Forest Service Begins Analysis of Jellico/Little Rock Creek Area
By Eugenia Jones
Photos by Eugenia Jones
The United States Forest Service is gathering information relevant to potential projects in the Jellico Area including Little Rock Creek and Stephens Knob. The area is home to some of the highest elevation points in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service recently held a virtual public meeting as a first step in the process of conducting analysis of management needs of an area known locally as the Jellico Area. Approximately 60% of the area is in southeastern McCreary County and encompasses the Little Rock Creek area near Hayes and Osborne Creek. The meeting was the first attempt to connect with the public.
“This meeting is not to discuss a specific project because nothing has been proposed,” Stearns District Ranger Tim Reed said. “This is about the Forest Service getting thoughts on management needs of the area to help formulate proposed actions in the future. Input from the public is important to us. We want to hear people’s thoughts and ideas.
Reed explained the Integrated Resource Management Strategy (IRMS) is a planning and decision-making process taking into account the many interests and issues within the forest while finding ways to close the gap between existing conditions and desired future conditions of the forest as detailed in the Forest Plan.
“We want the Jellico IRMS Assessment to ensure the area remains a healthy part of the Daniel Boone National Forest for years to come,” Reed stated.
Stearns Ranger District Silviculturist, John Hull, provided a description of the existing conditions of the potential project area. He noted the majority of Forest Service property in the Jellico Area was acquired in the 1940s when forest management (including timber stand improvement and timber harvests) quickly began and steadily increased until the 1990s. Hull further explained that timber management ceased in the 1990s due to litigation from Kentucky Heartwood and other reasons, such as revision of the Forest Plan. Other than small amounts of timber salvage from storm blowdown, no Forest Service vegetation management activities have occurred in the area for the past 21 years. The area is mountainous with steep slopes and has some of the highest elevations on the DBNF. Elevation in the area ranges from about 1,000 feet to over 2,200 feet.
Hull highlighted both past and ongoing disturbances that have occurred in the area. Past disturbances include timber harvests, timber stand improvements, and a Southern pine beetle epidemic in the early 2000s. Ongoing disturbances include sporadic wildfires, storm damage/blowdown, lightning, timber theft, legal and illegal off highway vehicles, non-native invasive species such as tree of heaven, and harmful insects such as the emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly adelgid.
According to Hull, the area is dominated by oak and poplar-oak trees and is lacking in pine due to the pine beetle epidemic in the early 2000s and because hardwood has outcompeted pine on higher quality sites. Most of these sites have transitioned to hardwood. Approximately 91% of the area’s 19,185 acres is dominated by oak or poplar-oak. The area, except for roads, is nearly one hundred percent forested with approximately 71% of the area’s forest over 80 years old. No 0-20 year old forest has been documented.
There are four Forest Plan prescription areas with similar resource conditions and management needs within Jellico. The four, each with a desired future outcome, are: cliffline community (1,380 acres), riparian corridor (2,759 acres), designated old-growth (2,217 acres), and habitat diversity emphasis (13,021 acres). Hull’s presentation noted there are existing opportunities to increase overall diversity of structure, age, and species composition based on the Forest Plan.
During the meeting, District Archaeologist, Melissa Ramsey, provided a brief description of the historical human uses of the area before it was acquired by the Forest Service. Her description included use of the area by Native Americans, loggers, miners, and homesteaders. Laurie Smith, District Recreation, Engineering, Lands and Minerals Staff, gave a description of existing roads, their condition, and other information pertaining to the transportation system in the area. Smith also gave a brief summary of minerals status such as number of gas wells.
Stearns District Wildlife Biologist Joe Metzmeier discussed wildlife in the area. Metzmeier said it is possible to find Rafinesque bats and green salamanders at the cliffline and noted interesting species of birds, such as the gold wing warbler, can be found at higher elevations over 2,000 feet. Several segments of streams in the area have been designated as critical habitat for aquatic species such as the Cumberland Darter. Metzmeier stated hunting with dogs for coon and squirrel is popular in the area. While deer and turkey are evenly distributed throughout Jellico, ruffed grouse and bear populations are not well established.
U.S.F.S. officials fielded questions from the public including questions regarding potential logging, recreational development, management of invasive species, and existing wildlife in the Jellico area.
Forest Service officials will continue gathering data and information regarding the existing condition of the Jellico area. Then, they will examine the Forest Plan to determine desired future condition for the area’s forest. Comparison will be made between the current, existing condition of the area and desired future condition. At that point, project proposals will be developed in an effort to move the Jellico area towards the desired future conditions.