Kentucky Heartwood files lawsuit challenging nearly 3,800 acres of logging in Daniel Boone National Forest

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For Immediate Release, September 14, 2022

Contact: Jim Scheff, Kentucky Heartwood Ecologist, (859) 334-0602;
Group Challenges Major Timber Project on Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest
Rare Species and Old-growth Forests Take Back Seat to Logging Plans
BEREA, KY – Kentucky Heartwood has filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s South Red Bird Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Project on the Daniel Boone National Forest in Leslie and Clay counties. The largest timber project on the Daniel Boone in nearly 20 years would allow commercial logging on over 3,800 acres of public lands, along with the construction of nearly 100 miles of logging roads, herbicide use, and prescribed fire. The Forest Service’s logging plans would remove 80% to 90% of the trees across 2,800 acres and cut nearly one-quarter of all forests over 100 years old. Logging is also planned along approximately 10 miles of Redbird Crest Trail.
 You can read the legal complaint at the bottom of this post.
The lawsuit focuses on the Forest Service’s violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) pertaining to its use of misleading data to support its logging plans, thus failing to disclose to the public the true environmental impacts of the project.

Among the several issues raised in the lawsuit are how the Forest Service ignored and then downplayed the effects that landslides could have on streams and aquatic species, like the federally-threatened Kentucky arrow darter (Etheostoma spilotum) and endangered snuffbox mussel (Epioblasma spilotum). A large body of evidence, including internal Forest Service documents, show how logging and road building in the Redbird District of the Daniel Boone National Forest has frequently resulted in landslides.

The Kentucky arrow darter is only found in high quality streams in the Upper Kentucky River watershed, making it highly sensitive to landslides and other activities that impact water quality, while the snuffbox is found in the Redbird River in and immediately downstream of the project area and can be seriously impacted by increased sediment in the water.

The agency also used faulty forest inventory methods to claim that there are no old-growth forests in the project area, when in fact the area includes some of the highest quality old-growth in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Kentucky Heartwood has inventoried more than 400 acres of old-growth forests with trees over 200 years-old in the project area, including at least 160 acres of old-growth approved for logging. However, the Forest Service has refused to consider the data submitted by Kentucky Heartwood.

Logging plans could also result in significant harm to endangered bats, including the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) and Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). Kentucky Heartwood conducted acoustic surveys for bats throughout the project area and found evidence of one or more northern long-eared bat maternity colonies in areas approved for logging. Northern long-eared bats rely on extensive interior and closed-canopy forests. The specific design of the project could result in the removal of maternity roosts and important flight corridors used by the bats.

“Instead of focusing restoration efforts where they’re most needed, the Forest Service is going where the timber is and ignoring significant landslide risks and potential harm to endangered species,” said Jim Scheff, Kentucky Heartwood’s Ecologist.

The project area is also home to the world’s two largest-known Red Hickory trees (Carya ovalis), located by Kentucky Heartwood in an old-growth forest marked for cutting. In another part of the project area where logging has not been approved Kentucky Heartwood identified the world’s oldest documented short leaf pine (Pinus echinata), which dates to 1691.

Kentucky Heartwood actively participated throughout all public opportunities provided by the Forest Service and provided alternatives that would protect old-growth, mature forests, and streams while also supporting young forest and early seral habitat for disturbance-dependent species like ruffed grouse. However, the Forest Service refused to seriously consider these approaches.

“As increasing numbers of people look for outdoor places to experience the beauty of eastern Kentucky’s wildlands, and as the impacts of climate change and habitat loss in the region accelerate, the preservation of mature and old-growth forests on our public lands is all the more urgent. The vast majority of the eastern Kentucky landscape is owned by timber, mining, and oil and gas interests, cut off from the public and managed for investment returns. Our shared national forest lands are different. There are real opportunities to get this right. But the Forest Service needs to take a step back and do the right thing,” said Scheff.

Kentucky Heartwood is represented by Environmental and Animal Defense with support from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Kentucky Heartwood was founded in 1992, and seeks to protect and restore the integrity, stability, and beauty of Kentucky’s native forests and biotic communities through research, education, advocacy, and community engagement.

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