UK must do more to address concerns about Robinson Forest

Guest column by Taylor Shelton

For the past twelve months, a dedicated group of Kentuckians have tried to stick it to the man. I say tried because, apparently, we have failed.

When I first heard last June that UK was planning a large-scale clear-cut of Robinson Forest, I was confused. Not only did I not know why UK would clear-cut a forest, but like many UK students, I had no idea what or where Robinson Forest was.

Twelve months later, I have found myself to be in an interesting position. Now, I consider myself to be significantly more educated about the importance of keeping Robinson Forest intact, and I fully oppose the Streamside Management Zone Study that the UK Forestry Department is undertaking for a number of reasons. But I have also found myself disillusioned about the way our university works, and Robinson Forest appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Sit-ins, protests and repeated news coverage allowed activist groups like UK Greenthumb, Kentucky Heartwood, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club to win small victories by delaying the proposed logging project. But alas, there are no victories for environmentalists this week. Instead, as you read this article, Robinson Forest is beginning to lose approximately one-tenth of its trees to study the effects of deforestation on stream quality.

While I am not an expert forester by any means, I don’t believe that it takes a wealth of specialized knowledge to understand that this research project will greatly degrade the quality of streams and soils in the forest, also opening up the area to invasive species and eliminating a lot of the forest’s ability to naturally capture and sequester carbon emissions. And while all of these concerns about the scientific merit of the study are valid, it is not the science behind the Forestry Department’s study that we, as common students of the university and citizens of the Commonwealth, should find so troubling.

Instead we should find the complete and utter unwillingness of our university to listen to our concerns to be deplorable. Beginning with concerned citizens’ first meeting with College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith last August and continuing to the apparent sandbagging and deck-stacking at our appearance before the Board of Trustees in December, President Todd and the rest of the administration assured us that they never really had to listen to what anyone else had to say. The university has refused to even consider a compromise of the SMZ study as proposed by those in opposition.

But why would we expect any different of a university that has repeatedly shown in a number of circumstances that students are its last priority? From the numerous racially-charged incidents on campus in the past year to the blind-eye turned by the administration in regard to student concerns over sustainability, students have no reason to believe that Lee Todd or anyone else at this university making over $150,000 a year cares what they think. And playing pool with us a couple nights a year doesn’t count.