Infestation leads to tree harvest decision

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By Jeff Moore

After reviewing input from the public and exploring its options, the Kentucky State Parks will proceed with harvesting ash trees due an emerald ash borer infestation in General Butler State Resort Park.

Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker made the announcement Tuesday during an interview at the park lodge in Carrollton.

“We made the decision to move forward with the harvesting,” Walker said.

The park has heavy concentrations of ash trees ranging from 35 percent to as high as 80 percent. The emerald ash borer infestation is expected to kill all of these ash trees within the next two to three years.

The decision came after state parks officials held a public meeting and gathered comments on its options to contend with the effects of the infestation.

Walker said they had the option of doing nothing, which they determined would pose safety risks from fires during extremely dry periods or falling limbs that could endanger visitors at the park.

“We simply could not afford to then go in and clean it out,” she said. “We don’t have the resources.”

The route chosen will allow for selective tree harvesting, with all funds received from logging to stay with Butler park.

Walker said state parks has entered into an agreement with the Kentucky Division of Forestry because of the expertise they have with managing tree harvests.

“The good thing for us is they do this a lot,” she said. “They know what needs to be taken into consideration.”

She said state forestry officials can estimate the number of board feet and condition of the lumber, mark the trees, issue the request for proposals for logging companies, make the selection, and oversee the operation.

Walker said state parks officials will be very involved at the front end of the project in selecting areas that need protecting and helping determine truck routes to reduce impact on the campgrounds and the number of trips over the park dam.

Harvesting can only take place between Nov. 15 and March 31 because of a U.S. Forestry law protecting the Indiana bat. She said the bat is a protected species that is endangered due to white nose syndrome.

Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson said the Indiana bat protection guidelines have affected other projects in the county.

Walker said due to the winding, curvy nature of the back entrance road to Butler Park is less likely to be used by logging companies.

Tomlinson agreed, saying it would do a lot of damage. “It would break the shoulders off that road.”

A request for proposals on the project will be issued during the first part of November for a three-week period, Walker said.

“I think they are hoping to have some type of agreement in early December with whoever is selected to log,” she said. “We’re hoping that all of the logging could take place in the winter (months).”

Officials believe the logging can be completed by late March or early April. She said if it has to go beyond that, logging would have to stop and couldn’t resume until next November because of the Indiana bat situation.

Walker said she believes the contractor will want to complete work this year, just as state parks officials do.

“The quality of the wood they could harvest would potentially be impacted because of the fact the longer the infestation continues the more degraded the wood is,” she said.

State forestry officials will monitor the work to ensure the contractor follows industry “best management practices” on the project, controlling pollution and erosin and clearing trash and waste from the site. Parks spokesman Gil Lawson said forestry officials will perform unannouced inspections to see that the contractor is meeting all these requirements.

Walker said state forestry officials believe the tree harvest can bring a good return for Butler Park, allowing for a few trees to be treated for a few years and some plantings in parts of the park.

Walker said that Tomlinson has come up with a plan to allow some trees that cannot be part of the logging operation to be used for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Some trees around the campground cannot be part of the contract because they are in areas where people could have nailed into them to hang items, such as hammocks.

Walker said this would destroy the loggers’ blades.

But she is looking to see if parks employees can fell these trees and allow volunteers from the local community to come in and cut them up for firewood for low-income families.

Tomlinson said he is in contact with the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission and Northern Kentucky Area Development District to see if they can help with this effort. “It’s worth exploring,” he said.

Butler Park manager Dave Jordan said he led a program at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park where volunteers assisted with treating 3,900 hemlock trees.

During a public meeting Sept. 16 at the park conference center, all speakers offered support for the harvesting option.

Walker said Tuesday the agency had only one individual opposed to this option, instead wanting to let nature run its course.

One option mentioned during the meeting is an educational element for local youth. Walker said she hopes this can be included in the process. She said she particularly would like to see students participate in the treatment process to save trees.

Carroll County was added to the emerald ash borer infestation area this year. Officials estimate there are more than 3 million ash trees in the county that are expected to die from infestation over the next several years.

The emerald ash borer has now been found in 24 Kentucky counties since it was first found in Kentucky in 2009.

Counties with the infestation are quarantined, meaning no one can transport firewood out of those counties to limit the emerald ash borer’s spread.