Residents from areas surrounding Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area showed up for the Forest Service hosted listening session, filling the Kentucky Dam Village Convention Center last night.
Most had the intent of crying out against the Forest Service’s management of LBL, pointing out what they saw as inconsistencies in their plan and making pleas to protect areas they once called home.
The land management plan calls for some logging in a portion of LBL to restore the land to pre-European settlement.
The forum began with messages from local elected officials. Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White, a major player in “The 8,600” campaign to stop burning and logging in LBL, opened the session.
“The 8,600” is an allusion to the acreage involved in LBL’s oak-grassland project started in 2004. The coalition says the oak-grassland project,which involves controlled burns and logging, has not been successful and they don’t want any more of LBL to look like "the 8,600.”
With White’s outspokenness on this issue and the Freedom to Fish bill that passed in 2013 he may seem to some like he is considering a run for higher office. But when asked if he was considering a bid for a congressional seat he said he was not and returned to his same message.
“I’m lucky to be elected in Lyon County as their judge so no, I haven’t about that, about that at all,” he said. “The reason I’m doing this is back on the Freedom to Fish and this one, people need a voice and a lot of times they get a runaround from our federal agencies, sometimes our state agencies, sometimes our county agencies. When I see that happening that’s when I get a little upset and decide I’ve got to get involved.”
At the meeting White said his concern wasn’t necessarily the logging and burning of the area but that the public wasn’t getting the facts from the Forest Service.
The Forest Service was allowed to respond throughout the session. LBL Area Supervisor Tina Tilley said they would like to keep communication open and work with the community on the issue.
Donnie Holland, Trigg County Judge-Executive Hollis Alexander’s proxy for the evening, echoed that sentiment. He said before the meeting that while the Forest Service at Golden Pond has been the easiest to work with, he still sees the need for change.
“The rationale of oak grasslands and prairies and so forth are not good rationale but really just a reason to cut the white oaks which are extremely valuable right now,” Holland said.
State Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah also shared a short message, sharing his disgust with the logging and burning that has already occurred at LBL.
“Now the logging and clearing by the U.S. Forest Service is creating a real eyesore, not to mention all the other problems that others have alluded to,” Watkins said. “I drove many miles in the LBL this past Saturday just to see what had been done and may I say it looks like crap.”
Many community members spoke up asking the Forest Service to reconsider their current plans and a few backed up the land management plan, saying the agency has not been lying to the public. Those coming to the Forest Service’s defense were often met with a few jeers from the crowd while others against the plan were met with applause and sometimes a standing ovation.
Derrell Fulgham of Symsonia was one of the few supporting the Forest Service and their work at LBL.
“Just like your garden you want to take out the weeds. you don’t want to plant your corn in it, it will come up in cockleburs,” he said. “You want to handcuff the Forest Service and tell them the methods that they can use, ‘This is what we want you to do and this is how we want you to do it.’
“On private land, you cut timber. I believe that some of the people talking here tonight against it have burned their own land for wild habitat.”
Fulgham acknowledged that the community outcry comes from the heart, especially since many people at the meeting lived or had family that once lived on the recreational land.
“I feel like I’ve come to a gunfight with a knife,” Fulgham said. “I’m here with science, or with experience, and most people are here with their heart. And I understand. I understand that nobody wants to have their land taken away from them and told they’ve got to leave. And I don’t believe that any agency that has the LBL will satisfy some of those people.”
James Oakley did live on LBL and remembers when his family had to leave in the mid 1960s. He disagrees with the burning and logging and spoke up at the session.
“I am totally opposed of burning and the clearcutting of the timber,” Oakley said. “Because burning and clearcutting brings on two things: that’s nothing but briars and bushes, just thick growth. So wildlife and stuff like that, they won’t have no place.
“And that wasn’t what this area was took for. This land was took for recreation and environmental education.”
Tina Tilley with the Forest Service says the agency is holding several sessions and stressed that the agency wants to keep communication open with the community. The next listening session is in Dover, Tennessee, June 16.