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UPDATED: Forest Service Officials Tour Controversial LBL Management Projects with Students

John Null/WKMS

United States Forest Service officials toured Land Between the Lakes with Southern Illinois University forestry students Thursday, discussing some of the land management projects that have recently stirred up controversy.

The tour, open to the media, took place hours before LBL officials were scheduled to attend a closed meeting with concerned local leaders like Lyon County judge-executive Wade White.

LBL timber program manager and acting environmental stewardship manager Dennis Wilson says necessary measures like controlled burns and logging elicit an emotional response from those that enjoy the park, but that science backs up what they are trying to do. Wilson said he hopes Thursday’s meeting will spark collaboration and that both sides can move forward in the best interests of LBL.

“You got to look at our forest land management resources plan," Wilson said. "We’ve got desired conditions we’re trying to utilize and meet. In our long term goals, what they want with no action doesn’t get us there.”

Credit John Null/WKMS
Students tour a "landing" site where logging trucks are loaded on Old Ferry Road. LBL officials say this site will eventually be burned before re-establishing a shortleaf pine/hardwood mix.

Wilson told the SIU students that unattractive landscape pictures that have circulated online have mostly been taken at logging “landing” areas where trucks are loaded. One such landing area is located on Old Ferry Road, near LBL's main thoroughfare, the Trace. It was widely reported last week that logging was taking place in this area, despite a pledge from the Forest Service to institute a 150-foot buffer zone near the Trace.

Wilson said the Old Ferry Road timber sale was never a part of the buffer agreement due to an existing contract. He said the buffer is being honored in other areas, like the Paradise Road timber sale.

“From day one – Paradise – I had the sale administrator out on that sale flagging, pulling tape 150 feet to make sure from treeline to inside there was a 150-foot buffer," Wilson said. "That has been implemented. We’re working on deducting that volume from the sale because the purchaser technically paid for that timber.”

UPDATE (5/22 6:30 p.m.): In an email exchange with Lyon County judge-executive Wade White Friday, LBL supervisor Tina Tilley seemed to contradict Wilson's claim that the Old Ferry Road site was not part of the buffer agreement.

"My intent has always been to a put a buffer along the Trace for the active timber sales," Tilley told White. "My position hasn't changed from our meeting with the Congressman. When the loggers resumed work on the Old Ferry sale, the remaining trees along the Trace were less than the 150-foot buffer. Some additional trees in this area were cut before this was communicated to the loggers."

The Old Ferry Road logging is due to the presence of non-native loblolly pines. Wilson said that area will eventually be burned before re-establishing a shortleaf pine/hardwood mix.

Credit John Null/WKMS
Officials say this portion of the northern oak-grassland demo area was burned as recently as April 2014.

Other projects have different goals in mind, like the oak-grassland restoration demonstration areas. Around 8,600 acres have been undergoing prescribed fires and thinning since the project's inception in 2004 in the interests of forest health and wildlife habitat improvement. Wilson defended that work and is eager for the burns to resume later this year. He stressed that it is a long term project.

"I use the bridge analogy," Wilson said. "The [new Eggner's Ferry] bridge is in the ground development stage too. Even though people may want to drive on that bridge right now, they can't. But in the long term, not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in December when it's finished, we'll get to use that bridge. It'll be safer, it'll provide access - not just now, but for future generations."

"You gotta start from somewhere and you gotta break ground," Wilson said.

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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