The Forest Service has decided not to move forward with 120 acres of proposed salvage logging at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area as part of the Birmingham Ferry Salvage project. Instead of implementing timber sales across seven units in the Birmingham Ferry and Cravens Bay areas, the Forest Service has approved plans to cut and leave damaged trees within 75 feet of existing roads and recreation infrastructure. Firewood permits may be issued to the public after safety issues are addressed. This decision closely follows recommendations made to the Forest Service by Kentucky Heartwood and our partners in the Coalition for the Preservation of Land Between the Lakes. The Forest Service proposed the project under a “Categorical Exclusion” or “CE,” allowing for only one comment period and no Environmental Assessment. Through an analysis of various map data, Kentucky Heartwood discovered that the Forest Service had failed to disclose that the harvest areas included portions of two Core Areas – special areas generally off-limits to logging. The Core Areas were originally designated as part of LBL’s designation as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve while under management by the Tennessee Valley Authority (LBL would be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service in 1998). The Core Area designations were carried forward in to the LBL Area Plan.
Blowdown area in Pisgah Bay Core Area
The tornado impacts in the Core Areas, as well as most other parts of the project area, were scattered and limited. We observed no real “stand replacing” disturbance in our surveys. While some large and old trees came down singly or in groups, the level of disturbance we witnessed reflects normal forest developmental processes. The formation of canopy gaps and additions of large-diameter standing and down dead wood in the forest are integral to the development of old-growth forest structure and function – the stated management emphasis for Core Areas. The main impacts of concern, had the salvage logging moved forward, stem from the ground disturbance necessary to remove the timber. While the Forest Service did not include this information in the initial proposal, they would have had to construct log landings and temporary roads through the forest to remove the fallen or damaged trees. Soil compaction, the spreading of invasive species into forest interiors, and aesthetic changes would have been among the expected impacts.
Approximately 180 year-old white oak cut in cleanup near Pisgah Bay
This welcome decision comes amidst early work toward a new and more cooperative approach to timber and heritage management at LBL. In November the Forest Service approached Kentucky Heartwood and the Coalition with a preliminary proposal to transition to logging only non-native loblolly plantations established by TVA with generated funds used, in part, to help the Between the Rivers community establish interpretive signage to memorialize their history. With approximlately 6,000 acres of loblolly at LBL, this work could go on for more than a decade. We’ll be writing more on that proposal as things develop, so stay tuned.