Federal officials did not do enough to look for rare and threatened species when evaluating a project that would include the most commercial logging in the Daniel Boone National Forest in more than a decade, environmental groups have argued.
However, a U.S. Forest Service supervisor said agency experts carefully analyzed the potential environmental impact of the project. The Forest Service is reviewing objections to the proposal, said Tim Reed, district ranger for the area that includes the project.
The project at issue would cover 12,300 acres in the Greenwood area in northern McCreary County and southern Pulaski County.
The Forest Service says the goals are to diversify wildlife habitat; improve the health of the forest; increase production of hard mast, such as acorns and hickory nuts, for wildlife; restore shortleaf pine trees in the ecosystem; and provide forest products for public use.
It would accomplish those goals through a variety of techniques, including cutting trees to aid the growth of healthier or more desirable species such as shortleaf pine, white oak, chestnut oak and yellow poplar, according to the environmental assessment.
The proposal includes about 2,900 acres where the Forest Service could let commercial loggers cut trees, Reed said. That would be the most logging approved in a single decision in years.
However, if the project goes forward, the logging would be spaced out over several years, Reed said.
The project area includes places where the invasive southern pine beetle wiped out more than 80 percent of the shortleaf pines in 1999 and 2000. The proposal calls for planting pine trees in some areas.
It also would use controlled burning on more than 10,000 acres, aiding plants and birds that benefit from a more open environment in the forest.
Other pieces of the project include creating small ponds as water sources for animals and spraying herbicides on 222 acres to get rid of non-native species and ready the sites to be planted with food for animals, bees and butterflies.
The Forest Service issued a draft approval of the project earlier in the summer.
Kentucky Heartwood, which says it works to “protect and restore the integrity, stability, and beauty of Kentucky’s native forests,” recently filed objections to the decision.
The organization argued the Forest Service did not do enough to survey the project area for rare, declining and threatened species.
Kentucky Heartwood and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission asked the Forest Service several times to look for rare species, including wildflowers such as the Quill flameflower, the Eastern wood lily and the Eastern silvery aster, said Jim Scheff, director of Kentucky Heartwood.
However, the Forest Service didn’t do an adequate search or design the project to protect those species, Kentucky Heartwood said.
The agency also has not focused the proposal on improving spots in the forest that need it most because of damage from the pine beetle, Scheff argued.
The reason is that the Forest Service put a priority on logging, Scheff said.
“Instead of focusing restoration efforts where they’re most needed, the Forest Service is going where the timber is,” Scheff said.
Scheff said there is a genuine need for appropriate measures to improve the health of the area, which is home to unusual or rare features including sandstone glades, Appalachian seeps and spots of native grassland.
But the Forest Service could use methods other than commercial logging at many sites to achieve the goals of the project, Scheff said.
The Center for Biological Diversity and two residents joined in Kentucky Heartwood’s objections.
Scheff also said residents had expressed concerns over the proposed use of herbicides as part of the project.
The Forest Service said it is unlikely the spraying would hurt streams or water quality because it would be done in a way to guard against problems.
The agency said it had used the best science available in evaluating the proposed work, and had met the requirements for addressing rare plants on federal lands.
“I feel like we’ve done a very good job with the analysis,” Reed said.
The Forest Service cut back the amount of commercial logging in the proposal after earlier comments by opponents.
Logging in the Daniel Boone National Forest, which covers more than 700,000 acres in 22 counties, has been a controversial issue at times.
Timber sales plunged in the 1990s as environmental groups filed challenges aimed at protecting endangered species and complained the the Forest Service spent more to administer timber sales than it received from loggers.
Sales have been higher in recent years, but are still far below the totals from the late 1980s.
The Forest Service said logging as part of the Greenwood project would help the local economy.
Reed said commercial logging is a tool to help improve the national forest, bringing in money for work the Forest Service would otherwise have to pay to get done.
“It’s an efficiency and it’s common sense,” Reed said.
The Forest Service could make changes to the proposal based on the objections, which would push back a final decision on going forward with the project. If it doesn’t, a final decision could come in November.