Comments on the Environmental Assessment for the “Improving Conditions in the Blackwater Watershed” are due this Friday, December 27, by 11:59 pm. This comment period comes on the tail of the South Redbird comment period and approval of the Pine Creek project. Together these projects would approve about 8,000 acres of logging on the Daniel Boone National Forest.
The Blackwater project would approve logging on 1,200 acres per decade, forever, on national forest lands on the east side of Cave Run Lake. In a new twist, the Forest Service wants to approve this open-ended logging project without first identifying any specific locations where they will actually sell the timber, build roads, or perform other management. Instead, the Forest Service is attempting a new (and legally problematic) process called “condition-based management.” Under this new system, the Forest Service won’t provide any site-specific information or analyze site-specific effects before determining if there will be any major environmental impacts and, ultimately, approving the project. The Forest Service says that they will involve the public in identifying areas for logging after their formal decision is made to approve project – despite having worked for over the past three years to develop this proposal. Does this make sense to you?
The Blackwater proposal includes three Proposed Actions:
The first Proposed Action is logging “to support wildlife by providing a diversity of forest conditions.” Most of this logging will be large, even-aged shelterwood harvests where most of the trees in any given site will be cut. Log landings and skid roads will be constructed. The logging is proposed across large zones totaling about 12,000 acres. Logging could happen just about anywhere in these 12,000 acres with the exception of cliffline and riparian buffers. The Forest Service states that they may build an undisclosed mileage of new roads in undisclosed locations, but that this is not significant because it will be offset by closing a similar mileage of other undisclosed roads.
Kentucky Heartwood has been collecting data from sites previously logged on the Cumberland District, and across the Daniel Boone National Forest, demonstrating that the Forest Service’s logging program has resulted in degraded forests – converting them from largely oak and hickory dominated forests to red maple and tulip poplar. The Blackwater proposal includes no management to restore previously logged areas.
The second Proposed Action is to improve access to the national forest “by enhancing parking and upgrading road maintenance to allow for more public motor vehicle use.” The Forest Service only provides one map showing road segments where “enhancements” and “upgrades” might happen. Conveniently, these same road sections will need upgrading to haul timber. The Forest Service also states that some gated roads “may be considered for seasonal opening to motorized traffic.” But they do not say which segments, whether they will open them, when, or what the effects will be. Again, this is the level of detail being provided in the full Environmental Assessment, which is the basis for making a final decision on the project.
The third, and last, Proposed Action is “Improving water quality through stream restoration and stream crossing improvements.” This could be great. But it’s really not clear. The Forest Service provides one map showing what we estimate to be about 16.8 miles of streams in nine watersheds where restoration “may” and “could” occur. No specific stream lengths, prioritization of sites, or other benchmarks are provided. But, as with logging, the Forest Service treats this lack of detail and clarity as if it doesn’t matter. The Forest Service could restore 0.5 miles in just one stream, or 16.8 miles across 9 watersheds, and it’s all treated the same in the Environmental Assessment.
Prescribed fire is not included as a Proposed Action in the proposal. However, the Forest Service refers to prescribed fire in one table in the Silviculture Report, where they indicate what returning intervals will be used. And the Hydrology Report describes prescribed fire as part of the proposal, recognizing that firelines will be constructed. However, nowhere else in the Environmental Assessment is prescribed fire discussed. It’s not included among the Proposed Actions, and there are no maps showing where prescribed fire would occur. Prescribed fire could be beneficial. It might not be. Prescribed fire affects forest structure, regeneration, species composition, and wildlife in differential ways. The details matter. Either the Forest Service is proposing to approve prescribed fire, and in specific locations, or they’re not. This mushy, opaque analysis is simply not acceptable.
It is important for people to submit comments on this proposal. You don’t have to be intimately familiar with this part of the Daniel Boone National Forest to have valid, authentic input on this proposal. These are your public lands. It is especially important that the Forest Service receive comments opposing their use of the “condition based management” approach. The Forest Service needs to provide a specific proposal, with specific management objectives in specific places. If they can’t provide this level of detail then they’re not ready to make an informed decision to approve and implement the project.
The reality is that the Forest Service is trying to get out bigger logging projects, and more quickly, without having the fiscal and personnel resources to do a thorough and appropriate analysis. So they’re taking shortcuts to get their numbers up, and not just here in Kentucky. Right now the Forest Service is working to approve 60,000 acres of logging across 160,000 acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia under this same “condition based management” system, failing to provide site specific information about what they plan to do and where. The Forest Service is also working to amend their regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to codify “condition-based management” as the way forward for analyzing timber projects on national forest lands across the country.
Comments on the Blackwater need to be submitted to the Forest Service by Friday, December 27th.
Comments can also be submitted by postal mail to:
District Ranger Jonathan P. Kazmierski
2375 KY 801 South
Morehead, KY 40351
Attn: Improving conditions in the Blackwater Watershed
Also, please note that commenting on this blog post does not send your comment to the Forest Service.
If you value this work, please consider donating to Kentucky Heartwood. The Forest Service’s decision to release multiple large projects at the end of the year has really hindered our end-of-the-year fundraising efforts. We’re a small group, and every bit helps. You can donate on our website here. Thanks!