We want to tell you about an opportunity to make a positive impact. The Jellico Vegetation Management Project is a massive logging project that the Forest Service announced last month. The current proposal includes the logging of 10,000 acres on the southern border of Kentucky just to the west of I-75 between Williamsburg and Whitley City.
The Forest Service has proposed to log about 5,000 acres as clearcuts. There are 3 forms of clearcuts that are proposed and are referred to in the Forest Service documents as clearcuts, deferment, and shelterwood harvests. The project is planned to take an unheard of 40 years and log half of the total land area of the national forest on Jellico Mountain.
INTERACTIVE MAP OF JELLICO PROJECT
Map and Legend by staff Ecologist, Jim Scheff.
Locals brought up serious concerns about the project causing landslides and heavy erosion into creeks where community members live. Others were worried the Forest Service’s logging would intensify flooding that is already causing the destruction of homes around the National Forest. Others questioned the need for so much logging when they value mature and intact forest. Many folks asked where all the money generated from the logging would be going. District Ranger Tim Reed explained it would be going to the “US Treasury ” which was a roundabout way to say it pays a small fraction of the Forest Service’s budget.
The Forest Service said they had never seen such a well attended town hall meeting. Several news outlets covered the town hall meeting making an even bigger platform for public’s concerns. This included TV Coverage in Knoxville, and the follow newspaper coverage:
- ‘This will destroy this whole region for years,’ resident tells U.S. Forest Service – The News Journal
- Front Page the Times Tribune
- Front Page The McCreary County Voice
Kentucky Heartwood’s own concerns align with the community. We are inspired to see people standing up for their public forests. One of the best ways you can stand up for forests is to submit a public comment to the Forest Service, because they are required to incorporate your feedback into their final plans for the Jellico project area.
Comments are due Monday, December 5th by 11:59pm and we are working toward a goal of 100 comments submitted!
Whether you live in the area or enjoy recreating in the National Forest, let the Forest Service know how logging will affect you and the things you care about. Be specific. It is as simple as following this link and filling out the online form OR calling the Forest Service at (606) 376-5323 and telling them you want to leave a comment on the Jellico project. Thanks for following along on this exciting journey!
Here are some technical details that may be helpful to include in comments:
The Jellico mountains are steep, and the soils are unstable. This has already caused landslides in the area, including landslides on private lands that have been logged. Community members live downhill of high-risk areas. Keeping the trees in the forest is the best way to hold soil in place and lessen the risk of landslides. In addition to destroying property and roads, landslides can dump erosion into streams. Streams in the Jellicos are home to endangered species such as the Cumberland Darter and Blackside Dace which are protected by federal law.
The Forest Service’s slope data demonstrates the seriousness of this issue. According to the table within the slope data document, the majority of the potential logging sites average 50% slope with some as high as 75%. These steep slopes intersect 2 or 3 coal beds. Coal beds under steep, logged slopes have high landslide risk as trees’ roots decay.
Further evidence for landslide risks is provided by USDA soil data, which was created to rate the soils’ suitability for use with timber harvest equipment. The data shows that soils in the proposed harvest area are low strength and almost the entire Jellico region is rated as the poorest suitability level for using timber harvest equipment.
Mature forest helps soak up water. Catastrophic flooding occurred in the Jellicos as recently as July 30th, 2022. If the mountains are made bare with clearcuts, more water will find its way into the valleys where people live worsening flash flooding.
The proposed logging includes hundreds of acres of forest that could qualify as old-growth (over 120 years old). None of this older forest is protected in the area’s “Designated Old Growth” area despite meeting tree size and age requirements according to the Forest Service’s own guidance on old growth. According to work done in the area by expert dendrochronologist, Justin Maxwell, tree ages of one stand were found to be even older than the Forest Service estimated, with trees over 200 years old.
Logging mature and old growth forest stands not only creates problems for local community members, but also has negative consequences for the whole nation and even the world. This is because logging releases greenhouse gasses. The Forest Service needs to use the most recent science which shows that logging releases large amounts of greenhouse gasses when considering the environmental impact of this project (source)
Forests in the Jellico area that were logged in the 1990’s have become heavily invaded with non-native Tree of Heaven, with some areas having as high as ¾ of the canopy. One of the best ways to control this invasive species is to not log the forest as it thrives on disturbance. Disturbance will also bring in other invasives such as autumn olive, which is already prevalent on private properties in the area.
The image below is from the Stearns Ranger District in the Jellico area. This forest was supposed to be stewarded by the U.S. Forest Service, but after being clearcut this area was all but abandoned and forgotten. These invasive trees are now maturing and dropping seed, only furthering their abundance. If the forest service clearcuts more of this forest, we are sure to see the invasive Tree of Heaven and other invasives dominating the landscape. Clearcuts without stewardship lead to more destruction and herbicide use in the future.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife data, the Jellico Mountain area is home to at least 17 endangered species and 12 migratory bird species of concern. One of these endangered species, the Cumberland Darter (Etheostoma susanae) is only found in isolated populations in the upper Cumberland River system of Kentucky and Tennessee, and does not exist anywhere else in the world. In Kentucky, 13 streams in McCreary and Whitley counties, are considered “critical habitat” for this fish, and much of this habitat is in the Jellico project area.
If you have any further questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post or email email@example.com.
Help us reach our goal of 100 public comments by December 5th!