Comments on the Pine Creek project are due by Monday, April 23rd. These are your public lands, and your voice matters. Directions on how to submit comments are at the bottom of this alert.
The Forest Service has proposed an initial 1,300 acres of logging to create early seral habitat (young forest conditions). Most of this logging will be in the form of even-aged shelterwood harvests, leaving 7 to 20 trees per acre in 40 acre patches. They also state that they plan to implement shelterwood harvests on 2,000 additional acres approximately 10 years after implementing the proposed midstory thinnings. Some proposed shelterwood logging is along the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. The combined 3,300 acres of intensive, even-aged logging represents our greatest concerns with the Pine Creek project.
Kentucky Heartwood often supports (or does not oppose) non-commercial midstory thinning, particularly in order to restore fire-adapted forest structure. However, most of the midstory thinning in the Pine Creek project aims to promote oak establishment in the understory in preparation for the next round of logging. The Forest Service could choose to approve a midstory reduction without subsequent logging, and allow turnover in the canopy to result from natural disturbance. Doing so could promote oak establishment over time while avoiding the damage caused by conventional logging. Early seral habitat is important for a wide range of species. However, this type of habitat is more sustainably created through the restoration of fire-adapted uplands and an acceptance of the role of natural disturbance in our forests.
The Forest Service is proposing to create or restore fire-adapted open forest and forest-grassland communities in the Pine Creek project area. Historical and botanical evidence suggest that these community types were important, and even extensive, in some parts of the project area. They plan to do this through 730 acres of commercial logging that would leave 5 to 40 trees per acre, along with another 160 acres of non-commercial felling. Implemented in the right locations with the right long-term management (particularly short fire return intervals), these natural communities can help support a variety of rare and declining plant and animal species. Most of the woodland and wooded grassland management is proposed for the southwestern section of the project area in Pulaski County, in an area that is generally appropriate for this type of management, and follows detailed discussions and field trips that included the Kentucky Heartwood, the Forest Service, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, and The Nature Conservancy. Kentucky Heartwood prefers that the Forest Service rely on natural disturbance, non-commercial felling, and prescribed fire to manage for these community types. We will need more time to examine the specific stands proposed for logging for woodland restoration in order to assess whether or not the sites chosen for logging are reasonable.
Kentucky Heartwood has been urging the Forest Service for several years to incorporate good data, surveys, and site-specific information into projects to conserve and enhance declining and rare botanical communities that rely on open, upland conditions. Many of these specific plants and natural communities are relegated to roadsides and powerline corridors, and do not benefit from typical timber harvests. While such information was largely ignored throughout the planning and analysis of the Greenwood project on the Stearns District, there appears to be a genuine effort in the Pine Creek project to support these remnants of the Cumberland Barrens through cooperative work that includes Kentucky Heartwood and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commissions.
The Pine Creek project area includes 830 acres of a roughly 2,200 acre Designated Old-Growth management area. However, like most Designated Old-Growth management areas in the forest, there’s little in the way of genuinely old woods included. The project area also includes another 11,000 acres of riparian and cliffline corridors that are largely excluded from logging, but represent narrow, linear features and not large blocks of forest. Kentucky Heartwood has urged the Forest Service for many years to delineate more old-growth prescription areas in an effort to conserve large sections of older secondary forest that could develop landscape-scale old-growth characteristics in coming decades. The Forest Service has proposed adding 500 acres of Designated Old-Growth in two areas within the Pine Creek project area, near Rock Creek and Angel Hollow. Both areas are good candidates, and should be designated for an old-growth emphasis in the Forest Plan. However, the additions are largely narrow zones in lower landscape positions supporting hemlock-mixed mesophytic forests, and do not include appreciable upland forests. We think that the Forest Service should expand the new Old-Growth Management areas to include appreciable upland forests. It is important to note that the Designated Old-Growth management prescription in the Forest Plan does not preclude the implementation of management activities. What is does mean is that any management that is done should be to support the development of old-growth forest ecosystems.
The Forest Service has proposed to restore shortleaf pine on 1,500 acres utilizing what we deem as some progressive and ecologically appropriate methods. Shortleaf pine was decimated by the southern pine beetle between 1999 and 2001. Previous approaches to shortleaf pine restoration, particularly those in the Greenwood project in the Stearns District, have relied heavily on logging healthy hardwood stands and planting pines in dense monocultures. The proposed action in the Pine Creek project would rely on noncommercial methods and planting trees in groups and interspersed with existing vegetation, better mimicking natural patterns.
The project area includes 9,300 acres of existing prescribed fire units that were approved in 2014. We believe that the evidence supports the use of prescribed fire in most of these areas. The Pine Creek proposal would add another 2,400 acres of prescribed fire in the project area. Some of the new areas we already know, and we support them being added to the prescribed fire program. Some areas we still need to evaluate, but generally do not have major concerns.
or sent by postal mail to:
Jason E. Nedlo
London District Ranger
761 South Laurel Road
London, Kentucky 40744
Be sure to include “Pine Creek Forest Restoration Project” in the subject line of any comments.