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Reforestation efforts in LBL, western Ky. cities to add greenery to tornado-impacted areas

Fallen Trees at Land Between the Lakes Recreational Area
United States Forest Service
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Officials at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky say reforestation efforts are underway after two tornadoes ripped through sections of recreation area in December, destroying countless trees along the way. Likewise, western Kentucky cities are pushing initiatives to bring a little green back into tornado-impacted communities.

John Westbrook, the recreation area’s environmental stewardship manager said the two tornadoes — each cutting a path about seven miles long by one mile wide — shredded countless trees and foliage in LBL, comparing the number of destroyed trees with trying to estimate how many grains are in a bag of rice.

Westbrook said satellite technology was used to survey and evaluate the damage. Depending on how distorted the satellite image pixels were, officials categorized damage in the recreation into four categories: minor, moderate, severe and catastrophic.

Westbrook said the majority of attention by U.S. Forest Service staff had been given to areas marked as severe or catastrophic. He believes the ultimate goal for the debris removal is to make space for plant life to grow back in an open and free environment.

“We have to look at a tornado as an act of nature, which is what it is. And as such, nature has a way of fixing things or moving things around and putting things where she thinks it should be,” Westbrook said. “What our job to do is, at this point, is just to clean things up and to basically provide a blank palette for those things to occur on the landscape as Mother Nature would have them to be.”

Westbrook said the blank canvas after debris removal is done could support an impressive 1,000 oak seedlings per acre of cleared land. The Environmental Stewardship Manager believes the prospects of a bountiful regrowth is due to federal officials having left the park ecosystem undisturbed for the last few decades.

“This area, or this land, has been allowed to grow over the last 50 years since the agency received it, and there hasn't been any real reforestation efforts. There haven't been any reintroduction or introduction of a lot of off-site, non-native species, like say your yellow pines or any other plant species. So, what is in the ground is what has always been in the ground, and it is allowed to express itself accordingly.”

Western Kentucky cities that were also impacted by the December tornadoes are also bringing their communities together to push tree planting initiatives.

The city of Mayfield will be hosting a free tree distribution event on Saturday, October 8 at the Graves County Cooperative Extension office. The event will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CST, and participants can pick up a free tree from over ten different native species.

Next week, a church in Dawson Springs will be planting trees with support from the Kentucky Hemp Association. Westbrook said the two separate greenery efforts are different from the reforestation work at LBL but are still important.

“Anytime that there's an opportunity to return things to nature or provide a little more green on the landscape, that is always a good thing.” Westbrook said.

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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