Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
As 2016 winds down and we look toward a new year and new uncertainties, we mark a significant milestone. Next year will mark 25 years of Kentucky Heartwood’s effective, grassroots advocacy on behalf of Kentucky’s native forests and public lands. Over the past quarter-century our efforts have been instrumental in preventing logging on tens of thousands of acres of national forest lands, reducing the impacts of off-road vehicles, and blocking the sale of federally-owned coal. We’ve advocated and litigated on behalf of endangered species, brought thousands of people into the public lands process, and provided a voice and vision for wildness in the management of our public lands. Because of our work, and your support, big trees still stand in places like Little Egypt, Leatherwood Ford, and Pisgah Bay.
Despite our victories, our public forests face an uncertain future. In recent years we have seen the Forest Service move toward increasingly large federal timber sales in Kentucky and elsewhere. In a 2014 address to the timber lobbying group the American Forest Resource Council, former Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Tony Tooke, who is now in charge of all southeastern national forests as the Regional Forester, committed to increasing the size of national forest timber sales and more than tripling the scale of the largest projects. That same year we saw the Forest Service propose 4,000 acres of new logging in Land Between the Lakes and 3,600 acres of logging in the Daniel Boone – historically large projects for our forests. And we’re not alone in Kentucky. Last fall the Forest Service proposed a 5,600 acre logging project on the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania and a 46,000 acre logging project on the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.
Oil and gas development, including fracking, has also grown as a major threat to our public lands. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plan to lease over 30,000 acres of the Wayne National Forest in Ohio for fracking, and the same could happen here. And more than 60% of the Daniel Boone sits atop privately owned mineral reserves, with our national forest lands being developed to extract oil and gas in secret with little environmental review.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service’s total budget continues to shrink while the costs of fighting wildfires have ballooned, growing from 16% of the agency’s total budget in 1995 to 52% in 2015. This funding crisis threatens the agency’s ability to carry out crucial and necessary management activities, ranging from trails and campground maintenance to endangered species and rare habitat management – including efforts to save Kentucky’s hemlocks from extinction from the hemlock wooly adelgid.
And now we look to a new Congress, and a new president. Over the last several years the House and Senate have each passed bills to roll back public lands protections. Though stalled by partisan gridlock, provisions in these bills have ranged from allowing the Forest Service to clearcut thousands of acres without environmental review, to liquidating federal lands to allow for unrestricted energy and resource development. Every indication is that Congress and the President-elect are prepared to move forward quickly to dismantle the frameworks that provide any semblance of balance in the management of our federal public lands.
But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As a long-time forest advocate and friend wrote shortly after the election, “We've been here before and know defense better than anyone.” The time is coming to dig in our heels and protect our public lands, perhaps like never before. And we need you to help us do it.
Kentucky Heartwood remains the only environmental organization consistently monitoring and responding to management across Kentucky’s national forest lands. If you read our newsletter or follow us on Facebook then you know about some of the places we’ve worked to protect – places like Little Egypt, Pisgah Bay, Greenwood, Climax, and Spring Creek. You may also know of the species we’ve advocated for, like the Kentucky arrow darter, Indiana bat, white fringeless orchid, and eastern hemlock. But there’s a great deal that we do that you may not know about.
We do all of this, and more, on a budget of only $60,000 a year. With that money we support three staff at 30, 20, and 10 hours per week, respectively, and cover office expenses, gas, printing, and all of the other things that keep an organization running. Only 25% of our funding comes from foundations – the rest comes from individual members and donors, like you. And while we’ve tripled our membership to over 600 people over the last 5 years, and grown our annual budget from just $8,000 in 2008, it remains extremely challenging to do the work that we need to do at this level of funding. And to be ready for what’s to come we will need to build on our current capacity. That’s why I’m writing you this letter.
We need your help.
Most larger organizations employ full-time “development” staff for year-round fundraising and promotion. They have people whose job it is to build membership, court major donors, meet with foundations, and send those fundraising emails that fill your inbox. We don’t have that. Small organizations like ours simply don’t have the resources needed to fundraise at that level, and to substantially grow our capacity, reach, and impact. What we do have is you. And you are all that we need.
So today I have three things to ask of you:
1) Please consider making an extra donation this year
Your continued donations are what keep us going. Less than a quarter of our budget is from supporting foundations like Patagonia and the Fund for Wild Nature, with the majority of our resources coming from our members. The fact is that few foundations support the type of ecocentric advocacy that we engage in – this is a problem for the national forest protection movement as a whole. Your individual support is the backbone sustaining the work that we do. And all donations to Kentucky Heartwood are tax deductible.
2) Ask a friend to join
Over the past five years we have nearly tripled our membership to over 600 people, building our base and growing our reach. This directly affects what we can do as an organization. With hundreds of thousands of people visiting the Daniel Boone National Forest every year, we know that there are many more forest-loving people who would value and support the work of Kentucky Heartwood if given the opportunity. Imagine the impact if every member of Kentucky Heartwood were to get just one new person to join! So please consider asking a friend or family member to join Kentucky Heartwood, or consider gifting them a membership for the holidays. You can download our membership form to complete a membership through the mail, or you can always donate and become a member through our website.
3) Help us connect with major donors
Whether it’s $500 or $7 and a kind note, every donation matters to us. And in the difficult times it’s your support and encouragement that carries us forward. But major donors are an essential part of the budget for most organizations. And the fact is that we’re not well connected. If you know someone who values our public forests and wildlands, and is economically fortunate and in a position to give, please consider introducing us. We are efficient, effective, and perform a valuable service unmet by any other organization in Kentucky. If this is something that you may be able to help with, please call us at 859-334-0602 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whatever our politics and wherever we’re from, Americans have a deep and abiding love of our public lands. And it’s no different here in Kentucky. They are a legacy gifted to us by our forebears, and a promise to future generations. Our public wildlands are part of who we are, and we will fight to defend them.
Thank you for being part of Kentucky Heartwood. We’ll see you in the woods.
Jim Scheff, Director