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Lawsuit alleges U.S. Forest Service ignored environmental dangers of eastern Kentucky logging project

Jim Scheff stands with the largest known red hickory (Carya ovalis) in the world in a logging unit in the South Red Bird project area.
Brian Kelley
Jim Scheff stands with the largest known red hickory (Carya ovalis) in the world in a logging unit in the South Red Bird project area.

The U.S. Forest Service is facing a lawsuit over a logging project in Leslie, Bell and Clay counties. The nonprofit Kentucky Heartwood is challenging the environmental impacts of the South Red Bird Wildlife Enhancement Project.

The legal challenge alleges the Forest Service had information that highlighted landslide hazards but publicly downplayed the significance. It also alleges the agency used faulty analysis and ignored other data.

Jim Scheff is Staff Ecologist for Kentucky Heartwood. He said the organization supplied the Forest Service with information on the dangers of the project.

“They just absolutely ignored all of the data we provided, they ignored their own data and their own internal analysis that talked about these landslide hazards. To just stick their head in the sand and pretend they’re not going to happen so that they can really just remove a maximal amount of timber,” said Scheff.

Scheff said the Forest Service needs to halt the project and agree to harvest fewer trees in general and avoid old-growth forests all together.

“And they also need to not log and clear timber and build roads in high landslide hazard areas. And it seems like those shouldn’t be controversial things. Those should be things that the Forest Service just should have done from the get-go,” said Scheff.

The ecologist explained that landslides dump huge amounts of sediment into streams that are critical to the survival of endangered species. He added that the removal of thousands of acres of trees will harm endangered bat populations.

An official with the Forest Service said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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Samantha was a reporter and All Things Considered Host from 2019 to 2023. Sam is also a graduate of Morehead State University and worked for MSU's Public Radio Station.
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