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