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Why UK Should Not Log Robinson Forest

October 2, 2007

As promised, I will follow through on my earlier post on UK’s recent discussion of the fate of Robinson Forest. For those unfamiliar with the University of Kentucky, a few background details will help. The university is the owner and caretaker of Robinson Forest, a wildlife preserve in Eastern Kentucky. The forest exists as a haven amidst widespread strip mining sites in the Appalachian Mountains, and it stands now as one of the most diverse ecosystems in the entire nation. The forest does serve as a space for research in the biological sciences at UK, but it also is the site of many other university-sponsored avenues of experiential learning, including the Summer Environmental Writing Program.

Recently, the university announced plans to begin logging the forest, a project that will (supposedly) take place under the guise of “research.” Controlled logging will take place and research will be generated that will hopefully lead to refined awareness in sustainable forestry practices. Many in the university community feel that logging could eventually produce knowledge that is, in fact, for the “greater good” of environmental welfare.

The aforementioned editorial in Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader demonstrates what a multi-dimensional issue the Robinson Forest agenda is. However, like many people who argue in favor of logging Robinson, the author of this editorial exhibits a deeply troubling blind, uncritical faith in the potential of scientific research and the “production of knowledge.”

Essentially, as the editorial argues, UK is taking a big risk in planning to destroy such a unique ecosystem, but as long as it pays off in the end (i.e. produces more knowledge), UK is justified in its management of the logging venture. In the mind of this editorial writer, “normally, researchers shouldn’t be asked to justify their search for knowledge.” Please! This uncritical attitude has, in the past, led to gross violations of scientific and human ethics (c.f. nuclear testing, the Holocaust, etc.). This blind faith in the sciences, a trend that has crippled UK for some time now, has the potential to destroy the land that has been entrusted to us.

However, as this editorial intimates, the “knowledge payoff” is all but certain. There’s a fundamental distrust between the environmentally conscious members of the UK community and the university administration. UK has repeatedly tried to consign sections of the Robinson forest to mine more coal to fire the elecricity that serves the already over-heated and over-airconditioned buildings on its campus. The university has lept into bed with Friends of Coal, even adding the organization to its list of corporate athletics sponsors this season. And finally, the university has yet to indicate that it sees Robinson Forest as anything but capital, a physical resource and a potential source of money. How can we safely say that UK will be able to conduct its research responsibly and resist the temptation to log trees whose wood fetches a lucrative price on the open market?

I think it’s clear that the artifice of “scientific research” is ultimately a poor excuse to log Robinson Forest. The University of Kentucky is responsible to members of the Commonwealth, its students, and the environment itself.

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