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The Forest and the Trees

By: Eugenia Jones

National Forest Service proposes commercial logging in McCreary County


The U.S. Forest Service has proposed the use of commercial logging as one of sixteen tools in managing the Daniel Boone National Forest through the Greenwood Vegetation Management Project.  The project, if approved, will encompass more than 32,000 acres of National Forest Service land in McCreary and Pulaski Counties.

To Forest Service officials, the Greenwood Vegetation Management proposal is a project designed to assist them in managing the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) so that the health of the forest is improved and wildlife habitat is diversified.

To Kentucky Heartwood, a non-profit organization concerned about Kentucky native forests, the Greenwood Project, particularly in regards to commercial logging, is something to be stopped.

Regardless of one’s viewpoint of the project, if the Greenwood Vegetation Management proposal becomes a reality, there will be more commercial logging than has occurred in the last ten years in the Stearns Ranger District.   Commercial logging will take place in specific areas throughout 3,515 acres in McCreary and Pulaski Counties.  At least two thirds of the project will take place in McCreary County.

However, U.S. Forest Service Stearns Ranger District Ranger Tim Reed, is quick to point out that it is, in a sense, misleading to say the proposed commercial timber sale is the largest in a decade because the commercial logging and other activities will occur over a much larger than usual area and will occur over a period of several years.

For Reed and other Forest Service employees, the Greenwood Vegetation Management proposal is not a matter of logging, it is simply a step toward meeting the objectives of the most current, comprehensive Daniel Boone National Forest Plan updated in 2004.

“The Forest Plan serves as a road map leading to the type of forest desired in the future,” Reed stated.  “To meet the objectives of the plan, we do a comprehensive analysis to discover the existing conditions in the Forest.  Then we look at the plan’s stated goals for the future.  From that, we develop proposed actions to help us move the DBNF forward from what it is now to the type of forest we want in the future.  By looking at a larger area over a longer period of time, as in the Greenwood proposal, we can better plan and be more efficient.  We can have a more cumulative, positive effect.”

The proposal calls for sixteen specific actions including the thinning of forest plots to allow for better growth of dominant and fire-resilient trees, the cutting of undesirable stems to lessen competition for water, nutrients, and sunlight, the conversion of white pine plots to the better suited shortleaf pine, the use of herbicides to prepare wildlife openings and control non-native invasive plants, the establishment of wildlife water sources, and the use of prescribed burns to restore habitats for species such as bobwhite quail and to improve the area’s ability to recover from wildfires.  The proposal also calls for the establishment of more woodland forests.

Feeling the potential benefits of commercial logging do not outweigh the ecological impact, some groups, such as Kentucky Heartwood, are adamantly opposed to commercial logging in the DBNF.

“The Forest Service needs to emphasize areas other than commercial logging,” Jim Scheff, Director of Kentucky Heartwood declared.  “There is too much damage from soil disturbance, skidder trails, and other types of environmental impact from commercial logging on public lands.”

However, District Ranger Reed explained that careful commercial logging can be used as a tool to successfully reach the Forest Service’s goal of managing and producing a more healthy and resilient forest.

“By using commercial timber sales as a tool when it is appropriate and when market conditions are favorable, we are able to accomplish our goals and also put something back in the local and regional economy,” Reed stated.  “Regulations for our timber sales are very specific as to what can and cannot be done.”

Since many local people remember the clearcutting that occurred in the 1980s, some automatically associate commercial logging on the DBNF with clearcutting.

Reed explained that only a total of 120 acres of white pine plantations are under consideration for clearcutting in the Greenwood proposal.  The intended purpose of these clearcuts is to replace white pine plantations with fire adapted shortleaf pine.  As part of the Forest Plan, the action of restoring shortleaf pine will provide future habitat for Red Cockaded woodpeckers and other species such as pine snakes, prairie warblers, Indiana bats, and wild turkeys.  This action will also make the plantations more manageable through the use of fire and better able to withstand and recover from damaging wildfires.

In addition to the limited clearcuts, selective cutting and thinning within the forest are proposed in order to provide more appropriate habitats for diverse wildlife and also to improve the forest’s ability to withstand catastrophes. Fire resistant trees, such as shortleaf pine, white oak, hickory, and tulip poplar would be favored trees in the forest.

Temporary roads due to logging would be reseeded.

“From the visual standpoint, it will help immensely that we are not doing everything at once.  The project will be spread out over four to seven years,” Reed commented.  “Plus, we are required to meet all of the established regulations regarding how the forest will look after it is logged.”

The Greenwood Project also calls for the establishment of woodland on approximately 1,028 acres in 31 stands.  Since 2007, only 156 acres of woodland have been created in the DBNF.  The Freeman Fork Oak Woodland Restoration Project will restore 359 acres for a total of 515 acres.  The Forest Plan’s objective is to create 1,875-2,620 acres of woodland in the Cumberland River Management Area of the DBNF by 2014.

The current lack of woodland habitat in the DBNF is due, in part, to cutting/burning by early settlers, poor early logging practices, non-native insects and diseases, and fire suppression.  The proposed woodland establishment will move the forest closer to the desired goal of approximately 2,000 acres of woodland.

The proposal calls for wildlife openings to be planted and maintained, providing no till habitats for a wide assortment of plants and wildlife.  The areas would be planted with grasses and wildflowers with a particular emphasis on those that attract pollinators.  The Forest Service proposes the use of herbicides (glyphosate or triclopyr amine) to prepare wildlife opening sites and to attack non-native invasive plant species.  Typically, only one application of herbicide is required versus repeated manual methods that may require years of expense and labor.

Kentucky Heartwood is not opposed to the broad use of herbicides on 222 acres of wildlife openings and qualifies the use of herbicides only as a last resort.  Heartwood’s Scheff points to conflicting studies in regard to the safety of herbicides.  He expressed concern about some research which raises questions about the safety of inert ingredients added to herbicidal chemicals to make them more effective. Scheff does condone the use of some spot treatment when manual treatment is not effective.

According to the proposal, prescribed burns will restore certain ecosystems and improve habitat for quail and grouse.  Forest Service officials feel prescribed burns in the area will reduce forest fuel accumulation and allow firefighters to respond more quickly to damaging forest fires.

Heartwood’s Scheff recognizes the historical and mechanical evidence supporting the use of fire in managing the area.  However, his organization is advocating for a more cautious and targeted site approach to the burns rather than the 15,200 acres called for in the proposal.

In response to Heartwood’s position that priority should be given by Forest Service to the recreational use of the DBNF rather than logging, Reed clarified that the Greenwood Project is not a recreation project but one that focuses strictly on vegetation management and creating the desired forest conditions.  He reiterated that the proposed logging is simply a tool used to reach a more desirable forest.

“We have a lot going on in the recreation area including reconstruction of the Keno shooting range, trail improvement and maintenance projects on the Sheltowee, Buffalo Canyon and Rock Ridge trails, and our participation in trail town activities including a proposal to create a trail at the Laurel Creek reservoir.  We have also just completed a new trail bridge in cooperation with the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area on the Sheltowee where it connects with Lick Creek trail,” Reed commented.  “We’ve got lots going on with recreation, but Greenwood focuses on vegetation management.”

A final decision about the Greenwood Vegetation Management Project is not expected until late spring or summer of 2015.  After officials analyze comments received during the initial comment period and conduct the analysis, the draft Environmental Assessment will be released for a thirty day public notice and comment period.  Once comments are received and analyzed the final Assessment and a draft decision document will be available for a forty-five day objection period.  At the close of the objection period a final decision will be released to the public.

“The process of finalizing the project will continue for several more months, and I don’t expect a final decision until well into next year,” Reed said.  “For us, it just all goes back to the original objective of implementing the forest plan and moving in the direction of having a healthy, resilient forest with diverse wildlife habitats.”

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