OHIO VALLEY — The Sunny Oaks Project, an operation reportedly seeking to create young, brushy forest to encourage oak regeneration, announced Jan. 19 its draft decision notice and finding of no significant impact and opened the project notice to a time period for comments of objection.
According to an email received from Wayne National Forest officials, “This project is now open for a 45-day objection period. The legal notice announcing this published in The Ironton Tribune on January 19, 2020.”
The notice filed with the Ironton Tribune reads, “Wayne National Forest (WNF) Ironton District Ranger Tim Slone is releasing a Draft Decision Notice (DDN) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a proposal to create needed young, brushy forest and encourage oak regeneration, respond to insect and disease threats, and contribute economically to local communities. These objectives would be met by harvesting about 2,612 acres of forest and conducting timber stand improvements, including prescribed fire on about 2 – 4,000 acres per year, herbicide use, and manual tree cutting to control competing tree species. Other project activities are site preparation, road construction and reconstruction, log landing and skid road construction, and tree planting as desired to supplement natural regeneration. The project is located in parts of Jackson, Gallia and Lawrence counties, Ohio, and is part of the Ironton Ranger District of the WNF.”
“This legal notice opens a 45-day objection period concerning the intended selection of updated Alternative 2 as detailed in the DDN/FONSI and the supporting analysis. The DDN/FONSI and additional project information can be found at the project webpage,” the notice continues.
The website is listed as www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wayne/landmanagement/projects/?cid=FSEPRD603728 or one can request information at the Ironton Ranger District Office at 740-534-6500.
“Furthermore, issues raised in an objection must be based on previously submitted timely and specific comments regarding the proposed project during the scoping period (April 1, 2018 – May 1, 2018 and May 10, 2018 Landowner Meeting) or extended comment period (December 14, 2018 – February 14, 2019), unless based on new information arising after designated comment opportunities…,” the noticed continues.
“The factors leading me to choose updated Alternative 2 over the Proposed Action or Alternative 2 as described in the EA (environmental analysis) are related to weighing the value of more successfully regenerating oak forests, which results in a longer time lapse to create the young, brushy forest that is needed in the project area,” wrote Slone in the draft decision notice and finding of no significant impact statement. “In response to public comment and internal discussions, this project evolved from focusing more heavily on the young, brushy forest objective to having more focus on the oak objective. Maintaining and enhancing oak forests across the landscape into the future is an important value of mine in selecting my intended decision. The initial Proposed Action would have regenerated oak stands, but I feel updated Alternative 2 would provide for a better outcome in stewarding oak. Creation of young, brushy forest habitat may take longer under my intended decision, since three-staged shelterwoods may take longer to complete than two-staged, but I feel this is an acceptable trade-off to increase the likelihood young oaks compose these regenerating forests.”
Slone said that he intended to make decisions and approve the project and implementation of updated alternative 2 plans because he felt it met the purposes and needs of the project.
Updated alternative 2 activities would include clearcut harvest of 741 acres of trees, 1,494 acre shelterwood harvests of trees and planning for 377 acres of two-aged trees. All harvest areas would be site prepared for forest regeneration. Supplemental tree planting would be conducted as desired for natural regeneration. Around 60 acres of log landings would be created along with 180 acres of skid roads. Ten miles of permanent road would be constructed, 17 miles of existing road reconstructed and two to four thousand acres a year of prescribed fires held across the project area. Mechanical and or herbicide control would be used at mid-story across the project area and a fireline of 41 miles a year would be utilized along with a potential 23 mile dozer line.
“As described in great depth in the Purpose and Need presentation, young, brushy forest, along with oak species, provide critical habitat components to an abundance of wildlife and plant species, and action on the part of the WNF is needed to create and perpetuate these forests,” Slone wrote. “If we want to maintain a diverse mix of species in the region we must provide diverse habitats for them. Long-term monitoring efforts have shown that species dependent on young, brushy forest have been in dramatic decline over the survey years – ruffed grouse, American Woodcock, Blue-winged warbler, yellow-breasted chat, and whip-poor-will show 77%, 23%, 33%, 27%, and 58% declines, respectively (Rodewald et. al. 2016). These declines are closely linked to a similar decline in young forest prevalence in Ohio (75% decline since 1960)… Oak forests are our natural heritage and our native forest type in this region, but these forests will eventually transition to maple, beech, and tulip tree if nothing is done to increase oak regeneration in forest understories and to increase the amount of young oak forest… The WNF has the ability, through funds and expertise, to apply treatments not readily available to or practical for many private landowners in order to ensure that habitat is of high quality for the species that use it.”
Around 1,000 acres of forest had been previously discussed to be harvested in Gallia, predominantly in Greenfield Township and some in Perry Township. The cutting process, if approved, could potentially take up to eight years. From initial information presented to Ohio Valley Publishing by the Wayne National Forest, The Sunny Oaks Project, originally was located east of State Route 93, west of State Route 141, north of the community of Aid and south of the community of Oak Hill.
Some nearby landowners had expressed concern that they felt the Sunny Oaks Project was a reincarnation of a previously abandoned effort called the Buckeye Habitat Improvement Project.