Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
By Jim Scheff, Director, Kentucky Heartwood
Our fight over the Greenwood project came to an underwhelming and, for the most part, disappointing conclusion at the end of October, 2017. Kentucky Heartwood worked for more than three years to see the project turn from a typical timber harvest toward a science-based plan that would support the restoration of relict, fire-adapted open forest communities as well as the recovery of large areas of old-growth. In July 2017, the Forest Service issued their Draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact – a preliminary approval of the project. Kentucky Heartwood then filed a detailed, 32 page predecisional objection (a formal administrative objection) detailing a wide range of issues, concerns, and failures in the Forest Service’s analysis. In October, we had a formal meeting with Forest Service officials to seek resolution to the concerns raised in our objection. The meeting was scheduled for two hours but stretched to four hours as we delved deep in to the issues. The meeting was somewhat constructive.
In the end, the Forest Service did agree to some small changes, and made overtures toward more careful planning in the future. While the Forest Service did not agree to go back and actually survey the project area for rare species and communities, they stated that they planned to receive increased training from the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (KSNPC) on how to identify rare communities, would look for rare communities during project implementation, and adjust management accordingly. They also committed to consulting with KSNPC and Kentucky Heartwood in taking a closer look at management opportunities in the 751 Roadsides/Curt Pond Ridge area – a hotspot for Cumberland barrens remnants that are in desperate need of careful, active management, as well as possible remnant barrens sites in the Blue John area.
Another point of resolution that was addressed was the Forest Service’s prior unwillingness to provide clear targets for native versus non-native plantings in 75 wildlife openings covering 222 acres. The Forest Service has now formally clarified that they will manage for 35% in cool season grasses and grains, 20% in native pollinator mixes, and 45% in native grasses. While we would rather see all of the area managed for native vegetation, this is a clear improvement over the current condition and the vague statements made throughout the analysis. With regard to the proposed broadcast spraying of herbicides in wildlife openings, the Forest Service has agreed to apply herbicides only after vegetation has been cut down or is otherwise out of flowering in order to avoid impacts to native pollinators and birds, and to spray no more than 33% of the total acreage in a given year. Again, this is not what we wanted, but it is a meaningful improvement.
These changes are in addition to those that came about between the original 2014 scoping document and publication of the Environmental Assessment in early 2017. Those changes included reducing the amount of logging by about 600 acres (including eliminating logging that was planned at the trailhead to the Three Forks of Beaver Creek overlook) and the elimination of 26 miles of bulldozed firelines.
What is most disappointing, however, is that the Forest Service misrepresented forest conditions in many areas in order to promote logging. Several sites covering hundreds of acres that are now largely open-canopied as a result of the 1999-2002 southern pine beetle outbreak, and which have good floristic indicators of barrens or woodland type communities, will not be managed with fire or
otherwise. Meanwhile, intact, closed-canopy hardwood forests will be cut to “restore” open-canopied and pine forests, with 139 log landings cleared and compacted to facilitate the removal of timber on over 2,000 acres.
Over the coming years we will closely monitor implementation of the project. Some species and forest communities will likely benefit – particularly if the proposed fire management is implemented carefully for appropriate, site-specific ecological responses. However, there will certainly be negative impacts, disruptions, and trade-offs for years to come.
To learn more about the ecology of the Greenwood area and our efforts to affect change on this project, please see our Summer 2016 and Summer 2017 newsletters, as well as our comments and predecisional objection, all of which are available on our website here.
This article was published in the Winter 2018 edition of our Newsletter. Here is a link to our Newsletter archives.