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!
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.
The U.S. Forest Service approved logging of old-growth forests in the Daniel Boone National Forest, despite the agency’s claims to the contrary. Forests with trees over 250 years old are approved for cutting as part of the South Red Bird project, adding to a long list of major problems in this huge logging project. Other issues include a major risk of landslides, degradation of Kentucky arrow darter critical habitat, proliferation of non-native invasive plant species, and impacts to imperiled bats including Indiana and northern long-eared bats.
Kentucky Heartwood uncovered major errors and inconsistencies in the Forest Service’s stand exams following our review of nearly 20,000 pages of documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Following that review we examined several sites in remote parts of the Redbird District and confirmed the presence of significant old-growth that the Forest Service said didn’t exist, some of which is now approved for logging. These newly identified old-growth areas are in addition to the old-growth forest on Little Flat Creek that Kentucky Heartwood documented in 2018. The Forest Service dropped the Little Flat Creek site from their logging plans, but still maintains that the forest there is only 65 years old despite our submission of tree core data demonstrating that the forest is full of trees 150 to over 300 years old.
During our most recent surveys we identified two significant old-growth areas that are directly threatened by the Mosely Fork sale in the South Red Bird project. One of the sites includes a 20-acre section of high quality old-growth forest with trees over 250 years old, as confirmed through tree core data collected from 20 trees. One of the black gums (Nyssa sylvatica) sampled is over 329 years old. The forest is a dry (xeric or sub-xeric) site dominated by gnarly chestnut oaks (Quercus montana) and black gum, with a mix of white and scarlet oak, hickories, American chestnut, and other species.
Video from old-growth surveys and tree core sampling in South Redbird
We targeted this site for field examination after finding concerning inconsistencies in the Forest Service’s stand exam reports. In those reports, the Forest Service collects a lot of data on trees, mostly species and size information oriented towards planning a timber harvest. However, as part of that assessment, they’re supposed to collect tree core data to determine stand age. But we’ve found that those age determinations are based on extremely limited, biased, and incorrect data collection. At this particular site, the agency reported coring three trees across 40 acres during their 2015 stand exams. They reported a 52 year-old tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a 91 year-old black oak (Quercus velutina), and a 165 year-old chestnut oak.
But rather than base the age of the forest on the oldest age class, the Forest Service appears to have averaged the tree ages to record a stand age of 103 years. By doing so, the Forest Service avoided disclosing that the stand was potential old-growth, or “POG.” The POG designation in the Daniel Boone NF Forest Plan is based largely on minimum age thresholds, typically of 130 to 140 years depending on the forest type. While the POG designation doesn’t prohibit logging, it does require a more extensive analysis and disclosure before logging can be approved. The Forest Service can also designate forests (both old-growth and younger forests) as “designated old-growth” or “DOG,” which does confer some protections from logging.
Compounding the Forest Service’s errors, we found that the chestnut oak that they reported was 165 years old (171 years old in 2021) is actually over 301 years old. Growth rings on very old, small trees on dry sites tend to be very dense. This individual, for example, is only 16” diameter at breast height (dbh), which is pretty typical at this site. Accurately counting rings on old trees like this requires careful sample preparation, including sanding to 1200 grit and examination under a microscope. The Forest Service, however, typically does visual counts in the field and disposes of the sample.
While tree coring can result in a small amount of damage to a tree, evidence from the field of dendrochronology indicates that most trees are able to compartmentalize or heal around the wound with no discernable effects to tree longevity. And an 8 mm hole from an increment borer certainly causes less damage to trees than logging.
At another nearby site we identified a 101-acre old-growth site, of which 26 acres are approved for logging. While our core sampling at this larger site was more limited, we found that the older trees were typically over 250 years old. This second site includes a lot of old chestnut oak, white oak, and tulip poplar, along with a variety of other species like black walnut and sugar maple which we have yet to collect age data on. During our surveys, both flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) and Cumberland azalea (Rhododendron cumberlandense) provided gorgeous flushes of orange, yellow, and red through the understory, while natural tree-fall gaps offered gorgeous views of the Right Fork of Elisha Creek.
The section of old-growth threated by logging overlaps with an approved 83-acre harvest area made up of two stands in Mosely Fork, where nearly all of the trees are planned for harvest, with skid roads bulldozed to haul out the logs. The Forest Service cored only one tree in each of the two stands approved for harvest to determine stand age. They reported that one tree was 63 years old and the other 80 years (adjusted to 2021), while reporting stand ages of variously 111 or 121 years for the first unit, and 98 or 121 years for the second unit.
The 276-acre Mosely Fork watershed is part of the larger Elisha Creek watershed, and provides habitat for what may be the most important population of the Pine Mountain tigersnail (Anguispira rugoderma) in Kentucky and globally. The tigersnail is considered “Imperiled” at the global and state levels (G2, S2), with its range restricted to Clay, Harlan, Leslie, and Bell Counties. According to NatureServe “This Kentucky endemic is mostly associated with old growth, but it also occurs in pure stands of second growth tulip poplar.”
The approved 83 acres of logging in Mosely Fork are contiguous with 30 acres logged in 1989. The overall effect will be to degrade the entire northwest facing side of the valley, and 41% of the watershed, with respect to habitat for the tigersnail. Several rare lichen species were also recently documented in the threatened old-growth section of Mosely Fork by the Kentucky Office of Nature Preserves. One of those lichens, Fuscopannaria leucosticte, is considered critically imperiled in Kentucky and lives primarily on the bark of old-growth chestnut oaks.
This larger old-growth site borders the Right Fork of Elisha Creek proposed Research Natural (pRNA). The Right Fork of Elisha Creek was proposed for designation as a Research Natural Area decades ago, but the process was never completed by the Forest Service. In the South Red Bird analysis, the Forest Service stated that the 160 acres of the pRNA won’t be logged and therefore will help the project area meet Forest Plan old-growth objectives. They used this as part of their rationale for refusing to designate any more old-growth (DOG), despite Kentucky Heartwood’s urging such designations throughout the development and analysis of the South Red Bird project.
But there’s no indication that those 160 acres actually include any old-growth. Based on the Forest Service’s data, 44% of the 160 acres is under 100 years old, and 13% was logged in 1989. The rest remains unexamined. And in another twist, we recently learned that the Southern Research Station of U.S. Forest Service, which will assume responsibility for the Research Natural Area once it’s designated, considers the Right Fork of Elisha Creek pRNA to be 315 acres. The 315-acre area described by the Southern Research Station does include most of the 101-acre old-growth area that Kentucky Heartwood identified.
In internal documents, the Forest Service acknowledged the existence of potential old-growth adjacent to the Right Fork of Elisha Creek pRNA (in addition to several other POG sites). Despite the recognition of these POG areas in internal documents, the Environmental Assessment simply states that “There are no stands in the project area not within the proposed RNA that satisfy the conditions for classification as POG.” Nowhere in nearly 20,000 pages of FOIA and NEPA documents have we found any explanation for why these forests were dismissed as potential old-growth.
In an email chain found through FOIA, Forest Service staff discussed whether any potential old-growth areas should be added to the pRNA or be managed as Designated Old Growth. In that correspondence, Forest Service staff stated, “So, that’s the stands considered for POG. There are three that are contiguous to the RNA… Nothing says you can’t POG it and forget it.”
The internal record is full of dismissive statements and bias against old-growth. In another email, Forest Service staff stated, “Many of our stands that are senescent and in need of regeneration will soon be approaching our ‘old growth standards’, at least from an age perspective.” Elsewhere they stated that “Sadly, most of the forest stands in the South Red Bird (SRB) are older than 50 years.”
This exemplifies an outdated and incorrect assumption that old-growth and older second-growth forests are fundamentally unhealthy. Throughout the South Red Bird project record, as well as other logging projects on the Daniel Boone National Forest, are assertions that forests that are much over 100 years old are, by nature of their age, in decline and will necessarily become infested with disease and pests and without heavy logging will result in catastrophic collapse of the forest ecosystem.
This nonsense is deeply ingrained among foresters and forest managers who wrongfully conflate maximizing the growth and production of timber products with ecosystem health. They use terms like “resilience” and “forest health” to obfuscate and pretend that agriculture is ecology, and malign the conservation of old-growth as essentially about aesthetics and an ignorance of forestry.
In a recent Facebook post the Daniel Boone National Forest stated that tree coring damages trees and that without a permit “coring trees on National Forest lands is strictly prohibited and punishable under Federal law.” That post was clearly aimed at us. The post was made in the context of stand exams happening in the Jellicos, with no mention that those surveys are being done for the purposes of an upcoming logging proposal.
Several years ago, Kentucky Heartwood’s Staff Ecologist, Jim Scheff, did request a permit to core trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest to identify old-growth forests and to provide that information to the Forest Service. But the Forest Service denied that permit. Fortunately, with Redbird, we were able to do our recent surveys under permit, assisting Dr. Justin Maxwell of Indiana University with his research into the relationship between climate and tree growth. But the future is grim, with the Forest Service working to lock down access and information and block our ability to scrutinize their work. They’re now even demanding that we pay thousands of dollars to get information through the Freedom of Information Act, despite Kentucky Heartwood clearly being eligible for a fee waiver.
But Kentucky Heartwood is not giving up on old-growth in Redbird, or elsewhere in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Please consider supporting our work so that we can save these exceptional places from ill-informed and ill-conceived efforts to strip the timber and bulldoze the mountain slopes into a ruinous mess of invasive species and landslides.
Kentucky Heartwood staff is chipping away at comments for the Red River Gorge Management Planning process. After submitting our first electronic comment, we noticed that comments are actually due by July 26, 2021 by 11:59 pm. This gives the public a little more time to get some comments in!
Please see our comments below concerning the draft Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Red River Gorge Management Plan.
Here are some specific issues you may want to address in your comments:
Please see our full comment below.
If you wish to submit a comment, please use the following options:
Send in a public comment by July 26, 2021 at 11:59 pm.
Submit an electronic comment here:
Submit an email to email@example.com
Please place “Red River Gorge Management Planning-Administrative Change” in the subject line.
Mail a letter and postmark it by July 23, 2021 to:
Jonathan P. Kazmierski
Cumberland District Ranger
2375 KY 801 South
Morehead, KY 40351
Public comment needed: Forest Service plans to change the boundary of the Red River and Scenic Integrity Objectives of the Red River Gorge through forest plan adminstrative changes due to mapping and a typographical error
The Forest Service is conducting two management plan overhauls for the Red River Gorge Geological Area and the Red Wild and Scenic River. They are concurrently seeking comment to fix what they call "clerical errors" in the Forest Plan to the boundary of the Red River and changing the Scenic Integriy Objectives of the Red River Gorge. However, the proposed fixes to these clerical errors could change certain aspects of the management of the Red River and the Red River Gorge.
But first, it's important to review the purpose of the forest plan to understand the implications of the proposed administrative changes.
What is a Forest Plan?
A Forest Plan is a land management document that sets measurable and enforceable standards to help the Forest Service meet their stated objectives. Every national forest has a plan. Forest Plans are legally binding documents, but the Forest Service is allowed to make administrative changes their forest plan outside of the revision process. However, they must provide notice and a public comment opportunity before altering their plan.
What is the Forest Service proposing to change in the plan?
The Forest Plan for the Daniel Boone National Forest describes the boundaries and allowable management actions for the Red Wild and Scenic River and the Red River Gorge Geological Area. The Forest Service is proposingn the following administrative changes:
1) Change the boundary of the Red Wild and Scenic River
2) Downgrade the Scenic Integrity Objective (SIO) of the Red River Gorge Geological Area from ‘Very High’ to ‘High’
Boundary change to the Red Wild and Scenic River
The Forest Service is proposing to drop 86 acres from the boundary of the Red Wild and Scenic River. According to the Forest Service this is an acreage drop on the landscape around the river that falls in line with the Kentucky Wild River boundary established by the Commonwealth of Kentucky back in 1973.
The Red River was federally protected as Wild and Scenic by Bill Clinton in 1993 and used the state legistion to demarcate the boundary. There is also federal legislation that mandates wild and scenic river protections. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is federal legislation designed to safeguard the character of our nation’s unique rivers.The Act sets aside certain rivers that possess outstandingly scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, to be preserved in free-flowing condition, and protects immediate environments for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
Let’s dig into “immediate environment”. If a river is designated ‘wild’ then development should not be visible from the river. If a river is designated as ‘scenic’ the Act allows for minimal development. It’s meant to protect the character of a federally-designated river.
Here’s the problem. The Forest Service provided a map of the proposed changes, but they did not provide an adequate map to show the Red River’s current boundary. The public has no way of knowing where the Forest Service wants to drop the 86 acres.
This is the current map in the Forest Plan that the Forest Service references (but does not provide in the project documents) to help the public understand the current boundary of the Red Wild and Scenic River:
This is the map of the proposed changes to the boundary around the Wild and Scenic River provided in the plans for the Red River:
There is no way to compare these maps. How is the public supposed to submit substantive comments regarding the boundary changes with two maps varying in quality? The Forest Service needs to provide a clear map of the current boundary so citizens can see where the boundary changes may impact the imminent environment around the Red Wild and Scenic River.
Downgrading the Scenic Integrity of the Red River Gorge Geological Area
The Scenic Integrity Objective (SIO) is defined as the desired level of scenic quality and diversity of a landscape based on physical and sociological characteristics of an area. SIO indicates the degree of acceptable visual impact that human activity can have on a landscape. SIO levels include: Very High, High, Moderate, Low, and Very Low. These Scenic Integrity Objectives by prescription areas for the Daniel Boone National Forest are found in the Forest Plan.
Here’s an example of measuring the SIO of an area:
The Forest Service claims that a typographical error in the 2004 Forest Plan incorrectly categorized the Red River Gorge Geological Area as ‘very high’ when they claim it should be categorized as ‘high’. Curiously, the Forest Service did not propose to downgrade the SIO when they completed the last Limits of Acceptable Change and management plan in the Red River Gorge in 2008.
Keep in mind that a Forest Plan is a legally binding document. The only way the Forest Service can achieve their plan to develop the Red River Gorge is to change their Forest Plan so they don’t violate any standards.
Here is the link to the project page:
Please submit a public comment and be sure to include the following as well:
Now is the critical time to ask quetions about the proposed amendments to the Forest Plan. There is no objection process to these administrative changes so we must pressure the Forest Service to explain how seemingly inoccuous these administrative changes really are.
The bottom line is the Red River Gorge Geological Area and the Red Wild and Scenic River were given special designations because they exhibit characteristics that are found no where else in the United States. We need to know how the Forest Service’s proposed administrative changes will further impact a well-loved area that is, frankly, taking a beating from our undying affection.
Send in a public comment by July 26, 2021 at 11:59 pm.
Submit an electronic comment here:
Submit an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please place “Red River Gorge Management Planning-Administrative Change” in the subject line.
Mail a letter and postmark it by July 23, 2021 to:
Jonathan P. Kazmierski
Cumberland District Ranger
2375 KY 801 South
Morehead, KY 40351
Kentucky Heartwood submitted these comments to the Forest Service:
The Cumberland District of the Daniel Boone National Forest lies below Morehead, Kentucky and to the east of Cave Run Lake. The 12,000-acre Blackwater Landscape Analysis is proposed here. The project is named after Blackwater Creek, a landmark waterway characterized by relatively remote stream sections with great aesthetic value and provides habitat for several fish species. The project area is also home to federally-listed bats, federally-endangered running buffalo clover, and remnants of old growth.
The Forest Service initiated the Blackwater Landscape Analysis in 2016 and released their draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in 2019. The draft EA included timber harvest, road construction and decommissioning, stream restoration, and early seral condition creation (logging). But instead of linking any of these activities to specific sites, all they tell us is this will happen/somewhere/in the project area.
The maps and descriptions provided in the project record are only proposals. The maps merely show an inventory of the area, and some descriptions of very clinical silvicultural words such as “treatments". The agency did not commit to any site-specific actions in the draft or final EA.
Individual citizen comments throughout scoping and the Environmental Assessment expressed confusion, and rightfully so. Many asked for specific locations of timber sale units and expressed disappoint with a vague proposal clearly not ready for public review.
The Forest Service initially used “condition-based management" language during public meetings and field trips, but the agency ultimately chose “adaptive management” to make decisions on a rolling basis, after a signed EA. Unfortunately, adaptive management is codified. However, it does not give the Forest Service permission to push off site-specific analysis for Blackwater before the public comments on specific plans. Adaptive management also requires a well-established monitoring plan. With no site-specific plans, how can there be an adequate monitoring plan?
The Forest Service pushed all decisions for Blackwater to some post-decisional collaborative. In general, collaborative groups are stacked with well-funded industry representatives and conservation groups. Sustained citizen participation is very low. By participating in collaboratives, conservation groups historically walk away protecting less forests, waters, and wildlife than what they planned on. These groups sound appealing. In reality, everyone comes to the table and leaves with half of what should really have been saved. Should we not promote and protect the most forest we can given the impacts of climate change?
A previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for another project revealed the Forest Service may also leverage stewardship agreements to facilitate logging using partnerships with nonprofits in Blackwater. The nonprofit acts as the timber sale contractor and sells the trees for profit to fund future work. We will continue to witness a conversion of mature and old growth forests into sub par early seral conditions. There are clearly two paths to participate in the public involvement process. One is legally binding through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the route we follow as an environmental advocacy organization. The other is a side door open to special interest groups that circumvents the overwhelming support from the public to protect mature and old-growth forests.
In February 2021, the Forest Service released the final EA with a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Blackwater Landscape Analysis. That kicked off a 45-day objection period. Kentucky Heartwood submitted comments because nothing changed in the record. During the objection resolution meeting, the Forest Service finally admitted that this is a decades-long project.
The Forest Service also admitted that they did not get concurrence letters from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or the United States Army Corp of Engineers. Therefore, we are unsure that any consultation took place. With a piecemeal process seemingly in place, it’s a financial waste and a drain on other agency’s time to keep going back to each entity on a case-by-case basis for consultation. It also makes it easier for the Forest Service to skip consultation in the future without public scrutiny.
As an example, Kentucky Heartwood already documented the Forest Service's failure to consult with the USFWS concerning landslides sliding off of roads down into critical habitat after logging in another district on the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Forest Service should complete consultation with professionals before Blackwater is signed. This may decrease the take of federally-listed species in the future. This is part of the NEPA process and should not be deferred because adaptive management allows the agency to correct mistakes as they go along.
So, what should the Forest Service have done to avoid this fiasco for Blackwater?
The Forest Service should have followed the law and facilitated a public involvement process outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA affords citizens and other federal agencies the right to project details to make informed decisions. The law states, "NEPA procedures must ensure that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken."
The Forest Service didn’t give the public enough. Instead, the public received highly curated content. The Forest Service also failed to provide the soil and water and wildlife reports, and they uploaded several detailed documents to the project page after the objection comment period and before the objection meeting. Kentucky Heartwood documented these discrepancies and alerted the agency that project documents were not forward-facing to the public.
What can citizens do now?
Kentucky Heartwood sent the letter below to the Regional Forester of the Southern Region (R8) requesting a review of the Blackwater project record for NEPA violations and lack of consultation with other federal agencies. As a citizen, please send a personal email to Regional Forester Ken Arney and include Forest Supervisor Scott Ray and Cumberland District Ranger Jon Kazmierski.
Please consider including the following requests in your email:
In reality, Environmental Impact Statements are the appropriate type of analysis for land assessments across the Daniel Boone National Forest. We saw the failure of Environmental Assessments with the South Redbird Wildlife Enhancement Project. We see the pending failures of an EA in Blackwater. We can expect that the same formula will fail in the Jellicos. We must speak up now or get muddled in meaningless processes protected by faulty Environmental Assessments.
The Forest Service is on the cusp of signing a decision! They need to hear from us. There is no deadline, but please get a comment in as soon as possible.
Please send your emails to:
Ken Arney, Regional Forester at email@example.com
Scott Ray, Forest Supervisor, Daniel Boone National Forest at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jon Kazmierski, Cumberland District Ranger at email@example.com
More landslides from logging in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Complaint submitted to Division of Water
Kentucky Heartwood has submitted a formal complaint to the Kentucky Division of Water after repeated failures by the Daniel Boone National Forest to stabilize or remediate multiple, ongoing landslides caused by logging in the Redbird District. Recent reconnaissance found that several major landslides previously documented and reported by Kentucky Heartwood have grown in size, and new ones have occurred. Large amounts of silt, rock, and other debris continue to be dumped into streams and on roadways. The complaint includes extensive ground and aerial imagery, along with detailed unit maps, showing how these landslides have developed and worsened over the past 16 months. The complaint be viewed at the end of this post.
The landslides at issue are a result of logging in the Group One project in the Redbird District in Clay and Leslie Counties. Most of the landslides begin on the full-bench skid roads bulldozed across very steep slopes. The Group One project was approved in 2008, after being withdrawn twice following administrative appeals by Kentucky Heartwood. The U.S. Forest Service has insisted that the effects of these landslides are minimal, with sedimentation only being a problem when it rains.
The agency has provided a wide range of bogus and shifting rationales for why landslides like those happening in the Group One project won’t happen in the recently approved and South Red Bird project. The South Red Bird project is directly adjacent to the Group One project, with the same types of slopes and geological hazards found in the Group One area. The South Red Bird project includes around 4,000 acres of logging with nearly 100 miles of full-bench skid roads to be bulldozed across steep slopes to haul out timber.
The Forest Service knew in 2008 when they approved the Group One project that there was a strong possibility of landslides resulting from their logging activities. But they failed to disclose this fact in the project record. Among the nearly 16,000 pages we recently acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, we found internal discussions about the propensity for landslides in the Redbird District. Among the records, former Daniel Boone NF soil scientist George Chalfant (who worked on the Environmental Assessment for the Group One project) provided a report to the current Daniel Boone NF soil scientist describing how and why the Redbird District is especially susceptible to landslides. He clearly describes in the report how logging and road building dramatically increase the chances of a landslide occurring. In an email he told current Forest Service staff that “I recall inventorying over 20 slides in clear cuts on the Red Bird and all but about 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.”
And now that landslides are happening, the Forest Service is refusing to take any responsibility. They continue to argue that these landslides are of no significance, and that there’s no connection with their logging and road building. Their only interest has been to move forward with South Red Bird project, quickly and aggressively. They’ve refused to incorporate any reasonable restrictions that would limit logging and road building on steep slopes and other highly susceptible locations. They’ve demonstrated a willingness to repeat the same mess, and put endangered species like the Kentucky arrow darter and snuffbox mussel at risk in order to maximize timber production at any cost.
As bad as this is, the work to protect Redbird isn’t over. Please consider supporting our efforts with a donation to Kentucky Heartwood, and be sure to sign up for emails to get updates on this and other projects. You can donate here. And join our email list here.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) recently issued final revised regulations that dramatically shortcut environmental review, and public input and oversight, on projects that include up to 2,800 acres of logging and 2 miles of new road construction. The changes in long-standing forest policy come as part of the Forest Service’s overhaul of its rules for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, or “NEPA.”
The changes to the Forest Service’s NEPA regulations come on the heels of a major revision of the NEPA regulations issued by the presidentially-appointed Council on Environmental Quality or “CEQ.” The CEQ regulations set the overarching rules and guidance that other federal agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, must abide by in setting their own procedures and duties.
Each of these revised rules (CEQ and USFS) serve to speed up the process of environmental review at the cost of public input and environmental protections. In the case of the Forest Service, it’s a means to get more timber out of the forest more quickly, and with fewer impediments. While the Forest Service reigned back on some truly audacious provisions in their proposed rule (issued in 2019), the final rule will undoubtedly lead to substantial damage to our national forest lands. Leadership at the Daniel Boone National Forest have already said that they plan to use the new authorities to speed up logging on Kentucky’s national forest.
One of the more damaging provisions will be the expedited review and approval of logging up to 2,800 acres of forest at a time, along with up to 2 miles of new road construction. Most of these large logging projects will now be exempt from review in an Environmental Analysis (EA) under what’s known as a “Categorical Exclusion,” or “CE.”
Categorical Exclusions were historically used for routine things like mowing lawns at administrative sites. However, over the last 20 years, the Forest Service has been granted more, and ever-larger, CE authorities for logging on national forest lands. By using a CE, the Forest Service will be able to propose and approve large logging projects after issuing just one brief description of their plans (a “scoping document”) with a short comment period (“scoping period”), followed by a formal decision to approve the project. Typically the Forest Service allows scoping comments on categorically excluded projects anywhere from 2 weeks to 30 days, though the duration isn’t spelled out in the law or regulations.
Most scoping documents, at least in the past, have provided specific locations where logging and other management activities are proposed. However, with the recent Blackwater project near Cave Run Lake, the Forest Service is testing a new system called “condition based management,” where the specific locations for logging won’t be disclosed or decided upon until after a decision is made approving the project. Throughout the analysis of the Blackwater project, the Forest Service has been unwilling to disclose where they will log, how much they will log, where they will build roads, or where they will implement possible stream restoration activities.
The Forest Service has also adopted a new mechanism called a “Determination of NEPA Adequacy,” or “DNA.” The DNA allows the Forest Service to decide that an existing, previous project analysis can be used in whole as the analysis for a new project if the agency believes the two projects to be similar. Using a DNA means that the Forest Service would approve a project without examining or surveying a project area for any unique, special, or sensitive natural communities and habitats. The Daniel Boone Forest Plan, adopted in 2004, acknowledges that the agency doesn’t know the location of every rare natural community, old-growth site, and other resources, and defers to project development as the time to acquire that information. The DNA basically assumes that everything is known, and that there is nothing important that could be harmed by logging, road building, or other management.
Until recently, scoping was typically followed by an in depth analysis of the project and its likely environmental impacts, coupled with opportunities for public input and scrutiny. This period of analysis, and the opportunity for input, have led to important changes and protections in several projects on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Examples of those changes include:
These are just a few examples of the important, substantive changes that happen to project proposals through the analysis and public comment opportunities associated with the Environmental Assessment process. The Forest Service’s new systems do away with these opportunities, and assume that there is no worthwhile information to be had.
And further complicating things, while the new Forest Service regulations state that projects using a CE or DNA will still be publicly scoped, the new CEQ regulations suggest that scoping is only required – and potentially only allowable – when an agency is preparing a full Environmental Impact Statement. Therefore it’s entirely possible that scoping will be done away with altogether. Eliminating scoping was part of the Forest Service’s draft regulations, and could surface again.
The new rule does state that logging projects using the new 2,800 acre CE “shall be developed or refined through a collaborative process that includes multiple interested persons representing diverse interests.” However, nowhere is “collaborative process” defined.
In September, 2020, the DBNF proposed the “Upland Forest Restoration Project” to log 2,990 acres of mostly white pine plantations in the London District under a CE authority granted in the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act as amended by the 2014 Farm Bill. That CE also requires that a project be developed through a “collaborative process.” However, there was no “collaborative process” through which the project was developed. Instead, the agency pointed to the few public meetings and field trips held as part of the Pine Creek project development. But nearly all of the logging in the Upland Forest Restoration Project lies outside of the Pine Creek analysis area, and nothing like the Upland Forest Restoration Project was discussed during the “collaborative” or analysis phases of the Pine Creek project. While the Forest Service did provide 30 days for submitting comments, the project was never included in the quarterly Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA).
Whether and how these rule changes (both USFS and CEQ) will change with the incoming Biden administration remains unclear. Undoing regulations is a lengthy and complicated process, and it is uncertain if the Biden administration is willing to prioritize the undoing of these terrible environmental rollbacks. It’s important to note that the Forest Service wants these authorities, and more, and the previous Obama administration tended to defer to the Forest Service on these types of issues.
The best hope for our forests, in the near future, are the various legal challenges underway against both the CEQ and USFS rules. Organizations like the Southern Environmental Law Center and Western Environmental Law Center, among others, have already moved forward with challenges to the CEQ rules with a focus on public lands protection. Legal challenges to the USFS rules are likely.
For now, the best defense that we have is a good offense. This means we need to be out in the forest as much as possible in anticipation of new logging, road building, and other development projects in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Recently, the Forest Service began developing a new proposal for the Jellico mountains along the Tennessee border. We expect the agency to propose about 2,000 acres of logging in the Jellicos, though we don’t know where. And, given statements from DBNF leadership, it’s likely that they’ll use their new CE authorities to rapidly approve an aggressive project.
Throughout 2020, Kentucky Heartwood made great strides to protect forests and native communities found around the Daniel Boone National Forest. Staff spent hundreds of hours in the field and covered thousands of acres documenting plants, old-growth and secondary old-growth, and landscape characteristics. Read on for our assessment of 2020 and what we anticipate for 2021!