Logging started in Robinson Forest

After months of debate, sit-ins and meetings, logging has begun in Robinson Forest.

When UK College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith announced that logging would begin last year, students and activists alike rallied together in efforts to halt the proposed Streamside Management Zone Project, in which logging would be a necessary component.

The project, conducted by the Department of Forestry, plans to analyze different techniques for protecting water quality during logging. By producing and collecting the data, researchers intend to find new ways to manage water resources in the state with a better and stronger criteria for timber harvesting. Robinson Forest is a research, teaching and demonstration forest located in Eastern Kentucky and contains an estimated 15,000 acres of land that have been owned by UK since 1923.

The decision to log the forest for educational and commercial purposes was unanimously decided by the UK Board of Trustees in 2004. The board has ultimate authority and responsibility for university owned property.

For months, environmental groups joined to delay the logging. Students protested during Board of Trustees meetings, had open discussions with leaders in the project and organized a sit-in outside UK President Lee Todd’s office in December. In spite of the amount of student and community involvement, little notice was given once the project began on Friday.

“We feel like they waited until the end of the semester, and when no one was looking or paying attention, they started,” said Elizabeth Glass, the forest issues chair of the Cumberland Chapter of Sierra Club Kentucky.

In a statement issued by environmental groups, including Kentucky Heartwood, Kentucky Resources Council, Sierra Club, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Waterways Alliance and the Kentucky River Watershed Watch, they agreed it was disappointing that UK decided to proceed with the study without informing the public.

According to the group, they did not receive documentation regarding the research or how it would be conducted. “The long, open debate about Robinson Forest was constructive and informative for everyone, but at its conclusion, university and college leadership fully agreed with the original plan,” Smith said in an e-mail to the Kernel. “The forestry research was seen to be clearly consistent with the reason the land was given to the university.”

“UK will have active logging in 800 acres of Robinson Forest, 200 fewer than what was originally proposed. However, not all 800 acres are to be harvested,” said Chris Barton, the lead researcher of the project. “We’re not going out there and taking every tree. There will be large patches of tress that will remain that are associated with these streams.”

Students and activists argue that the research being conducted in Robinson Forest is short-sighted, and the ecological and educational effects of the timber harvesting outweigh its merits, the group said in the release. However, proponents of the timber harvesting in Robinson Forest plan on monitoring the biological quality of the forest with the best management practices possible, said Jeff Stringer, a professor with the Department of Forestry.

In addition, revenue created by the commercial selling of timber will be used by both the UK administration and the College of Agriculture to fund the Robinson Scholars program and to support the College of Agriculture’s research, and educational and demonstrational programs. High-grade lumber will be logged for furniture, flooring and veneer while lower-grade lumber will be used for developing items such as plywood and particleboard, Barton said.

Despite the reassurance of safe practices, many environmental groups are disappointed with UK’s decision to proceed with the project. “There’s not much we can do now, but write letters to the editor and reach someone who will listen,” Glass said.”I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done now.”

Stringer said he understands that logging has a negative connotation for many people, but he believes that in the end, the project will prove to be very useful for the state of Kentucky because it will help answer logging problems.

“What hurts me is that I’m the first on the bandwagon for protecting Robinson Forest,” Stringer said. “I get hurt by somebody who says I’m tearing the place up. We care too much about it.”

While activist groups continue to meet in hopes of reducing the amount of logging or halting it completely, Smith said UK has taken the right steps in handling this situation.

“We have taken great care to be sure this research is done properly. In future years, we expect Robinson Forest to be seen as a national model for sustainable forest management.”