Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
Join the local community in voicing opposition to Forest Service's ten thousand acre Jellico Mountain logging project.
INTERACTIVE MAP OF JELLICO PROJECT
You can navigate this map on a touchscreen by panning with a single finger and changing the view angle and zoom with two fingers. To navigate on a desktop, use the cross icon to pan and the rotating arrow icon to change the view angle.
Map and Legend by staff Ecologist, Jim Scheff.
There is hope! Theresa Martin, a Williamsburg community leader, has organized her neighbors to participate in public feedback to the Forest Service. She encourages participation regardless of viewpoints. What has resulted is countless community members from all walks of life standing up to the Forest Service to protect the mountain they cherish. Over 100 people attended the community-organized town hall meeting and the Forest Service was met with dozens of searing comments strongly opposed to the project.
Locals brought up serious concerns about the project causing landslides and heavy erosion into creeks where community members live. Others were worried the Forest Service's logging would intensify flooding that is already causing the destruction of homes around the National Forest. Others questioned the need for so much logging when they value mature and intact forest. Many folks asked where all the money generated from the logging would be going. District Ranger Tim Reed explained it would be going to the "US Treasury '' which was a roundabout way to say it pays a small fraction of the Forest Service's budget.
The Forest Service said they had never seen such a well attended town hall meeting. Several news outlets covered the town hall meeting making an even bigger platform for public's concerns. This included TV Coverage in Knoxville, and the follow newspaper coverage:
Kentucky Heartwood's own concerns align with the community. We are inspired to see people standing up for their public forests. One of the best ways you can stand up for forests is to submit a public comment to the Forest Service, because they are required to incorporate your feedback into their final plans for the Jellico project area.
Comments are due Monday, December 5th by 11:59pm and we are working toward a goal of 100 comments submitted!
We encourage you to read other publicly submitted comments here or even watch the recent town hall meeting with the Forest Service here.
Whether you live in the area or enjoy recreating in the National Forest, let the Forest Service know how logging will affect you and the things you care about. Be specific. It is as simple as following this link and filling out the online form OR calling the Forest Service at (606) 376-5323 and telling them you want to leave a comment on the Jellico project. Thanks for following along on this exciting journey!
Here are some technical details that may be helpful to include in comments:
The Jellico mountains are steep, and the soils are unstable. This has already caused landslides in the area, including landslides on private lands that have been logged. Community members live downhill of high-risk areas. Keeping the trees in the forest is the best way to hold soil in place and lessen the risk of landslides. In addition to destroying property and roads, landslides can dump erosion into streams. Streams in the Jellicos are home to endangered species such as the Cumberland Darter and Blackside Dace which are protected by federal law.
The Forest Service’s slope data demonstrates the seriousness of this issue. According to the table within the slope data document, the majority of the potential logging sites average 50% slope with some as high as 75%. These steep slopes intersect 2 or 3 coal beds. Coal beds under steep, logged slopes have high landslide risk as trees' roots decay.
Further evidence for landslide risks is provided by USDA soil data, which was created to rate the soils’ suitability for use with timber harvest equipment. The data shows that soils in the proposed harvest area are low strength and almost the entire Jellico region is rated as the poorest suitability level for using timber harvest equipment.
Mature forest helps soak up water. Catastrophic flooding occurred in the Jellicos as recently as July 30th, 2022. If the mountains are made bare with clearcuts, more water will find its way into the valleys where people live worsening flash flooding.
The proposed logging includes hundreds of acres of forest that could qualify as old-growth (over 120 years old). None of this older forest is protected in the area’s “Designated Old Growth” area despite meeting tree size and age requirements according to the Forest Service's own guidance on old growth. According to work done in the area by expert dendrochronologist, Justin Maxwell, tree ages of one stand were found to be even older than the Forest Service estimated, with trees over 200 years old.
Logging mature and old growth forest stands not only creates problems for local community members, but also has negative consequences for the whole nation and even the world. This is because logging releases greenhouse gasses. The Forest Service needs to use the most recent science which shows that logging releases large amounts of greenhouse gasses when considering the environmental impact of this project (source)
Forests in the Jellico area that were logged in the 1990's have become heavily invaded with non-native Tree of Heaven, with some areas having as high as ¾ of the canopy. One of the best ways to control this invasive species is to not log the forest as it thrives on disturbance. Disturbance will also bring in other invasives such as autumn olive, which is already prevalent on private properties in the area.
The image below is from the Stearns Ranger District in the Jellico area. This forest was supposed to be stewarded by the U.S. Forest Service, but after being clearcut this area was all but abandoned and forgotten. These invasive trees are now maturing and dropping seed, only furthering their abundance. If the forest service clearcuts more of this forest, we are sure to see the invasive Tree of Heaven and other invasives dominating the landscape. Clearcuts without stewardship lead to more destruction and herbicide use in the future.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife data, the Jellico Mountain area is home to at least 17 endangered species and 12 migratory bird species of concern. One of these endangered species, the Cumberland Darter (Etheostoma susanae) is only found in isolated populations in the upper Cumberland River system of Kentucky and Tennessee, and does not exist anywhere else in the world. In Kentucky, 13 streams in McCreary and Whitley counties, are considered “critical habitat” for this fish, and much of this habitat is in the Jellico project area.
If you have any further questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post or email email@example.com.
Help us reach our goal of 100 public comments by December 5th!
Kentucky Heartwood files lawsuit challenging nearly 3,800 acres of logging in Daniel Boone National Forest
For Immediate Release, September 14, 2022
Contact: Jim Scheff, Kentucky Heartwood Ecologist, (859) 334-0602; firstname.lastname@example.org
Group Challenges Major Timber Project on Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest
Rare Species and Old-growth Forests Take Back Seat to Logging Plans
BEREA, KY – Kentucky Heartwood has filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s South Red Bird Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Project on the Daniel Boone National Forest in Leslie and Clay counties. The largest timber project on the Daniel Boone in nearly 20 years would allow commercial logging on over 3,800 acres of public lands, along with the construction of nearly 100 miles of logging roads, herbicide use, and prescribed fire. The Forest Service’s logging plans would remove 80% to 90% of the trees across 2,800 acres and cut nearly one-quarter of all forests over 100 years old. Logging is also planned along approximately 10 miles of Redbird Crest Trail.
You can read the legal complaint at the bottom of this post.
The lawsuit focuses on the Forest Service’s violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) pertaining to its use of misleading data to support its logging plans, thus failing to disclose to the public the true environmental impacts of the project.
Among the several issues raised in the lawsuit are how the Forest Service ignored and then downplayed the effects that landslides could have on streams and aquatic species, like the federally-threatened Kentucky arrow darter (Etheostoma spilotum) and endangered snuffbox mussel (Epioblasma spilotum). A large body of evidence, including internal Forest Service documents, show how logging and road building in the Redbird District of the Daniel Boone National Forest has frequently resulted in landslides.
The Kentucky arrow darter is only found in high quality streams in the Upper Kentucky River watershed, making it highly sensitive to landslides and other activities that impact water quality, while the snuffbox is found in the Redbird River in and immediately downstream of the project area and can be seriously impacted by increased sediment in the water.
The agency also used faulty forest inventory methods to claim that there are no old-growth forests in the project area, when in fact the area includes some of the highest quality old-growth in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Kentucky Heartwood has inventoried more than 400 acres of old-growth forests with trees over 200 years-old in the project area, including at least 160 acres of old-growth approved for logging. However, the Forest Service has refused to consider the data submitted by Kentucky Heartwood.
Logging plans could also result in significant harm to endangered bats, including the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) and Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). Kentucky Heartwood conducted acoustic surveys for bats throughout the project area and found evidence of one or more northern long-eared bat maternity colonies in areas approved for logging. Northern long-eared bats rely on extensive interior and closed-canopy forests. The specific design of the project could result in the removal of maternity roosts and important flight corridors used by the bats.
“Instead of focusing restoration efforts where they’re most needed, the Forest Service is going where the timber is and ignoring significant landslide risks and potential harm to endangered species,” said Jim Scheff, Kentucky Heartwood’s Ecologist.
The project area is also home to the world’s two largest-known Red Hickory trees (Carya ovalis), located by Kentucky Heartwood in an old-growth forest marked for cutting. In another part of the project area where logging has not been approved Kentucky Heartwood identified the world’s oldest documented short leaf pine (Pinus echinata), which dates to 1691.
Kentucky Heartwood actively participated throughout all public opportunities provided by the Forest Service and provided alternatives that would protect old-growth, mature forests, and streams while also supporting young forest and early seral habitat for disturbance-dependent species like ruffed grouse. However, the Forest Service refused to seriously consider these approaches.
“As increasing numbers of people look for outdoor places to experience the beauty of eastern Kentucky’s wildlands, and as the impacts of climate change and habitat loss in the region accelerate, the preservation of mature and old-growth forests on our public lands is all the more urgent. The vast majority of the eastern Kentucky landscape is owned by timber, mining, and oil and gas interests, cut off from the public and managed for investment returns. Our shared national forest lands are different. There are real opportunities to get this right. But the Forest Service needs to take a step back and do the right thing,” said Scheff.
Kentucky Heartwood is represented by Environmental and Animal Defense with support from the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Kentucky Heartwood was founded in 1992, and seeks to protect and restore the integrity, stability, and beauty of Kentucky’s native forests and biotic communities through research, education, advocacy, and community engagement.
On Earth Day President Biden issued an Executive order calling on the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conserve mature and old-growth forests as a climate solution. This was a momentous step toward meaningful protections, but the Forest Service is trying to undermine the executive order by sidestepping its responsibility to put a moratorium on all logging of mature and old-growth forests. Now it’s up to us to ensure that this executive order turns into real and lasting changes in how federal agencies manage older forests.
In response to the President’s Executive Order, the federal agencies have opened an official public comment period to solicit public feedback on how “to define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on Federal lands.” It is critical that we demonstrate widespread, overwhelming public support for permanent protections, and we want Kentucky's voice to be loud and strong!
We are working with the Climate Forests Coalition toward the national goal of 100,000 comments submitted by the August 30 deadline. The most important goals of this campaign are to:
Please take action by submitting comments through the Forest Service’s portal.
Comments are more impactful when they are personalized! Please consider personalizing this letter to explain what mature and old-growth forests mean to you.
Thank you for taking the next steps to advance President Biden’s Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation's Forests, Communities, and Local Economies. As you know, protecting our remaining mature and old-growth forests and trees on federal lands represents one of the simplest and most cost-effective climate policies the U.S. can deploy at scale. But time is running short: the climate and biodiversity crises are growing exponentially worse and it is critical that you fulfill the President’s directive to provide lasting protections for these trees.
For the purpose of protecting these climate-critical trees and forests from logging, “mature” should be defined as 80 years and older. By setting logging limits using this definition, federal agencies will establish a safety net that assures minimum protection of the ecological and carbon benefits these older forest elements provide for future generations. These older forests and big trees collectively contain the bulk of the carbon already stored in federal forests and they continue to sequester carbon at high rates far into the future. They also provide, across forest types, vital habitat and biodiversity benefits, and important sources of drinking water for communities. Critically, protecting mature forests and trees today will provide the foundation to recover old-growth ecosystems which have largely been lost to logging across the landscape.
President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order rightly recognized the critical role mature and old-growth forests play as a climate solution, and the urgent need to confront the threats forests face. If continued logging of these trees is allowed, the very values that let them play a vital role will be eliminated. Losing more of our mature & old-growth trees and forests to logging will only make the climate crisis worse: Scientific research indicates that logging of federal forests is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere that is at least comparable to, and probably greater than, levels associated with wildfires.
In Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest, there are an estimated 430,000 acres over 80 years old, comprising about 60% of the forest. About 100,000 acres of mature and old-growth forests have been cut since 1980; making up about 15% of the Daniel Boone National Forest. We must preserve what we have left!
Protecting trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest over 80 years old will benefit the many species of conservation concern that depend on the mature and old-growth forests found here, such as:
If the Biden administration is to do all it can — and must — to limit atmospheric carbon levels, and demonstrate international leadership, these protections must be made through binding regulations that will endure in future administrations, much as the Clinton-era Roadless Rule has done. To ensure a rule can be adopted on the necessary urgent time frame, with the opportunity for robust public engagement and environmental review, it is critical for federal agencies to initiate a rule-making process as soon as possible that would prohibit logging in mature and old-growth forests.
In summary, I urge the US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Interior to work together to soon initiate a rulemaking based on a definition of mature forests and trees as 80 years and older, to permanently end the avoidable loss of their critically important carbon, water, and wildlife values to logging.
Map of estimated tree ages in the Daniel Boone National Forest
Click on the arrows in the upper left corner to display the legend.
Forest Service lied about wildfire to approve logging significant conservation site in the Daniel Boone National Forest
Kentucky Heartwood has uncovered that the U.S. Forest Service lied about the location and impacts of a 2016 wildfire to justify logging 170 acres of unaffected forest in Long Hollow, an area of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Leslie County. The logging in Long Hollow is part of the roughly 4,000 acres of logging approved in the Daniel Boone National Forest as part of the South Red Bird Wildlife Enhancement Project.
In the Environmental Assessment for the project, the Forest Service states that “More than 600 acres of forest in the South Red Bird IRMA were badly damaged from wildfire in 2016 and need to be salvaged to prevent insect invasion and disease,” including Long Hollow. The agency added that “The proposed salvage treatment would remove these fire-damaged trees, which are merchantable for about 5 years after the fire, after which their value declines rapidly. A healthy unburned forest of fire-resilient species is needed to regenerate the damaged stand.”
The Forest Service included pictures taken of burned forest adjacent to the Steeltrap surface mine to illustrate the damage. Under the plan approved by the Forest Service, most of the standing trees in the steep and landslide-prone forest will be cut.
The problem is that Long Hollow didn’t burn.
We scouted the area in May, following review of a report from the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) that described Long Hollow as a significant conservation site. Kentucky Heartwood acquired the report through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Forest Service. The findings of the OKNP report were never included in the Environmental Assessment or other public documents related to the project.
The OKNP report stated that:
“The Steel Trap area (including upper Long Hollow and abutting Jesse Fork) is of significant conservation importance in the project area. The mesic forests within the upper reach of Long Hollow contained the highest density of rare and Conservation Species within the project area including occurrences of butternut, ginseng, American chestnut, Goldie's wood fern, goldenseal, and large-tooth aspen. Additionally, a new population of downy goldenrod was discovered along the disturbed ridgetop that separates Long Hollow from the Steel Trap mining site. According to the Kentucky Plant Atlas project and USDA Plants Database, it is the first time this species has been documented in Leslie County.”
During our survey of Long Hollow we found no evidence recent fire damage. In fact, we found that this north-facing valley consists of predominantly fire-intolerant, mixed-mesophytic species. With the exception of the dry ridges, the forest includes very few oaks or other fire-adapted species. We observed a significant population of Synandra hispidula, also known as Guyandotte Beauty, which is known to be highly sensitive to fire, logging, and other disturbances. The ecological indicators of the site strongly suggest that fire has not been a major factor in shaping the forest community.
Further review of FOIA documents uncovered a Forest Service map showing how the Steeltrap fire didn’t burn Long Hollow. That map was among a variety of documents associated with a private 2019 planning meeting jointly organized by the Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. That invitation-only meeting was held to explore ways that hunting groups can work together to increase timber harvest in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
While Long Hollow is a relatively small part of an otherwise massive and deeply problematic logging project, the fact that the Forest Service so blatantly lied to the public to justify even more logging in the Redbird District is absolutely shocking. Their actions are dishonest and illegal and provide yet another window into how the Forest Service is rapidly moving to turn the Daniel Boone National Forest over to the timber industry and hunting organizations.
Kentucky Heartwood is continuing our work to stop the South Red Bird project, preparing litigation to protect the endangered species and old-growth forests directly threatened the project. Please consider supporting our efforts to protect these special places and the species that depend on them. You can support our efforts and sign up for emails here.
Kentucky Heartwood files Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Forest Service for Violations of the Endangered Species Act in South Redbird
Kentucky Heartwood has been working for a number of years to document our concerns with the logging project known as "South Red Bird," which is located in Clay and Leslie Counties within the Daniel Boone National Forest. We have provided the Forest Service with detailed documentation and data related to our concerns with logging in this area, including:
On April 28, Kentucky Heartwood sent the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) a 60-day notice of intent (NOI) to sue over violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the South Red Bird project in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The NOI is part of our ongoing efforts to protect endangered species and old-growth forests in the Redbird District, and a requirement for litigation under the ESA. The NOI focuses on the agencies’ failure to adequately consider impacts to the Kentucky arrow darter, snuffbox mussel, and Indiana, northern long-eared, and gray bats. The NOI can be found at the end of the post.
Regarding aquatic species and critical habitat, the Forest Service refused to consider the impacts of landslides to the arrow darter and snuffbox, despite our providing overwhelming evidence that landslides were likely to result from the approved logging actions. In addition to our documentation of numerous large landslides in the Group One project (immediately north of the South Red Bird area), we uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act documents that the Forest Service has long known that logging on steep slopes in Redbird frequently results in landslides.
Despite this evidence, Forest Supervisor Scott Ray said during a meeting over our predecisional objection that he considered landslides to be “a non-issue.” Ray argued that an analysis of landslide impacts to imperiled species was unwarranted, as were any changes or limits to the logging proposal that could limit the risk of landslide occurrence.
We also raised issue regarding the analysis and effects to imperiled bat species. Of particular concern are effects to the northern long-eared bat (NLEB). Kentucky Heartwood conducted acoustic surveys in the project area last summer and found evidence of at least two NLEB colonies. The USFWS recently proposed changing the status of the NLEB from “threatened” to “endangered” under the ESA. The specific design of the South Red Bird logging proposal could result in significant effects to the species well beyond those described in the project analysis, including the destruction of occupied maternity roosts and maternity habitat.
Our acoustic surveys also indicated a high probability of Indiana bats in the project area. Further investigation uncovered that the Forest Service may have historical information of a maternity colony in the project area but failed to disclose that information.
Our surveys also indicated gray bat presence at several sites. The Forest Service did not analyze the effects of logging on the gray bat, stating that the project was “outside of the historical range, the species has no documented occurrences, or suitable habitat does not exist.” However, the KY Division of Fish and Wildlife range map for the species includes Clay County, which represents part of the project area.
Submission of the NOI came six weeks after Kentucky Heartwood submitted a 46-page supplemental information letter to the Forest Service with a wide range of new, detailed information and findings relating to the South Red Bird project (letter available at the end of this post). In that letter we insisted that the new findings require a pause to project implementation pending a supplemental analysis.
In addition to the results of our bat surveys and new landslide information, the letter describes our findings of significant old-growth in the project area, with centuries-old forests approved for cutting. Also described in the letter was our documenting of the largest-known Red hickory (Carya ovalis) in existence in a harvest unit.
The Forest Service argued in their analysis of the project that no old-growth existed in the project area, and conservation of old-growth was unneeded. Kentucky Heartwood had a meeting with Redbird District Ranger Bobby Claybrook a month after we sent the letter to discuss our findings and learn the Forest Service’s response. Ranger Claybrook had no comments on any of the information presented in our letter and said that his staff would let him know if they found anything new.
Kentucky Heartwood is working with attorneys from Denver-based Environmental and Animal Defense, with assistance from the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Please consider supporting our efforts by making a financial contribution. Thanks.
What’s going on in Jellico?
Jellico is a part of the Cumberland Mountains on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Topping out at about 2200 feet, they are more mountainous than the rest of Daniel Boone National Forest. The area provides critical habitat for several threatened and endangered species, including the Cumberland darter (Etheostoma susanae), Blackside dace (Chrosomus cumberlandensis) and Indiana bat ( Myotis sodalis).
Resource extraction has already had a heavy toll on this forest. Nearly 2,700 acres were logged in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2011 the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service leased over 3,800 acres for oil and gas development. And legacy impacts from coal mining, along with significant problems with invasive plant species, add to the challenges of protecting and restoring this unique area.
The recent Jellico Virtual Field Trip presented by the Forest Service is part of their Integrated Resource Management Strategy (IRMS) planning process for the Jellico mountains in the southernmost part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The area that the Forest Service is looking at includes nearly 270 acres of forest that could qualify as secondary old-growth (over 120 years old).. None of this older forest is protected in the area’s “Designated Old Growth” area despite meeting tree size and age requirements.
We know from past experience that these IRMS processes almost always turn into massive logging projects, like South Redbird, Blackwater, and Pine Creek. That’s why Tennesse Heartwood, Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Kentucky Heartwood submitted a joint Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request several months ago to better understand the Forest Service’s plans and inform the public about them. We are happy to have finally received the documents we requested because the Virtual Field Trip does not provide enough information about the Forest Service’s plans. Much of the information discussed below is based on our review of the Freedom of Information Act documents, where we found much more information than the Forest Service has ever shared publicly about their plans for this area of the forest. Much is still in the air though. A lot of the following information is based on which forest stands the Forest Service has been scouting for soil issues associated with logging as revealed by the Freedom of Information Act data. We assume they would not do this unless they were planning on doing commercial logging but the Freedom of Information Act data is not clear on this. Hopefully by being proactive we can prevent them from investing more time and energy into prospecting to log the most problematic forest stands.
There are clearly concerns about soil instability, as evidenced by field notes from Forest Service staff. More of this specific information should have been shared in the virtual field trip but instead it was underplayed with a quick video and generic document. The seriousness of this issue is made clear by the slope data obtained by the Forest Service for forest stands being scouted for logging. According to the table given within the slope data document the majority of the potential logging sites average 50% slope with some as high as 75%. These steep slopes intersect 2 or 3 coal beds. According to the Forest Service's own soil scientist, coal beds under steep logged slopes have high landslide risk as trees' roots decay.
Landslides not only erode precious soils which can leave an area barren for decades to come, but they also damage waterways through sedimentation. This is especially problematic and illegal when streams have threatened and endangered species that are sensitive to sedimentation. Jellico mountain has two such species that are found nowhere else in the world. They are the Cumberland Darter and Blackside Dace, and they are federally protected by the Endangered Species Act. Sadly this has not stopped the Forest Service from logging steep landslide-prone areas in the past.
Figure 1: Coal Beds on Steep Slopes Prone to Landslide into Critical Streams
Wolf Creek - Critical Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat.
Further evidence for this landslide risk is given by U.S.D.A's own publicly available soil data that suggests soils in the proposed harvest area are low strength and therefore not strong enough to support loads. This U.S.D.A. soil data was created to explicitly rate the soils' suitability for use of timber harvest equipment. Almost the entire Jellico mountain region is rated as the poorest suitability level for using timber harvest equipment
Figure 2 and Table 1: Timber Harvest Equipment Suitability.
Red= Poor; Yellow= Moderate
Source USGS Web Soil Survey accessed March 10th 2022
This is how the USDA suggests interpreting "poorly suited":
"Ratings for this interpretation indicate the suitability for use of forestland harvesting equipment. The ratings are based on slope, rock fragments on the surface, plasticity index...
"Moderately suited" indicates that the soil has features that are moderately favorable for the specified management aspect. One or more soil properties are less than desirable, and fair performance can be expected. "Poorly suited" indicates that the soil has one or more properties that are unfavorable for the specified management aspect. Overcoming the unfavorable properties requires special design, extra maintenance, and costly alteration."
Recommendations to Forest Service
Given the risk to federally protected species as well as violating the National Forest Management Act diversity clause (16 U.S.C. 1600 § 6(g)(3)(B)) and soil protections (16 U.S.C. 1600 § 6(g)(3)(E)), logging should not be done on steep slopes with coal beds.
Appalachian Gentian, or Gentiana decora, is a very rare plant found by Kentucky Heartwood within the project area. It is ranked g4 globally which means it is very vulnerable to extinction. It is ranked s3 for Kentucky which means there are less than 100 occurrences of it and therefore vulnerable. It was found in the cliffline of a designated old-growth area which means it does have protection from logging. There were no records of this sensitive species, and it brings up the question of what else might be out there that the Forest Service doesn't know about, especially given what a biological wonder Jellico Mountain is. It is important the Forest Service refers to the "Cooperative inventory of endangered, threatened, sensitive and rare species, Daniel Boone National Forest, Stearns Ranger District" before conducting any logging operations to ensure it maintains viable populations of sensitive plants in accordance with the diversity requirement of the National Forest Management Act. This is especially important since the areas of Jellico Mountain outside of the National Forest boundary are heavily disturbed due to aggressive logging, mining and industry.
Yellowwood, or Cladrastis kentukea has been found in Jellico Forest Service stands of interest according to the Forest Service's surveys. According to a Forest Service research scientist's report "… it is a North American endemic, an ancient relict with a limited overall range, and it appears to be declining overall in the wild. It could face extirpation in the wild in several states if it is not properly protected." "In addition to species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), or species of Concern by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service lists species that are Sensitive within each region (RFSS). The National Forest Management Act and U.S. Forest Service policy require that National Forest System land be managed to maintain viable populations of all native plant and animal species. A viable population is one that has the estimated numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals to ensure the continued existence of the entity throughout its range within a given planning area." The report explains it is a listed species by the Forest Service.
Yellowwood grows as an understory tree in mature forests. Therefore the entire stands that they are in should not be logged in order to give them a small buffer of intact forest. Two of the three stands that yellowwood was found by the forest service are being scouted to be logged.
The Freedom of Information Act data revealed that seven of the stands that the Forest Service is planning to log are over 120 years old according to their own stand inventory data. These stands represent the kind of diverse beautiful forest that has some of the highest conservation value. They are also older than what the Cumberland district decided was too old to log in their Blackwater project. In total, this represents hundreds of acres, including at least a hundred acres in landslide-prone areas over critical stream habitat for threatened and endangered species.
Kentucky Heartwood, in collaboration with Dr. Justin Maxwell, a permitted research scientist, cored several trees in the oldest stands being scouted to log and found extremely old oaks, black gum and tulip poplar. Many individuals were well over 150 years old, and one black gum was even pushing 275 years old. In addition the diameter (DBH) of the tulip poplar trunk cored was over 3 feet wide. Not only does this give you an idea of its impressive size, but its width and age qualify it to be considered for old growth designation by the Forest Service and protected from logging.
Not only do stands over 150 years of age act as an disproportionately large carbon store they are also incredibly rare in themselves constituting a fraction of a percent of the total forest.
All this is why we are encouraging the Forest Service to create a 1,449 acres patch of designated old growth in the Kengee Hollow area. This would meet region 8 old growth guidance for creating additional satellite patches of old growth to meet landscape-level conservation needs. It would also prevent landslides and destruction of threatened and endangered aquatic species. In 2020 the Stearns district won the district of the year award for the Southern region. It shouldn't let Cumberland district outperform it in terms of meeting the evolving ecological and social needs of its district.
In 2019, the Daniel Boone National Forest used something called condition-based management for the first time for the Blackwater project near Cave Run Lake. This method undercuts the National Environmental Protection Act’s requirement to get site-specific feedback from the public on logging projects. More recently in 2020, the federal courts in Alaska ruled that logging with condition based management is illegal. We hope the Forest Service will take this ruling seriously and will not try to use condition-based management on the Jellico project.
There are no hiking trails in the entire Jellico region. The Forest Service reports that the area is primarily used for (unauthorized) off-road vehicles, and noted that their extensive use is damaging the forest.
Additionally, there are four beautiful campsites along Jellico creek. If hiking and mountain biking trails could be developed in this area, it could provide economic development opportunities and increase public access to the forest.
Invasive species concerns
The Forest Service acknowledges that there are significant patches of tree of Heaven, multiflora rose, autumn olive, honeysuckle, and Japanese stiltgrass. Opening the tree canopy with logging will only make worse the growth of these difficult to control species, costing the public more money when the Forest Service uses herbicide and staff time to try to treat and remove them. Ultimately the most effective way to manage invasive species is to prevent their establishment in the first place and in this case that means avoiding disturbance and heavy machinery use.
The combination of unique geology, topography and ecology of the Jellico region presents nearly insurmountable hurdles to make a proposed project fit within legal guidelines. The information shared above is just the beginning. Since we did not receive the Freedom of Information Act documents until March 1, we have only had limited time to comb through them before the Jellico field trip comment deadline of March 21. However, this is not an official comment period, so we look forward to the Forest Service’s future public engagement where we can submit our comments as part of the official record. There were simply too many things that jumped out as problematic to give them all the time they deserve. These are all problems that we hope the Forest Service will work with Kentucky Heartwood and the public to remedy.
Without your support a lot of these issues would have gone completely under the radar. By supporting Kentucky Heartwood you are giving a voice to the Cumberland Darter, the Yellowwood tree and countless others so that they may stand up for their legal right to continue to exist on this earth.
Please Take Action and Comment on the Forest Service's website
We greatly appreciate the time you spent reading this and encourage you to write any thoughts or feelings you have that come to mind to submit to the Forest Service through the "Public Input" section of their virtual field trip. The last day to submit comments is this Monday the 21th. The Forest Service wants comments from people of all walks of life and not just specialists. They know very well that they are supposed to work for the public so be a good boss and tell them your perspective no matter how long or short!
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed logging up to 250 acres in areas with extreme landslide risks in the Redbird Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Despite these known risks, the Forest Service has proposed the Hector Mountain Salvage project under a Categorical Exclusion (or “CE”), which means that the project will be fast-tracked and exempted from analysis in an Environmental Assessment. The Forest Service proposed the project on February 1, 2022 in response to ice storms that damaged trees in January 2021. The agency failed to include the project in the quarterly Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA). The entire announcement was limited to 6 pages and a 30 day comment period.
Logging units in the Hector Mountain Salvage project are just a few miles from the ongoing landslides in the Group One logging project that Kentucky Heartwood has been documenting and reporting on for more than two years. Our examination of LIDAR-derived topographic data and on-the-ground surveys in the Hector Mountain area have found more than a dozen landslides, mostly in stands that were harvested in the 1990s. The Forest Service has mostly downplayed the risks of landslides posed by logging in the Redbird District, and the scoping document fails to make any mention of landslide risks. However, information obtained by Kentucky Heartwood through Freedom of Information Act requests has revealed that the Forest Service has been well-aware of the specific landslide hazards in the Redbird District for a long time.
An email from a former Daniel Boone National Forest Soil Scientist to the current Forest Soil Scientist, dated November 2020, states:
“I recall inventorying over 20 slides in clear cuts on the Red Bird and all but 3 or so were associated with a coal seam. Most of these occurred around 5 years after harvest. The Fire Clay seams I recall were involved with most. I did write something up on that but I don’t have a clue if it’s still around.”
One of the specific hazards relates to the hydrology of coal seams, like the Fire Clay. The Fire Clay runs through all of the proposed logging units in the Hector Mountain Salvage project. In Redbird, these highly permeable coal layers are often underlain by relatively impermeable clays. This causes moisture to accumulate disproportionately at these specific strata. Where soils are highly erodible and slopes very steep, like across most of the Redbird District, this buildup of soil moisture can trigger landslides or other mass wasting events. Intact forest root systems help hold forest soils and slopes together, limiting the extent of any landslides and ability for sediment to reach stream channels. However, in the years following timber harvest, tree root systems die back, reducing their ability to hold soils together. And the construction of full-bench skid roads – which is common on the Redbird District – further exacerbates the issue by affecting hydrology and slope stability, especially where skid roads cross coal seams. All of this is known to the Forest Service, but has been repeatedly ignored in the Group One, South Red Bird, and now Hector Mountain projects.
Notably, the Forest Service has proposed road reconstruction on Forest Service road 1730 “to stabilize the road… and to facilitate passage of large trucks and heavy equipment.” Currently the road is safely passable by passenger vehicles. However, road reconstruction will be needed to support logging trucks and heavy equipment. What the Forest Service fails to disclose is that the instability of the road and slope is the result of a landslide that occurred when that area was logged in 1994. The landslide runs several hundred feet downslope, and the upper portion (where the road is located) is continuing to slump.
Several other landslides were found by Kentucky Heartwood in this same area of, including a major landslide that recently collapsed and resulted in large amounts of sediment and debris in the stream channel. This continuing instability is occurring nearly three decades after the stand was logged.
In addition to landslide concerns, the Forest Service has failed to provide any information on how trees will be assessed for damage and chosen for harvest, or otherwise how heavily they plan to cut the area. Most of the trees that we’ve been able to examine in the field exhibit moderate damage that is well within the trees’ ability to recover. Studies of growth rings in old-growth trees in Kentucky and elsewhere demonstrate that it is normal for very old trees to go through periods for more rapid growth followed by periods – sometimes lasting decades – of very slow growth as they recover from episodes of canopy damage. It’s unusual to examine tree ring patterns in old-growth trees and not see this pattern.
But the Forest Service’s description of the forests’ condition suggests that any damage to trees is catastrophic. In the scoping document, the Forest Service states that damage from the ice storms “has predisposed the stands to forest pathogens, insect-related diseases, reduced annual growth, reduced quality of the wood itself, and ultimately early mortality.” What is clear is that the Forest Service is primarily concerned with “reduced quality of the wood” and any reduction in annual growth.
Our forests evolved with natural disturbance events, like ice storms, and even depend on them. Most logging in the Daniel Boone National Forest is predicated on the Forest Service’s assertion that there is insufficient natural disturbance to support disturbance-dependent species, like ruffed grouse and white oak. But the impacts of the 2021 ice storm to the trees and forests in the Hector Mountain project area are precisely those that support disturbance-dependent species. And the best available science backs that up.
You can read Kentucky Heartwood’s comments to the Forest Service below. In that letter we provide more information about old-growth and natural disturbance, landslide issues, and errors in how the Forest Service is using their Categorical Exclusion authorities. The Kentucky Resources Council joined Kentucky Heartwood in submitting these comments.
Please consider supporting Kentucky Heartwood's work to respond and challenge projects like this by joining or making an extra donation. Our ability to review these projects and do the necessary on-the-ground work to see what's really happening in the forest is only possible through donations from our members and other supporters. You can donate to Kentucky Heartwood here.
2021 Year in Review
In 2021 alone, Kentucky Heartwood responded to eight project proposals across the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) in addition to tracking multiple other projects at various stages of development. Here is a summary of the top projects:
Protecting old growth and listed species in South Redbird: The Forest Service signed the decision for the South Redbird Wildlife Enhancement Project (“South Redbird”) in January 2021. The agency’s assessment of South Redbird is so incomplete, we contend that it is illegal. The FS did not conduct surveys for federally-protected bats. Old growth trees between 250 and 300 years old are slated for logging, and logging and roadbuilding are planned on unstable slopes that cross coal seams with high landslide susceptibility. The FS also overlooked impacts of extraction on snuffbox mussels, threatened tiger snails, Kentucky arrow darters, and rare lichens that rely on old growth to persist.
With generous funding from members, Kentucky Heartwood hired a temporary biologist to conduct bat surveys in South Redbird by deploying acoustic meters in forests slated for clearcut or shelterwood cuts. Our preliminary results showed the presence of endangered Indiana bats, threatened northern long-eared bats, and even endangered gray bats. We are compiling the data and will use the results to compel the FS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to drop logging units that will impact vulnerable bat populations.
The good news is that the Forest Service has not started logging in South Redbird, but trees are marked for cut. We hope our extensive bat and field surveys keep it that way.
Fighting for transparency in Blackwater: In September 2021, the Forest Service signed the decision for the Blackwater Landscape Analysis (“Blackwater”), which approved various treatments without any details across 12,000 acres near Cave Run Lake. The environmental assessment did not mention where the agency will build roads, undertake restoration, log, or protect old growth. Even the FS admitted in their final decision letter that, “As you are aware, the project includes a public involvement effort following the decision to implement. This is something new for this forest and we want to ensure that it is both useful and informative for all that have been and will be involved.” The agency should have provided useful information to the public before signing the decision, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Instead, the agency is hosting events on social media that feel like show-and-tell more than genuine public involvement.
In response, Kentucky Heartwood filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to understand how the FS put Blackwater together. The FS denied our fee waiver request stating that we planned to use the information for internal purposes only because “we wanted to walk the ground and check their work.” The FS is currently holding the Blackwater FOIA ransom for $3,734.36. The Kentucky Resources Council filed an administrative appeal on behalf of Kentucky Heartwood. We expect a decision in 2022. We suspect Blackwater was planned long before a decision was signed.
Advocating for a better plan for the Red River Gorge: Recreation continues to explode across the Daniel Boone National Forest, necessitating a new management plan for the Red River Gorge. Our comments addressed the need for more law enforcement officers in the Gorge, reducing potential wildfires and camp fire scars by requiring all campers and backpackers to carry fire pans or blankets, and requesting the Forest Service conduct all field surveys for rare, threatened and endangered species before signing the decision.
Of equal concern is the proposed management of Clifty Wilderness. Wilderness is meant to be an untrammeled landscape where human visits do not restrict the land and we do not remain. The FS now plans to designate 70 campsites in Clifty while admitting that this violates the Wilderness Act. The FS should implement a free, first-come, first-serve permitting system without designating campsites in Wilderness. This will limit the number of visitors each day but still allow for a primitive experience, resource protection, and promote a self-willed landscape.
The FS also needs to address the proliferation of illegal permanent fixed climbing routes in the Clifty Wilderness. These routes violate the Forest Plan. The FS should remove those illegal routes and adopt a Climbing Management Plan for the entire DBNF. Above all, the FS must adequately staff wilderness and climbing rangers. More staff is the only way that the thirty-six laws and orders are going to be enforced in the Red River Gorge Geological Area.
Exposing the Hinkle Land Exchange: The Hinkle Land Exchange seemed to come out of nowhere, but documents revealed this exchange was in the works since 2009. The Hinkle Contracting Company, which is a division of Summit Materials based in Denver, Colorado, purchased the inholding in the Beaver Creek Wilderness in 2017 with the Forest Service’s knowledge. Hinkle is now leveraging their property surrounded by Wilderness to trade private land for federal land in order to expand their quarry operations on the Licking River near Cave Run Lake.
Land exchanges are very secretive deals. We cannot decipher if this is even a legal exchange because the FS did not provide information concerning the value of the lands. The Forest Service also did not analyze an alternative that looked at purchasing the inholding in Wilderness from Hinkle using monies from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was renewed through the Great American Outdoors Act. Purchasing the land through the LWCF will make the Beaver Creek Wilderness whole without compromising quality bat habitat used for pup rearing and foraging. We expect a decision in 2022.
Getting ahead of the Jellico Integrated Restoration Management Strategy: The Forest Service did not release the draft Environmental Assessment for the Jellico Integrated Restoration Management Strategy for public comment. Because the Jellico Mountains are so close to the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with Tennessee Heartwood and the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club to learn more about the Forest Service’s plans for this area.
We asked for stand exams which include information about timber sale units and old growth, plant surveys, evidence of consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service concerning bats, and information on landslide susceptibility. We plan to share any information we gather with the public per our obligation under the Freedom of Information Act.
Restoring the Curt Pond Wooded Grassland: Kentucky Heartwood submitted comments that support the Forest Service’s efforts to restore a remnant of a native grassland-forb community on the Stearns Ranger District. Southern grasslands and associated communities have mostly disappeared from the landscape. The objective of this project should ensure that grassland-forb communities are fully-functional, sustainable, and resilient. This work may also inform woodland and wooded grassland management being implemented to maximize the floristic benefit and restoration of the grassland understory in other areas in the DBNF.
Field surveys protect Stewartia: Even though the Forest Service signed the Pine Creek timber sale in 2017, the FS reached out to us about the location of Stewartia ovata before conducting shelterwood logging in the area. This small lovely understory tree thrives with mature and old growth forests. Extraction could lead to drying of the site, competition with dense regrowth following harvest, and damage from logging operations. Because of our work, the Forest Service placed buffer zones to protect Stewartia ovata. We are exploring an initiative to protect more rare species using special designations in the future through an administrative process and/or the forest plan revision due in 2023.
Kentucky Heartwood Music Festival: In the midst of our forest protection work we pulled off the 15th edition of the Kentucky Heartwood Music Festival, which attracted over 250 people and raised $4,000. Plus, we had lots of fun!
If you gave to Kentucky Heartwood this year, please accept our gratitude for your contribution. You make it possible!
The Forest Service released the draft Environmental Assessment for the Hinkle Land Exchange in late September 2021. The exchange includes the Forest Service trading four tracks of forested federal land on the Cumberland Ranger District for four tracks of private land, including the last private inholding in the Beaver Creek Wilderness, which is owned by the Hinkle Contracting Company. Hinkle poses as a Kentucky-based company, but Hinkle is actually a division of Summit Materials based in Denver, Colorado.
The Forest Service has been working with the Hinkle Contracting Company for 12 years, out of the public eye, to make this land exchange happen. As a general rule land exchages are not transparent because they are deals made between the government and private entities. The public was only made aware of this exchange in the last two Schedule of Proposed Actions. The FS is leveraging the new rules in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to smash scoping and the EA comment period together, but we argue that this exchange was initiated way back in 2009 making it subject to the old NEPA rules and not the new ones.
There has been a rather large inholding in the Beaver Creek Wilderness since its designation in 1975. It was privately owned by the Wilson family until 2017, when the Hinkle Contracting Company bought the inholding outright from the Wilson family. The Forest Service obviously knew about this purchase since that land exchange has been in the works since 2009.
The Hinkle Contracting Company is leveraging this inholding surrounded by Wilderness in order to expand their open pit limestone quarry operations along the Licking River up near Cave Run Lake.
While some may be happy that the Beaver Creek Wilderness will become whole, this is not the way to do it.
In our comments, Kentucky Heartwood contends that the Forest Service should go back and consider an alternative that looks at purchasing the Beaver Creek Wilderness outright from the Hinkle Contracting Company (though they should've purchased it from the Wilson clan long ago) through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which will protect Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat habitat in tracts 1902 and 1904, the tracks where the new open pit limestone mine will be developed. The United States Fish and Wildlife states that these tracts are quality roosting, foraging, and important sites for Indian bats in transit.
If the secretive nature of this land exchange isn't enough, congress critters Rand Paul and Hal Rogers have been submitting support letters for this exchange since 2015. However, there has been no public outreach except for a few notices in the Lexington-Herald Leader.
The Forest Service laments that they have no way of managing several of the tracts they are about to unload. In a way, it's heartening to know that there are still tracts of land on the Daniel Boone National Forest that the Forest Service has no way of "managing."
Read our comment letter below that outlines our issues with the Hinkle Land Exhange and alternatives the Forest Service should to consider.
The Forest Service should:
With the help of the Kentucky Resources Council, Kentucky Heartwood (KHW) filed an appeal challenging the Forest Service's decision on August 17, 2021 to deny KHW a fee waiver request for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the Blackwater Landscape Analysis. The Forest Servie is charging Kentucky Heartwood, and by proxy its membership, $3,734.36 to release the FOIA. Information that could lead to a better understanding of Blackwater is literally being held hostage by the Forest Service.
You may ask, “Why bother the Forest Service with a FOIA request? Isn’t it on the project page?” Non-profit organizations submit FOIA requests to federal agencies in order to gain the full picture of how a project is put together. Standard project pages curated by the Forest Service do not include critical pieces of information helpful for understanding the impacts of a project nor all of the components that led to decision. In FOIA requests, it is common to ask for all communications, specialists reports, silvicultural stand exams, other field surveys, mapping information such as Global Information Systems files, and proof of consultation with other federal agencies.
In return for the FOIA, nonprofit organizations agree to share information gleaned from FOIA requests. Kentucky Heartwood fulfills this requirement by posting information about FOIAs to our forest blog, newsletters, e-blasts, social media accounts, and a FOIA webpage where citizens may request documents. It is our express goal to make sure citizens know what is happening on federal lands.
Given the ways Kentucky Heartwood keeps citizens informed, it was curious that the Forest Service denied a fee waiver for the Blackwater Landscape Analysis. The organization’s executive director jumped through the Forest Service’s hoops by submitting a detailed FOIA request, cooperated in a “clarification call” where she articulated our request in detail, reviewed “perfected” documents, and dropped any requests where the Forest Service claimed they had no record of topics on file (like roads) or information that was provided the day before the objection call for Blackwater in March 2021.
The Forest Service's determination letter claimed:
“The basis for this denial involves comments made by you during a telephone
conversation with forest staff on July 14, 2021. During this call you indicated the
purpose for requesting this information was to, “be able to walk the ground to
recreate your work and double check your findings.” Based on this comment and the current ongoing engagement between the Forest Service and the public involving the collection of new and review of existing data as the project is implemented, it appears you intend to use this information for internal purposes only. This does not meet the fee waiver criteria set forth by the USDA FOIA Regulations."
In this justification, the Forest Service is essentially attacking the very right we have as citizens to request FOIAs in order to field check for mature forests and old growth, rare and listed species, possible restoration areas, possible road locations, and other ecological characteristics inside of a project area. The Forest Service is not infallible, and we've documented and reported their errors before.
Kentucky Heartwood has always shared information about our field work, hosted field trips, and informed citizens and federal agencies of issues or opportunities for better protection. This is not new nor some underhanded use of information for “internal purposes.”
The other concerning issue is that the Forest Service is claiming that at the time of our FOIA they were still in the process of “ongoing engagement between the Forest Service and the public involving the collection of new and review of existing data as the project is implemented…” The agency had not signed their Blackwater decision at the time of FOIA request. However, the Freedom of Information Act legislation does not include any specific language about when a FOIA may be submitted during the project creation process or risk paying fees.
This claim may actually bolster our larger concern that the Forest Service never wanted pre-decisional transparency about their plans for Blackwater. Not the location of roads, “restoration” sites, or specific areas where logging will occur. Post-decisional virtual show-and-tell presentations advertised on social media with this information certainly does not fulfill that public involvement process either.
Finally, it is important to note that the Forest Service recently fulfilled a large FOIA request for the South Redbird “Wildlife Enhancement” Project also on the Daniel Boone National Forest, which is a part of the Southern Region (R8). We asked for the exact same components for other projects. We went through a “clarification call”, and after a long wait, the Forest Service released that FOIA without charging a fee. What is so different about the Blackwater FOIA that they need to charge us?
To combat these bogus claims and fees, Ashley Wilmes, attorney and new executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, filed an appeal on your behalf. With years of experience in FOIA claims and lawsuits, we are confident the Forest Service will back down and fulfill their legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
We are grateful for the Kentucky Resources Council's assistance.
If you are involved in federal lands protection work, please consider this as a warning. The Forest Service in Region 8 may be moving more and more in this direction.