Wild places sustain and define us; we, in turn, must protect them.
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: