Kentucky Heartwood: 13,163 Trees Illegally Sold on the Daniel Boone National Forest

13,163 Trees Illegally Sold on the Daniel Boone National Forest

Posted 4-27-2020
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On April 27, the Kentucky Resources Council sent a letter on behalf of Kentucky Heartwood to the Daniel Boone National Forest demanding an immediate halt to ongoing logging from the Greenwood Vegetation Management Project on the Stearns Ranger District in McCreary and Pulaski Counties. The letter comes after a series of surveys by Kentucky Heartwood found that the Forest Service has sold an estimated 13,163 more trees to loggers than what the Forest Service analyzed, and ultimately approved in their 2017 decision.

​Kentucky Heartwood also found that the Forest Service is violating mandatory Forest Plan Standards by marking trees for harvest in designated riparian buffer zones meant to protect streams. Riparian buffer violations were observed in tributaries that flow directly into Beaver Creek and Beaver Creek Wilderness, which provides habitat for the federally-threatened blackside dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis).

Click here to read our report documenting our findings: Greenwood Project Monitoring Report April 2020

Trees marked for logging within a riparian corridor in violation of the Forest Plan. This stream leads directly in to Beaver Creek Wilderness and habitat for the federally-threatened blackside dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis).
The violations found in the Greenwood project come shortly after Kentucky Heartwood documented Forest Plan violations and multiple large and ongoing landslides caused by logging in the Group One project in the Redbird District of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Clay and Leslie Counties.The Forest Service has been working to increase the “pace and scale” of logging across the Daniel Boone National Forest, with around 8,000 acres of new logging projects approved (or nearing approval) over the past several months. It appears that the Forest Service, in their efforts to sell more timber from the national forest, and sell it more quickly, is failing to monitor their own operations and are ignoring rules meant to limit environmental impacts.
The Greenwood project was developed between 2013 and 2017 after a series of public meetings, field trips, and public comment periods with 171 comment letters submitted to the agency in response to the proposal. The Forest Service ultimately approved 2,143 acres of commercial logging after several revisions. Most of Kentucky Heartwood’s surveys in the Greenwood project area focused on the Woodland Establishment management prescription, which affects 674 acres.​The Woodland Establishment prescription was designed to manage for mid-density, fire-adapted upland forests which were historically important in the area. However, after surveying 256 acres across 6 harvest units allocated to this prescription (including one site already cut), we found that the Forest Service was consistently cutting to about half the density of forest cover that was prescribed in the project. Another 36-acre stand prescribed for a Shelterwood Preperatory Cut was also examined and found to be marked more heavily that the prescription allowed, but not as severely as the Woodland Establishment harvest units.
This hyperlapse video shows one of the harvest units surveyed by Kentucky Heartwood. Blue paint means that the tree has been marked for harvest.
Kentucky Heartwood will continue in earnest until the U.S. Forest Service and Daniel Boone National Forest correct this timber grab and provide a full explanation of how and why it has happened.

Click here to read our report documenting our findings: Greenwood Project Monitoring Report April 2020

14 thoughts on “Kentucky Heartwood: 13,163 Trees Illegally Sold on the Daniel Boone National Forest”

  1. They hyperlapse video didn’t do a lot for me. It’s really hard to get the feel of a forest from photos, even videos.

  2. I don’t know anything about the Eastern forests. But I am pretty sure “illegally sold” isn’t an adequate description. The sale administrator must of decided that those trees needed to go. Were they marked before the sale or added on. Someone should ask him. Kentucky-Heartwood seems to be little late with their comments.

    • Howdy Bob,

      I reached out directly to Kentucky Heartwood, so hopefully they will respond soon. Perhaps you could reach out directly to the Daniel Boone National Forest and get their side of the story, instead of just sitting at a computer wondering and imploring “Someone should ask him.” Might I suggest that “someone” be you? Thanks!

      I’m also not sure what your opinion “Kentucky-Heartwood seems to be little late with their comments” means?

      Kentucky Heartwood has been deeply involved with every single step of this project over the past 7 years. Kentucky Heartwood went out on the ground and produced a monitoring report in April 2020, in which they allege that the U.S. Forest Service illegally sold over 13,000 trees.

      • Bob and Matthew, I called and asked the Daniel Boone folks.. they are generating a report, and I’ll post it next week. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t, Bob, just that it makes sense for the first person to reach out to make a comment so that more than one of us don’t. Which I didn’t do. Lesson learned!

        All I did was call up the public affairs officer and ask for their side of the story. I encourage other TSW folks to do that as well, whenever an issue comes up with a Forest or Region, but just put it in a comment so we’re coordinated.

        • Sharon,

          Thanks for doing that, and encouraging other blog members to do the same on other issues here on the blog. I think this basic fact-finding step would go a long ways to improving information sharing on this blog.

  3. Hey folks,
    Jim Scheff from Kentucky Heartwood here. I figured that I would respond to a couple of things directly. However, I would recommend (for those interested or critical) that you read the report that is linked to in the blog post. It provides details on the project, the issue, methodology, and findings. It’s only 5 pages. I think that this would dispel some of the criticisms or impressions that I’ve seen posted here.

    We (and me personally) were involved throughout (and before) the 4-year NEPA process that resulted in the Greenwood project decision. I know the project, and project area, intimately. There are parts of the project that I think are substantially misguided and some parts that are okay. If you want to get in to those specifics, you can read the blog post and follow the links to our previous posts about the project and the comments that we submitted at each juncture. Despite our criticisms over the project, we believe that the project, as approved, is essentially lawful (there are a few issues that we think are borderline, but did not rise to the level of taking legal action).

    As I suspect most (or all) of you are aware, the Forest Service makes proposals, analyzes the effects, and discloses that information to the public following NEPA, the APA, and other laws and regulations. A formal decision is then made to implement the proposal as described.

    In the Greenwood project, about 1/3 of the approved logging acreage (674 acres) was designated for logging to cut down to 30 to 50 square feet per acre of basal area (Woodland Establishment prescription), with trees retained being healthy, vigorous individuals of fire-tolerant, long-lived species in codominant and dominant canopy positions. The prescription language in the EA and supporting documents is very clear. The goal is to establish or restore mid-density fire-adapted forest communities. The sites chosen weren’t great (botanical data indicated that the most important sites were being left mostly unmanaged, with “restoration” tending toward sites with larger, more marketable timber), but at this point those choices were made and approved.

    We sampled hundreds of plots across about 300 acres of the Woodland Establishment prescription areas using a 10 BAF prism (a sloppy tool in my ecologist’s opinion, but standard with foresters, including USFS, around here) and found that the Forest Service had consistently marked these stands to just over 20 square feet per acre. FWIW, I have my M.S. in Biology from Eastern Kentucky University and did my graduate research evaluating old-growth and secondary old-growth forests in the Daniel Boone NF. I do know what I’m looking at in the forest. I also had a colleague with an M.S. in Forestry from the University of Kentucky go out an resample several sites to be sure I wasn’t vastly confused. He came up with almost identical results using a slightly different sampling protocol. It’s also worth noting that one of the stands we sampled had already been harvested, and we came up with about 20 square feet per acre for that one, suggesting that our tallies in marked stands were reflective of what the actual harvest implementation would look like upon completion.

    The difference between a prescription to cut down to 30 to 50 square feet per acre is substantially different than cutting down to 20 square feet per acre. If this were just a couple of acres it wouldn’t be a big deal. But it’s nearly 700 acres for this single management prescription (we haven’t looked closely at other prescriptions in the field).

    The fact is that this post-decision change to cut this much more timber is not something that is up to the discretion of the individuals implementing the project. If a target BA of 20 square feet per acre is “best” for these stands, there was a 4 year NEPA process with lots of public engagement, field time, and revisions to get it right before the decision was signed.

    We also found that many trees had been marked in riparian buffer areas per Forest Plan definitions, and in violation of Forest Plan Standards with regard to protecting intermittent stream channels (differentiating from ephemeral channels). The stream channels in question flow directly in to one of our only two Wilderness Areas, into a stream that provides habitat for the federally-threatened blackside dace.

    It’s possible I’ve got something way, way off. But the measurements we took aren’t rocket science and we used a valid methodology. It’s really not that complicated. As was noted in this thread, the Forest Service is preparing a response. So we’ll see what that says.

    I’m happy to answer any question, but to urge you to read the report first if you would like more details.

    • It certainly sounds like you have valid concerns. Such a severe thinning might lead to blowdown of the remaining forest. Chances are, the stream buffers weren’t flagged off before the marking was done. Or, maybe they just ‘eyeball it’. Judging differences in stream classes always seems to be problematic, too. It is often best to use protected streamcourses as unit boundaries.

      It sounds like maybe the Forest is ‘lazy’ and isn’t used to outside oversight. Personally, I always assumed that activists were monitoring my salvage projects. It keeps you out of trouble.

      It’s awful when the Forest Service gets a chance to earn some trust, and then this happens.

  4. I wanted to share with you all that the Daniel Boone National Forest provided us today with their review. The “headline” finding is that they came up with a basal areas in the target range in the EA (EA states 30 to 50, the report finds a range of 32 to 47, with an average 38 square feet per acre). However, deeper in the data, and their discussion, is the finding that nearly 1/3 of the trees retained and counted toward the final basal area don’t meet the criteria in the EA for the Woodland Establishment prescription as being “dominant and co-dominant, vigorous, healthy, long-lived, and fire resilient trees.” These include primarily trees with a lack of vigor and retained as wildlife trees per the Forest Plan, as well as some fire intolerant species and trees in intermediate canopy positions. If you take those out of their data, you get about 23 square feet per acre, which isn’t far from our findings of 21 square feet per acre.

    The DBNF report states:

    “For all woodland stands and the shelterwood preparatory stand, the results indicate trees with desired characteristics comprise over 60 percent of the BA to be retained (Figures 3.1 through 3.5). Specifically, these trees are of a dominant or codominant crown class, a desirable species, and have a tree class of desirable or acceptable. As described in the Greenwood Project EA, the trees selected for retention in these stands are primarily vigorous, healthy, long lived, and fire resilient species. For all stands sampled, trees with undesirable characteristics will comprise a small, but tolerable, amount of the future stand.”

    In other words, about 1/3 of the trees contributing to the final basal area do not not have the “desired characteristics.”

    So, what a lot of this comes down to, is whether or not the final basal should be based on trees that meet the retention criteria for meeting the specific restoration and management goals (vigorous, fire tolerant, etc.) discussed in the EA, or if 1/3 of that basal area should be comprised of trees that will likely not live very long given their current health, lack of fire tolerance, and regular applications of prescribed fire.

    Since you probably won’t be reading the EA, here’s what it says for the Woodland prescription:

    “This treatment would retain an overstory canopy of dominant and co-dominant, vigorous, healthy, long-lived, and fire resilient trees, (e. g. shortleaf pine, chestnut oak, and white oak). The target leave basal area would be 30 to 50 square feet per acre.”


    “An overstory comprised of healthy, long-lived, fire resilient tree species such as shortleaf pine and chestnut oak with a basal area ranging from 30 – 50 square feet per acre are desired (USDA-FS 2004a). Tree crowns ideally would not be touching, and would provide 25-60% cover.”

    I imagine that several folks following here will defer to the timber managers on the ground for making these determinations. However, I do not think that 1/3 of the retained trees not meeting the criteria described in the EA (with a proportional number of trees that DO meet those criteria being harvested to meet the final BA) is simply marginal.

  5. Jim, just reading these two things

    A. “This treatment would retain an overstory canopy of dominant and co-dominant, vigorous, healthy, long-lived, and fire resilient trees, (e. g. shortleaf pine, chestnut oak, and white oak). The target leave basal area would be 30 to 50 square feet per acre.”
    B. “An overstory comprised of healthy, long-lived, fire resilient tree species such as shortleaf pine and chestnut oak with a basal area ranging from 30 – 50 square feet per acre are desired (USDA-FS 2004a). Tree crowns ideally would not be touching, and would provide 25-60% cover.”

    I get a different impression from each. From A, I get ” the sum of all Overstory plus all the trees that need to be left for other reasons (species diversity, wildlife trees and so on) would be 30-50.

    From B. I get more of an idea, like you said, that the Overstory only should be 30-50. So it could be that it is not written as clearly as it should. Still, the Forest does have to meet other requirements such as wildlife trees and people are used to talking about a residual basal area in general.

    As I’ve said before about another project..

    The EA has many words. Where the rubber meets the proverbial road are the marked trees. Perhaps, thinking broadly here, sometime during the draft, there could be a, say, 50 acre test marking where people could go and see and talk about choices, and make comments on the test marking. I think I’ve seen that approach used somewhere.

    There is a track from EA to prescription to marking to tree removal. Miscommunication can and does happen at any phase, as partners point out. There should be a feedback loop with purchasers, the FS, and people watching the sale so that mistakes are corrected and processes improve through time.

    But as described, it sounds like two ways of thinking about the residual BA weren’t resolved before the project was implemented.

  6. This is a comment from Mac McConnell.. he couldn’t get the figures to load so I copied them into this comment for him.
    Comments on Kentucky Heartwood’s blog of 4-27-2020

    After reading the Kentucky Heartwood (KH) report I have a few questions   mostly about sampling and data analyses.  Commenting from afar (I live in Florida) can lead to some serious errors, but hear me out.

    Before commenting on specifics, allow me to provide a bit of context.  The Daniel Boone National Forest. (DBNF) is a young forest .  Most of the timber stands were cut over and burned repeatedly before they were acquired by the U.S. Forest Service. The majority of the timber stands are pole size, and the larger trees are generally of potential for a wide array of ecosystem services and urgently needs management to achieve that potential.  Especially urgent is the need to contribute to the local economy.  McCreary County, one of the counties within the sale area and with 52% of its land managed by the DBNF has a poverty level of 42%, compared the Kentucky average of 19%.

    Now to the specifics –

    The marking of trees in riparian zones and the over building of skid trails are legitimate concerns.  They indicate a lack of sale supervision and operator know-how.   They can and should be corrected on uncut unit and future sales.

    The essence of the KH complaint is that number of trees marked exceeds the number of trees that the Forest Service (F.S.) estimated would be marked in its presale documentation (EA, Record of Decision, FONSI).   The F.S. presale documentation did not estimate how many trees would be marked.  It estimated the basal area to be marked.   The estimates of tree numbers are contrived values calculated on the basis of unsupported assumptions as follows (from page 3 of the KH report).

    Assuming an average target basal area for the Woodland Establishment prescription of 40 ft2/ac, we estimate that the Forest Service has marked and sold 13,163 more trees than what was analyzed in the project EA and approved in the Decision Notice and FONSI7


     7 This calculation is based on an assumption of an average tree diameter of 14” (1 ft2 of basal area), and an average target basal area for the Woodland Establishment prescription being 40ft2/ac.  If the Forest Service marked only to the minimum basal area of 30 ft2/ac for the prescription across all Woodland Establishment harvest units, this would result in an overharvest of 6,413 trees.”

    Furthermore-The F.S. estimate of BA was just that, an estimate, not a guarantee. The Forest Service never guarantees the cut, even pre-marked sales.

    Even if the protest had basis, the methodology and analyses used in calculations are faulty.  There follows a look at the data as presented in the KH Monitoring Report date April 15, 2020.


    Results: The average residual basal area across the six sampled Woodland Establishment units was 20.5ft2/ac (Table 1) [comment: This value is not the residual value but the weighted average of the Marked BA]

    Sampling Method: Residual basal area (unmarked trees) was recorded in 195 plots BA in table 1 ]  ”

    A major problem – Table 1 of the report shows the target (desired leave) basal area and the marked (cut) BA.  It does not show the actual leave BA, which is matter of concern.   What is the actual leave BA?

    It appears that “Average Residual” BA has been conflated with “Marked” BA in the calculations, resulting in an imaginary number (13,163) of trees claimed as overharvested.

    The Kentucky Heartwood report uses questionable assumptions and estimates to purport a specific value.  It lacks the rigour (randomized plot location, defined error margins, coherent analyses) necessary to support a legal action, or an actionable protest.

  7. Sharon, Mac wrote to me earlier with this and I didn’t have time to respond. His characterization of the forest here is very misinformed. Other than the cuts in the 80’s and 90’s, most of the forest overstory in this part of the Daniel Boone is 90 to 140 years old, including harvest units in the project area. As an old-growth ecologist, I would consider these forests young (given that the dominant tree species in these stands have documented longevities of 250 to 350 years). But from a silvicultural perspective they are not young. This difference in perspective about what’s “young” vs. “old” actually leads to a lot of conflict. In several EAs over the last decade the Daniel Boone National Forest has claimed that after about 30 years after a regeneration harvest that our forests look and function like “mature forests.” They don’t. And this perspective leads to a lot of problems.

    To go back to confusion about what was meant in the prescription language, I think it’s worth comparing to the language for Action 4: Shelterwood Preperatory cut (which as a leave BA of 50 to 70):

    “Trees favored for retention would be healthy, dominant, codominant, long lived, and fire-resilient species such as shortleaf pine, white oak, chestnut oak, and hickory with the best crowns.”

    And the language for Action 2: Woodland Establishment:

    “This treatment would retain an overstory canopy of dominant and co-dominant, vigorous, healthy, long-lived, and fire resilient trees, (e. g. shortleaf pine, chestnut oak, and white oak). The target leave basal area would be 30 to 50 square feet per acre.”

    Note how they used the language of “trees favored for retention” for the Shelterwood Preperatory cut, but for the Woodland establishment did not use “preferred” or any general term, instead stating “This treatment would retain…”

    These prescriptions are written on the same page in the same document, so it only makes sense to me to assume that the use of “preferred” in one prescription and not in another implies less leeway in its application.

    Retaining “wildlife trees” per Forest Plan Standards is important. Having a marginal amount of basal are contributed by those trees makes sense. But based on the agency’s assessment, approximately 1/3 of the trees retained don’t meet the criteria for the prescription. That amounts to about 12 or 13 square feet of BA of trees that probably won’t make it very long.

    Two other prescriptions in the project (Shortleaf Pine restoration and Two Aged Management (Hardwoods)) have a leave BA of 10 to 15 square feet. Other projects on the Daniel Boone have Shelterwood and Wooded Grassland prescriptions with leave BAs of 10 to 15 or 10 to 20. If it’s a reasonable assumption that 12 or 13 square feet per acre could be trees in poor health, then does this mean that the logging prescriptions (which are ostensibly about restoring certain functions in the forest as well as increasing mast production and vigor on leave trees), are ultimately just clearcuts, with essentially no residual canopy whatsover? That’s not what’s described in any of the documents. There is always language about leaving some portion of the overstory for structure and mast.

    And as for assessments of “health” of the trees, as a rough guide I compared the trees that were kept with trees currently being logged on another District of the DBNF from an ice storm that occurred in 2003. These are trees that have largely recovered after 17 years, but are still being cut because the Daniel Boone National Forest argues that they will still decline too much and will leave the forest broadly susceptible to diseases and pests, like gypsy moth (which isn’t here yet). So, in fairness, I think that if the Daniel Boone National Forest is logging trees that were damaged 17 years ago and are still alive because they are too sickly to live long, then trees with similar indications of health are not rightful candidates for making up 30 to 50 square feet of BA of trees that are “vigorous, healthy, and long-lived.”

  8. Jim,

    Whether we call the forest “young” or “old” has no bearing on these fact that the report lacks the rigour to support an actionable protest. The principal claims that the FS will over-harvest 13,163 trees while leaving insufficient residual basal area is undercut by the flawed sampling ,incoherent analyses, and lack of error margins determination. Read again my comment and note the heavy reliance that the KH report places on assumptions and unsupported estimates.

  9. Mac’s comment: “The F.S. presale documentation did not estimate how many trees would be marked. It estimated the basal area to be marked.” If the purpose of the treatment is ecological (“Woodland establishment”) where the number and type of trees is important, then maybe using basal area to drive tree marking isn’t appropriate. (Maybe future forest plans should make this more clear.)

  10. In case there is any doubt about the appropriate role of the public in overseeing implementation of government actions, I ran across this statement in a court opinion citing the U. S. Supreme Court:
    NEPA requires agency decisionmakers to identify and understand the
    environmental effects of proposed actions and to inform the public of those effects
    so that it may “play a role in both the decisionmaking process and the
    implementation of [the agency’s] decision.” Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens
    Council, 490 U.S. 332, 349 (1989);


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