As 2016 winds down and we look toward a new year and new uncertainties, we mark a significant milestone. Next year will mark 25 years of Kentucky Heartwood’s effective, grassroots advocacy on behalf of Kentucky’s native forests and public lands. Over the past quarter-century our efforts have been instrumental in preventing logging on tens of thousands of acres of national forest lands, reducing the impacts of off-road vehicles, and blocking the sale of federally-owned coal. We’ve advocated and litigated on behalf of endangered species, brought thousands of people into the public lands process, and provided a voice and vision for wildness in the management of our public lands. Because of our work, and your support, big trees still stand in places like Little Egypt, Leatherwood Ford, and Pisgah Bay.
Despite our victories, our public forests face an uncertain future. In recent years we have seen the Forest Service move toward increasingly large federal timber sales in Kentucky and elsewhere. In a 2014 address to the timber lobbying group the American Forest Resource Council, former Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Tony Tooke, who is now in charge of all southeastern national forests as the Regional Forester, committed to increasing the size of national forest timber sales and more than tripling the scale of the largest projects. That same year we saw the Forest Service propose 4,000 acres of new logging in Land Between the Lakes and 3,600 acres of logging in the Daniel Boone – historically large projects for our forests. And we’re not alone in Kentucky. Last fall the Forest Service proposed a 5,600 acre logging project on the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania and a 46,000 acre logging project on the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.
Oil and gas development, including fracking, has also grown as a major threat to our public lands. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plan to lease over 30,000 acres of the Wayne National Forest in Ohio for fracking, and the same could happen here. And more than 60% of the Daniel Boone sits atop privately owned mineral reserves, with our national forest lands being developed to extract oil and gas in secret with little environmental review.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service’s total budget continues to shrink while the costs of fighting wildfires have ballooned, growing from 16% of the agency’s total budget in 1995 to 52% in 2015. This funding crisis threatens the agency’s ability to carry out crucial and necessary management activities, ranging from trails and campground maintenance to endangered species and rare habitat management – including efforts to save Kentucky’s hemlocks from extinction from the hemlock wooly adelgid.
And now we look to a new Congress, and a new president. Over the last several years the House and Senate have each passed bills to roll back public lands protections. Though stalled by partisan gridlock, provisions in these bills have ranged from allowing the Forest Service to clearcut thousands of acres without environmental review, to liquidating federal lands to allow for unrestricted energy and resource development. Every indication is that Congress and the President-elect are prepared to move forward quickly to dismantle the frameworks that provide any semblance of balance in the management of our federal public lands.
But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As a long-time forest advocate and friend wrote shortly after the election, “We’ve been here before and know defense better than anyone.” The time is coming to dig in our heels and protect our public lands, perhaps like never before. And we need you to help us do it.
Kentucky Heartwood remains the only environmental organization consistently monitoring and responding to management across Kentucky’s national forest lands. If you read our newsletter or follow us on Facebook then you know about some of the places we’ve worked to protect – places like Little Egypt, Pisgah Bay, Greenwood, Climax, and Spring Creek. You may also know of the species we’ve advocated for, like the Kentucky arrow darter, Indiana bat, white fringeless orchid, and eastern hemlock. But there’s a great deal that we do that you may not know about.
- We review every management proposal by the U.S. Forest Service for both the Daniel Boone National Forest and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Prescribed burns, trail reroutes, mine reclamation, invasive species treatments, special use permits, stream restoration projects, and remediation of old clearcuts are just some of the management proposals that we review and submit comments on. We make sure that the Forest Service is properly analyzing the impacts of their actions, that rare species and special places are properly considered, and we encourage the agency to move forward with positive, proactive actions to protect and restore our public lands.
- We cover thousands of acres in the field every year, because we can’t effectively advocate for the land if we don’t know it. We travel all over the state to field-examine timber sale proposals, monitor logging projects and prescribed burns, document rare species and habitats, scout for old-growth, and explore areas of high conservation value. While it’s great to spend a day in the woods, it’s hard work. Traversing steep slopes, belly-crawling through thickets, pushing through briars, and collecting ticks, chiggers, cuts, and scrapes are all part of the work. And the driving miles add up.
- We monitor private oil and gas development on split estate lands in the Daniel Boone through regular Freedom of Information Act requests and site visits. There are hundreds of active oil and gas wells in our national forest, along with associated infrastructure including storage tanks, access roads, pump houses, powerlines, and gathering lines – all approved without any notice to the public and little environmental review.
- We are actively engaged with national, regional, and local forest protection organizations and activists around the country, sharing information, strategies, and perspectives on protecting our public lands. We work with groups in Washington, D.C. to stay up to date on legislative and regulatory developments and provide a Kentucky perspective, and often join in letters to legislators to express concerns and provide analyses of federal lands legislation.
- As much as we are able, we follow and advocate on issues affecting National Park lands and other important public and private forestlands in Kentucky. For example, we recently analyzed and provided detailed comments on new oil and gas regulations affecting Big South Fork and Cumberland Gap, and are now fighting Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Pipeline, which threatens the exceptional and rare aquatic diversity of the Green River as it runs through Mammoth Cave National Park. We also monitor trends in private forest management in Kentucky, and advocated strongly against the forest-burning EcoPower biomass power plant in Hazard.
- And whether it’s public meetings or in the field, email or phone conversations, we spend a lot of time communicating with Forest Service personnel. We need to be sure that our perspectives are voiced, and we need to understand what the Forest Service is doing and why. In this age of treating those we disagree with as “other,” it’s important that we recognize that Forest Service personnel are human beings who, despite our differences, love our public lands, forests, and wildlife in many of the same ways as we do. They have a hard job in a troubled agency. And to be heard we need to listen.
We need your help.
Most larger organizations employ full-time “development” staff for year-round fundraising and promotion. They have people whose job it is to build membership, court major donors, meet with foundations, and send those fundraising emails that fill your inbox. We don’t have that. Small organizations like ours simply don’t have the resources needed to fundraise at that level, and to substantially grow our capacity, reach, and impact. What we do have is you. And you are all that we need.
So today I have three things to ask of you:
1) Please consider making an extra donation this year
Your continued donations are what keep us going. Less than a quarter of our budget is from supporting foundations like Patagonia and the Fund for Wild Nature, with the majority of our resources coming from our members. The fact is that few foundations support the type of ecocentric advocacy that we engage in – this is a problem for the national forest protection movement as a whole. Your individual support is the backbone sustaining the work that we do. And all donations to Kentucky Heartwood are tax deductible.
2) Ask a friend to join
Over the past five years we have nearly tripled our membership to over 600 people, building our base and growing our reach. This directly affects what we can do as an organization. With hundreds of thousands of people visiting the Daniel Boone National Forest every year, we know that there are many more forest-loving people who would value and support the work of Kentucky Heartwood if given the opportunity. Imagine the impact if every member of Kentucky Heartwood were to get just one new person to join! So please consider asking a friend or family member to join Kentucky Heartwood, or consider gifting them a membership for the holidays. You can download our membership form to complete a membership through the mail, or you can always donate and become a member through our website.
3) Help us connect with major donors
Whether it’s $500 or $7 and a kind note, every donation matters to us. And in the difficult times it’s your support and encouragement that carries us forward. But major donors are an essential part of the budget for most organizations. And the fact is that we’re not well connected. If you know someone who values our public forests and wildlands, and is economically fortunate and in a position to give, please consider introducing us. We are efficient, effective, and perform a valuable service unmet by any other organization in Kentucky. If this is something that you may be able to help with, please call us at 859-334-0602 or email email@example.com.
Whatever our politics and wherever we’re from, Americans have a deep and abiding love of our public lands. And it’s no different here in Kentucky. They are a legacy gifted to us by our forebears, and a promise to future generations. Our public wildlands are part of who we are, and we will fight to defend them.
Thank you for being part of Kentucky Heartwood. We’ll see you in the woods.
Jim Scheff, Director