Vigorous response to Jellico Vegetation Management Proposal
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McCreary Countians and others respond during public comment period
McCreary Countians were among those who responded vigorously by either opposing or seeking modifications to the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Jellico (& Little Rock Creek Area) Vegetation Management Project during the proposal’s public comment period, which ended earlier this month
Approximately 300 public comments, the majority voicing opposition or seeking modifications to the proposal, were submitted to the proposal’s website during the project’s official public input period. Public input was sought as part of the project’s scoping process and will be used by the Forest Service to help determine the appropriate scope of environmental analysis to conduct. All of the submitted comments became part of the public record.
If implemented as proposed, the project will impact approximately 5,000 acres in Whitley County and approximately 5,000 acres in McCreary County.
According to the Stearns Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF), the Jellico/Little Rock Creek area is transitioning to mature (81 years and older) forest. Their data indicates approximately 72 percent of the project area is mature forest which typically exhibits a closed canopy with an understory and/or midstory layer. Under current management, apart from some small, isolated areas, the entirety of the area is trending towards mature forest. Because of this, the biodiversity provided by young (0-30 years old) and mid-aged (31-80 years old) forest is being lost.
According to the Forest Service, the project has been proposed to counteract the area’s old growth trend and increase area biodiversity by providing a mix of habitat for flora and fauna by adjusting conditions so that all desired age classes, structures, and species are represented throughout the area.
The action proposed by the Forest Service consists of silvicultural treatments and road work that would be implemented over the next 40 years, or from approximately 2023 to 2063. Silvicultural treatments would occur across 256 stands of timber encompassing about 9,800 acres. Road work would also occur. Activities proposed for the area include: Timber harvests (clearcut, two-aged shelterwood, deferment harvest, thinning, salvage), intermediate vegetation treatments (including herbicides and/or cutting tools), and road work.
A sampling of the comments posted by McCreary Countians and others are as follows. (In some cases, comments are shortened due to space limits.)
“I am very concerned about this project. My farm joins the prescribed area on Osborne Creek. I have close to 150 acres. Osborne Creek flows out of this mountain through the middle of my farm. According to the map, most of the mountains will be clear cut behind my farm. I understand there may be a need to select cut, and I do not have issue with that, but I have very much an issue with clear cutting. From my experience, this mountain will become an eyesore to look at. The creek will have constant silt running through it. And then the danger of mud slides. They did basically this same project on the mountain behind my father’s farm in Tennessee. It is a nasty mess. One cannot even navigate through what used to be forest. And the worst part was the flooding and mudslides that it caused. Homes and personal property were lost when the spring rain came. Lawsuits are still going on from home owners. I am against any form of clear cutting. Very concerned.” Bruce Dixon-McCreary County
“I am opposed to this project. Particularly the clear cutting of timber. Having lived and recreated in this area for my entire life, I’ve seen first-hand the devastation-not just to the land where the clear cuts happen but the surrounding areas from runoff, the destruction of wildlife habitats, the eyesore it creates. It takes some nerve to even speak of payments in lieu of taxes, as you have. The amounts paid are not nearly enough. Our county is roughly 85% public land. How can we build a tourism economy, which is our only option given that 80+% of the land here is owned by the government when the land will look like a war zone? I live through the last deforestation of the Hayes Creek area, and I hope never to see such again. Forests can be managed without clear cuts and the damage they cause.” Joel Combs-McCreary County
“Our concern is that there is an unestablished boundary line between our property and U.S. Forest Service property…” Nick, Brenda, Eddie Baird-McCreary County
“I am highly opposed to the Jellico Vegetation Management Project. My family has enjoyed the use of these mountains for over four generations, it is part of our heritage. I was born and raised in these mountains, and I know how many people use and roam through these mountains. There are only a few resources left in McCreary/Whitley Counties such as camping, ATV recreation, hiking and tourism. By stripping these mountains of their timber and natural beauty there will be no reason for people to come to this area. Not only will it hurt the economy in the area, the environmental impact will be devastating, cue to the steep terrain to access the timber. You will have landslides and silt material will fill the creeks and streams. These mountains many not mean anything but money to some people but to the people that live here, it’s part of our way of life. It shouldn’t be left up to a bunch of people that are not even from here to decide what happens to the mountain…” Johnnie Baird-McCreary County
“As a resident of McCreary County, I have lived through a variety of natural disasters where land stewardship exacerbated or mitigated the impacts. As an environmentalist and self-admitted tree-hugger, I don’t doubt the value of the Forest Service in making life better for both the wildlife and the civilized critters of these hills and hollers.
I am highly concerned about the Jellico project. It presents a few issues that I don’t feel the Forest Service has adequately addressed.
The first is the weakness of steep topsoils in absence of our largest trees. Landslides and creek pollution have already destroyed so many hills, homes and waterways in Appalachia, including those beside my own house…
…My second concern is economic. While these lands aren’t being actively exploited for tourism and won’t be used for commercial development afterwards, I fear that 40 years of private logging represents just more value leaving the county…
…I am also worried about the increase in invasive species…
…My final concern is post-cut stewardship. In several places I have seen the Forest Service promise to regrow the land natively and healthily after cutting or after forest fires, and after each one, little to nothing is done. Excuses are rare, and often cite budget cuts. In an era of climate change and end-stage capitalism, those budget cuts are only likely to grow. Even now, there are spots along Hwy 90 in Parkers Lake where loggers cleared strips and hillsides, but even a year later, not a single reclamatory action appears to have been taken…” Steven Taylor-McCreary County
“…My concern is not only that this project would utterly destroy the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains, it would seriously impact my land. Osborne Creek runs through my farm for half a mile. If you clearcut Little Rock Creek mountain, there is no question in my mind that Osborn Creek will be prone to flooding, reducing my ability to enjoy and use my fields and bottomland…I studied environmental and agricultural history at Mississippi State University. I finished a PhD in that field and wrote a dissertation explaining how poor government choices and modern, corporate American have consistently ruined the economy and ecology of rural Kentucky since the end of the Civil War…So, what’s the problem at hand? First, few if any residents in this community want this project to move forward. Second, there is little science to prove the project is the best option for proper forest management in Appalachian terrain. Third, the environmental history of southern Appalachia repeatedly shows that clearcutting is a bad idea (and probably most of the thinning envisioned, as well)…What’s an alternative solution? To be blunt, leave it alone. The noise and land pollution that would be caused by your machines, the loss of beauty inherent to these mountains, the vast potential for flooding and herbicide damage to private property is not worth whatever the Forest Service sees as “necessary” or “beneficial” for the management of these forests. The costs are too high. Count the costs.
The USFS motto is “Caring for Land and Serving People.” Prove it.”
Dr. Alan Harrelson-McCreary County
“I am against the Jellico/Rock Creek logging project. There is no good reason to log these areas. Vegetation management is not necessary. These places were almost and some were destroyed by mining. Leave the forest as it is. Logging has destroyed my area I live. (Blue John Road, Burnside,KY) It also destroyed my road and my tires. The environmental mess they make, they leave it. Oil, transmission fluid and other (especially the herbicides they spray) kill animals and people. This is a bad situation for everyone and everything. Stop logging the Daniel Boone National Forest. Stop making the loggers rich off of our Forest.” Joanne Hill-Pulaski County (near McCreary County boundary)
“I am 100% against the clearcutting of the Daniel Boone national forest specifically this project. There is absolutely no need for clearcutting. It will only destroy God’s beautiful land! Clearcutting will cause landslides let alone, the pesticides that will be used will poison our animals are fish and anything else living in the creek. This will also destroy our organic gardening, and damage our grazing land. Every day, we see blue herons enjoying the creek, hawks and an occasional bald eagle fly over the valley. We also see foxes, coyotes and bear. Our sheep, horses and chickens are grazed as well. Clear cutting will create nothing but mud and wash away all nutrients from our soil.” Gina Hasty-McCreary County
“I am totally against clear cutting. I live downstream from these mountains, and I already get flooded during heavy rains. But, my land has not always flooded. My dad grew up not far from where I live. In 2005 my property and the road flooded so badly the fire dept. came to monitor the roads. Dad, who was 70 at that time, said he had never seen that happen. And it has happened several times since then. This is a direct result of cutting timber and coal mining that has occurred in this area in the last 20 years. If this land is clear cut I am afraid of the disastrous effect it will have on ALL of us in this area. Please. No Clear Cut.” -Beverly McKnight-McCreary County
“Concerning the possible vegetation management in the Jellico area of the USFS including near my residence on Osborne Creek. Let me first state that I’m not anti-logging or anti-USFS. I’ve had friends and family work for both. I’m concerned about the possible clearing of the proposed 10,000 acres of woodlands in our area. I’ve lived here most of my life. We’ve already had several logging projects in the area with several occurring now. I honestly think any large scale logging in the future especially that many acres would be detrimental to the residents here and to any further developments that may occur with the new bypass opening up (Hwy 92) between Pine Knot and Williamsburg. Please reconsider the proposal now set forth by either scrapping the project or by scaling it back. I truly believe there are some other ways we can accomplish this by working together… “ Michael Neal-McCreary County
Although the comments and objections overwhelmingly called for cancellation or modification of the proposed project, there were some comments, such as the following, in support of the Jellico Vegetation Management Project.
“My name is Tristan Moorehead. I am an Arborist with Kentucky Utilities and also a wildlife biologist. When looking through this project proposal, I am convinced of both its importance and significance. I believe, even through some of my independent research, that this area with the right habitat management could be an amazing and successful area for Ruffed Grouse. I also have some independent projects going on in the McCreary County area. I currently have a habitat reconstruction project going on within some of our utility right of ways. We are converting roughly 30 acres of suboptimal habitat into pollinator habitat, creating an early successional habitat that is beneficial to Ruffed Grouse among many other species. With the partnership that I created with the Forest Service on Daniel Boone down there I think there are even future opportunities for lining up projects. I am extremely excited about the future for this area!” -Tristan Moorehead
“On behalf of the Ruffed Grouse Society, American Woodcock Society, and our members, I thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Jellico Vegetation Management Project…Urgent action is needed at the landscape scale, above and beyond localized habitat improvement efforts, to halt the decline in ruffed grouse and other forest wildlife in eastern Kentucky before it is too late…Nowhere is this conservation need greater than the Daniel Boone National Forest. According to the Forest’s 2021 Biennial Monitoring and Evaluation Report, there’s currently only 0.34% young forest conditions across the Forest…Our societies support the intent of this project to increase the proportion of young forest habitat in the Jellico project area….(We) commend the Forest Service on their efforts to restore young forest habitat at biologically significant scales. We are excited about seeing the project move forward, and thank you again for the opportunity to comment.” Nick Biemiller, Forest Conservation Director Southern Appalachian Region
According to Stearns District Ranger Tim Reed, the proposal is still in the early phases and public comment is part of the public scoping needed for identifying issues. Reed is appreciative of the public input.
“We consider all comments and then begin environmental assessment of the potential actions. All potentially affected resources will be analyzed before any decisions are made,” Reed said.
The timeline to complete analysis and environmental assessment for the proposal is tentatively anticipated in June, 2023.
Several McCreary Countians (some of whom are pictured above) attended a recent public meeting and spoke out against the Jellico Vegetation Project. During the official public input period which ended earlier this month, approximately 300 responses, including those from McCreary Countians, became part of the public record. The majority of responses were in opposition of the project as it is currently proposed.