Issues Facing Our National Forests
Kentucky's national forests are facing a range of issues that threaten their ecological integrity and long-term sustainability.
The overemphasis on commercial logging and timber production by the U.S. Forest Service has led to the degradation of intact forests and old growth. Restoration efforts seek to heal the scars of strip mining, logging, and poor agricultural practices.
Misleading concepts like "young forests" have been used to justify cutting down precious mature and old-growth forests, and invasive species like the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid are wreaking havoc on vital tree populations.
Fossil fuel leases and the impact of Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) are fragmenting the forests, contaminating watersheds, and endangering wildlife. Join the efforts of groups like Kentucky Heartwood to protect and preserve these invaluable national treasures for future generations.
Rather than promote the recovery of intact forests and old growth, the U.S. Forest Service has emphasized commercial logging and the production of timber over native ecological processes, while on private land the second "great cut" is underway. Kentucky Heartwood is working to see the return of the Great Forest in all it's abundance an beauty.
During our first 10 years, our all-volunteer group had remarkable and unprecedented success in changing management on the DBNF. Our early work resulted in a 97% reduction in logging on the DBNF.
Our successes from 2002-2012 include helping to prevent a lease of federally- owned coal under 40,000 acres of the DBNF and twice stopping a proposal to log and degrade Cerulean warbler habitat on 12,500 acres of the Redbird District. In 2009, we filed a successful administrative appeal convincing the Forest Service to withdraw the Upper Rock Creek project, which proposed substantial logging and herbicide use in the watershed of this state Wild River, proposed Wild and Scenic River, and home to populations of the federally endangered Cumberland elktoe mussel and threatened Blackside dace. When the project was finally reissued and approved in 2011, logging had been reduced by several hundred acres, herbicide use was withdrawn, all new road construction was removed and temporary road construction dramatically reduced.
In 2012, after a vigorous 2-year campaign, we convinced the Forest Service to withdraw the Crooked Creek Project in Rockcastle Co in its entirety. Our efforts stopped 400 acres of logging and herbicides that would have impacted old-growth in Little Egypt and the socially and economically significant Climax Spring. In 2014 we finalized an agreement with the Forest Service on the Freeman Fork Oak Woodland Restoration Project that stopped the use of herbicides on native understory trees, formalized selection standards emphasizing the retention of large trees, and protected an outstanding stand of large, old hickories. In 2014, we began our efforts to stop the Pisgah Bay Project at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL) in western Kentucky, which proposed 3,600 acres of commercial logging.
In 2018-2019, we reduced logging in the Greenwood project near Somerset by 600 acres and reduced logging in the Pine Creek project near London by 2,000 acres. For the last several years, our main focus has been on the Redbird district, where we have documented numerous landslides, proposed logging of old growth trees, and violations of the endangered species act. Our work in Redbird is ongoing.
We've saved over 7,000 acres of public lands from logging in the last 10 years alone!
The landscape our generation has inherited is one that has been used and abused for many years, leaving it in a condition quite different than the one that our ancestors found. Strip mines, logging, poor agricultural practices, roads, and other activities have scarred the land, damaged streams, and changed the very makeup of the forests in our region.
Kentucky Heartwood supports ecologically based restoration projects that have a clear goal and are removed in design and implementation from the commercial imperatives inherent in most timber sales. Too often, commercial timber sales on our public land are thinly disguised as "ecosystem enhancement" or "biodiversity" projects. An overarching philosophy in our view of restoration is a belief that nature has a wisdom of its own, and knows how to heal the land in its own time. Our participation in active restoration should follow nature's lead and avoid the incorrect assumption that we necessarily know what's best.
This is another misleading concept used by the logging industry (and some faux "conservation" groups) to justify cutting trees. This concept of logging to create young forests, also called "early seral habitat" - is being used by some groups like The Ruffed Grouse Society, who argue that some species are dependent upon young forests. We don't disagree, but there is an overabundance of young forest habitat from commercial timber harvest on private land and we certainly don't need to log precious mature and old growth forests to create more of it on public lands. Despite Ruffed Grouse Society's best attempts to portray themselves as a "conservation" group they are better described as a pro-logging hunting group.
The Ruffed Grouse Society has entered into "stewardship contracts" with the Forest Service to cut down trees. One of the major issues with the South Redbird project is that the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Forest Service met behind closed doors and developed a partnership without public involvement. The Ruffed Grouse Society has a contract to log Little Flat Creek, which is the site where our Champion Red Hickory lives, among other old growth trees. We are actively working through the legal system to stop this project. Learn more about this greenwashing practice here: www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/is-clear-cutting-us-forests-good-for-wildlife
Hemlock Wooly Adelgid
The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is a non-native, invasive insect that is killing hemlock trees across the eastern U.S. The adelgid kills the trees by sucking the juices out of the leaves. After a few years of infestation the tree dies. Current information indicates 100% mortality - every hemlock infested by this insect will die. Already this insect has had a catastrophic effect on the forests of several states, including the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The adelgid is currently spreading in Kentucky, and a wide array of groups and agencies are working to figure out the best way to proceed. While Kentucky Heartwood generally opposes the use of insecticides and other poisons in our environment, we currently support the treatment of hemlock trees in key stands across the forest with the hope that in the future some sort of solution can be found and hemlock trees can remain a part of the Central Appalachian landscape. You can learn more about the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid and some of the work to protect hemlocks in Kentucky on the Save Kentucky's Hemlocks website
Oil, Gas, and Coal Leases
Kentucky Heartwood opposes he lease of fossil fuels from the Daniel Boone National Forest. Extracting oil, gas, and coal on our public land for private profit fragments the forest, puts watersheds at risk of contamination, and promotes the release of climate destabilizing greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere.
Our national forests should be a haven for wildlife and intact ecosystems in this period of accelerating climate change, not a source for the pollutants causing it. In 2014, we helped expose a looming wave of fracking in Kentucky, were featured prominently in state and local media, and led the foundational work for the Frack Free Foothills community group. In 2015 we succeeded in securing a change to federal oil and gas leasing policy on the DBNF, creating new barriers to leases and a roadmap to ending federal oil and gas leasing on the DBNF.
Off Highway Vehicles
Off Highway Vehicls (OHVs), sometimes called "Off Road Vehcils, or "ORVs," are widely considered one of the greatest and most challenging threats to our public lands nation-wide. Motorized (w)recreation on our public lands is causing incalculable damage to our water and wildlife resources, diminishing other forms of recreation including hiking, hunting, wildlife viewing, and horse riding, and creating an expensive mess to be cleaned up at taxpayer expense.
The predominating culture of disrespect behind this ever-growing misuse of our public lands makes OHV use incompatible with the preservation of our public lands. Kentucky Heartwood was successful in getting a forest-wide Plan Amendment to prohibit ORV use except on designated trails.