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The battle to save Robinson Forest

The seemingly endless struggle to protect the E. O. Robinson Forest, an ecological gem that’s in the care of the University of Kentucky, has been renewed.

Timber and coal make these 14,800 acres enormously valuable. But so does the opportunity for research that they provide.

As the UK Department of Forestry itself says, the forest’s special topography “contributes to a wide variety of microclimatic conditions of sites, and provides a unique outdoor laboratory in which to conduct long-term forest research.”

No wonder the UK plan to log 1,000 acres faces growing resistance. Four environmental groups are drumming up opposition. And the state’s most celebrated writer/thinker, Wendell Berry, warns against UK’s joining the “total industrial war against the land, the forest and the people” of eastern Kentucky. Other leading opponents include banker/horseman/philanthropist Tracy Farmer and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler. They believe the plan is to “clearcut” the 1,000 acres. UK officials say that isn’t true. Somebody ought to clear up that issue, decisively, before the first tree falls.

Agriculture Dean Scott Smith says the cutting, clear or otherwise, would show what happens when a forest environment is logged. Opponents say it’s all too obvious what would happen: nothing good. As Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council notes, “They are going to take one-tenth of the forest to study one issue, and in the process take out decades of baseline data.”

The larger issue is that, if this forest is to be sacrificed, it should be as part of a broad, inclusive plan, and for some overarching goal. As we’ve said before, full exploitation could produce a huge endowment with which to lure magnet scholars and researchers in disciplines especially relevant to the mountain region, such as Appalachian Studies, rural health and sociology, Southern literature and music, mine engineering and reclamation, community journalism. It also could finance field work by these scholars in eastern Kentucky. But just chipping away at this gem may simply devalue it.

– The Courier-Journal, Louisville

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