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