please consider joining Kentucky Heartwood. We can't do it without you!
The following comments on the Kinder Morgan Abandonment and Capacity Restoration Project were submitted to FERC today.
Click the link below to read the comments.