Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002

Action Alert!

Stop Allegheny National Forest Timber Sales!

Lewis Run Sale Threatens Endangered Indiana Bat Habitat!

By Jim Kleissler

In the northeast portion of the Allegheny National Forest, thousands of acres are struggling to recover from a long history of oil and gas drilling and clearcutting. Although both activities had slowed a bit in this area in the 1980s and early 1990s, clearcut logging and oil and gas drilling have returned to the area known as Lewis Run.

Lewis Run is a popular stop for hunters and hikers, conveniently located within (and partially fragmented by) a triangle of state highways - Route 59, Route 770, and Route 219. The Lewis Run area is a common stopover for residents of Bradford. It was one of the first places I camped at when I lived in Bradford as well. It is also a site where illegal off-road vehicle use is becoming a problem, and where a small endangered bat is trying to make a home.

The Lewis Run Proposal

Under the Lewis Run Timber Sale proposal, over 1,250 acres of the more than 7,000 acres of national forest in the project area would be logged. 620 acres would be clearcut and sprayed with herbicide and converted into virtual black cherry monocultures. Another 500 acres of "Investments", a.k.a. thinning and shelterwood cuts, are proposed with the expectation that most of these sites will be clearcut over the next decade. While 35% of the older forest is made up of the black cherry dominated "Allegheny Hardwood" forest type, 90% of the areas clearcut within the last decade are now in the black cherry forest type. Even the Forest Service has acknowledged that this process of clearcutting and herbiciding is causing other species to become less prominent in the forest.

If the Forest Service has their way, 25% of the Lewis Run project area will be younger than 20 years old or in grassy openings. Many more acres will be in right-of-way openings, oil and gas well clearings, gravel surface mines, and log landing areas. The Forest Service is following a goal of reducing this area to a forest with a majority of its area in plantations of black cherry trees under 50 years old! This is all based upon a sixteen year old management plan that expired under its own terms six years ago.

In all, the Lewis Run Timber Sale will approve even-aged logging methods such as clearcutting and "investments" for future clearcutting on 1,250 acres, herbicide use on over 1,100 acres, nitrogen fertilizers on 635 acres, 1.2 miles of new road construction (and tax-payers will now maintain an additional 2.4 miles of oil and gas roads for them), and expand 10 gravel surface mines and create one new mine.

The Indiana bat at Lewis Run

Last year, researchers were trying to locate specimens of the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) throughout the Allegheny National Forest. In a fluke occurrence, they managed to catch one in an abandoned building just off of the national forest. Although Indiana bats are known to prefer to roost in dying trees during the summer months, the lack of contiguous, unfragmented mature forest with sufficient dead and dying trees has become a serious problem. It appears that Indiana bats may be relying in part on abandoned buildings to make up for a lack of ideal habitat. That said, the Indiana bat was also found roosting in forested sites, some within the Lewis Run Project Area.

The Lewis Run area is in many ways ideal for these elusive mammals. Indiana bats prefer to hibernate in caves and abandoned mines - both features that can be found in the area. In addition, the bat caught in the area happens to be a male and males often donŐt travel far from their wintering site. This at least suggests the possibility that this endangered species is spending its winters in the surrounding forest caves. There are at least a half dozen documented cave sites within the two-mile radius that this bat was documented using.

One might think that with an endangered bat flying around, the Forest Service might take extra efforts to protect this species. The Forest Service at least attempted to give the appearance of doing so by developing a new alternative that was designed to "protect" the bat. This new alternative would convert 150 acres of clearcutting into 150 acres of two-age cutting. An improvement, but far from protection for the bat. Whereas clearcuts remove 90 to 100% of the overstory trees, two-age cuts remove 70 to 80%. This is still a significant loss. But that is only part of the story. This new alternative would log 358 additional acres (with the intention of clearcutting them in 5 to 10 years) that are not proposed for logging under any other alternative. In other words, they are going to save the Indiana bat by destroying its habitat. A second site where Indiana bats were detected would become surrounded by clearcuts under this proposal.

The Lewis Run Timber Sale would also impact the "forest-sensitive" northern long-eared bat, timber rattlesnake, and butternut - all rare species. The Northern long-eared bat is a widespread but rare bat species that depends upon older forests for foraging and roosting. This bat species was detected at numerous sites within the Lewis Run Project Area and these individuals are likely using the local caves for roosting and foraging. The Forest Service has stubbornly refused to radio-track this species and identify its roosting and foraging sites.

The Deer Theory

It is well documented, that as you increase forage for deer, their local populations increase accordingly. It is also well documented that high deer populations are one of the many significant factors contributing towards biodiversity depletion. The Forest Service has a solution - clearcut so much that the deer canŐt possibly eat all of the browse created. The only problem is that the Forest Service tried this with the Porter's Prize Timber Sale. Deer populations increased by 1/3 over one growing season and the deer ate away at the herbaceous plants.

The Forest Service is apparently entirely blind to the over-population of black cherry and how it is crowding out other important native species. The agency is intentionally converting mixed hardwoods and sugar maple forest types into black cherry plantations. They have not measured how this will impact other species which prefer the more valuable wildlife habitat provided by American beech, eastern hemlock, and sugar maple. And while the Forest Service blames the deer for all of these problems, their solution only serves to increase the deer herd! They seemingly are simultaneously complaining about the high deer population and promoting an even higher population level of deer.

The Allegheny Defense Project's appeal of the Lewis Run Timber Sale was recently denied. We are now working on taking the next step to stop this egregious timber sale and could use your help. Please contact our office to find out how you can help.


Protect the Sugar Run Watershed

The Forest Service has announced plans to log over 2,000 acres of your Allegheny National Forest in the Sugar Run and Tunungwant Creek Watersheds just east of the Allegheny Reservoir.

The Sugar Run Project calls for:

  • 2,154 acres of logging including 584 acres of clearcutting.
  • 4.7 miles of road construction and reconstruction.
  • The expansion of 4 stone pits.
  • 569 acres of herbicide spraying.

The Forest Service claims this project will improve wildlife habitat and water quality, but their plans simply do not meet those goals. Specifically, the Forest Service states that the goals of the timber sale are :

  • "improving plant diversity and wildlife habitat";
  • "reducing impacts from deer browsing";
  • "improving the oak component";
  • "maintaining the Allegheny hardwood forest type";
  • "maintaining the diversity of forest types";
  • "increasing the resilience of the forest to impacts of insects, disease, and decline";
  • "providing wood";
  • "relocating and improving portions of the North Country Trail";
  • "reducing potential impacts to water quality", and
  • "protecting historic and prehistoric sites".

It is interesting to note that while the Forest Service is claiming the desire to improve conditions on the North Country Trail for hikers in one area, they are logging on and around it in several other areas. A considerable amount of the trail passes through logging sites, including sites planned to be clearcut. These are not the areas the Forest Service plans to relocate.

As far as deer are concerned, the Forest Service is entirely contradictory on the subject. They state in the 1986 Forest Plan, "The regeneration harvest method known as clearcutting allows the regeneration of vegetation crucial for animals requiring young vegetation. As a result, hunters have enjoyed high populations of the white-tailed deer."

However, they also state that deer browsing has "altered the natural vegetation on the floor of the forest."

Essentially, in order to decrease the effects of deer, the Forest Service is proposing to clearcut despite knowing that clearcutting directly contributes to increased deer populations.

What You Can Do:

Contact the Forest Service and tell them to withdraw the Sugar Run Project. Rather than clearcutting our forest, remind the Forest Service of the need to restore the Allegheny. By not logging, the Forest Service will make that important first step to reducing the population of deer. By continuing to clearcut the Forest Service merely creates a problem they then have to solve, at our and the forest's expense.

Ask the Forest Service to develop a zero-extraction/restoration alternative that focuses on protecting the Sugar Run area through no logging, road building, stone pit expansions or herbicide spraying, and focuses instead on forest restoration by taking out roads that pollute our watersheds, recovering populations of threatened species, and protecting recreation opportunities.

Send comments to:

Kevin Elliott

Allegheny National Forest Supervisor

P.O. Box 847

Warren, PA 16365

kbelliott@fs.fed.us

 

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