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Why do we want the LBL to be returned to pre-European?

Why do we want the LBL to be returned to pre-European?

Question: “Why do we want the LBL to be returned to pre-European?”

This question is a recurring concern throughout our listening sessions and even before that.

Since I arrived at Land Between The Lakes in 2013, I have reviewed the Area Plan numerous times to guide my decision making process. Many of our documents, signs, and brochures reference a “pre-European” point in time. Because of hearing people’s concerns, I decided to research why those involved in writing our Area Plan selected that point in time to reference.

I found the answer in our Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Land and Resource Management Plan. I learned that the planners intended for “pre-European” to serve as a benchmark for comparison of ecological conditions. I have explained with more detail on why it was chosen in our answer below.

I realize that this will not change many of your concerns about the time period. It does however; affect how we use the word in the future. It’s important to me that we use plain language to clearly communicate with you.

As we move forward together, I hope to have more discussions with you about the diversity of the landscape at Land Between The Lakes before the European settlers arrived. Our discussion will center on what is appropriate for us now.


Tina Tilley

Area Supervisor


At the time of writing the Land Between The Lakes Area Plan, the Forest Service worked with members of the public, various wildlife and land management partners, our Advisory Board members, and academics in forestry, water quality, biology, vegetation, and wildlife. These planners decided to use a “pre-European” time frame as a benchmark to calculate all the various alternatives available.

This reference to the past reflects a time of natural landscapes with native wildlife, abundant habitats, sustainable plant species, and clear flowing rivers and streams. This time frame came before farming took over the landscape and the iron industry depleted our forests. Both of these man-made activities changed the natural order at Land Between The Lakes.

The pre-European benchmark allowed decision makers to compare alternatives to finalize the land allocation prescriptions described in the table on page 48 in our Area Plan. Our current Area Plan desired state includes 98,940 acres of general forest and 41,800 of core forest areas. These two prescriptions call for a total of 140,740 acres of a more closed canopy forest than the 8,630 acres of oak-grassland areas with its more open canopy forest and shrubs, wildflowers, and grass components in the understory.

All our land and natural resource management efforts follow our Area Plan and this desired state of 140,740 acres of forest.

To learn more about what effect the original settlers had in our region, you can refer to the Nature Almanac regarding the fate of wild turkeys that “… disappeared first in western Kentucky in the late 1800’s…” at

Another article by Southern Forests describes how Europeans found our forests in the southeast after years of Native American influence. It states “The landscape teemed with large herbivores such as white-tailed deer, elk, and bison—indicating the presence of forest openings made possible by Native American fires and natural disturbances. The forests included large carnivores such as bobcat, cougar, and red wolf, as well as many species of birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.” You can find this account at

If you would like more information from our Area Plan, you can find it at

Supporting documents can be found at

You will find specific references to the pre-European benchmark on page 83 and 84 of our Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) at

It states:

“To provide a benchmark for helping set thresholds for some indicators, an optimal mix of ecological conditions was defined by agency biologists in terms of the Site Types, Cover Types, and Structure Types. These conditions then became the benchmark by which the thresholds for the indicator species were established, and are identified throughout this section as the optimal condition.

Optimal in this context refers to the mix of ecological conditions that agency biologists, in consultation with local experts from universities and partner agencies and organizations, believe best reflects the natural diversity of native plant and animal communities and best supports the viability of associated species. It is designed to serve as a benchmark for developing and assessing alternatives. It is not intended to be, nor should it be viewed as, an overall desired condition for LBL, because it does not incorporate all of the multiple-use and logistical issues that must be considered as part of the planning process. This optimal mix of conditions was compared to current conditions (Appendix E, Table E.2) to identify which conditions are in relatively short supply and could be the target of management objectives. Thresholds are set and effects of alternatives are analyzed in terms of how well future conditions approach these optimal benchmarks.

Setting this “optimal” benchmark is necessary to answer the question “How much is enough?”  relative to each different ecological condition. This question is one of the most critical and difficult ones to be answered during conservation planning. Setting ecological benchmarks may be done using a variety of methods; including use of historical reference conditions (Groves, 2003). Agency biologists defined optimal conditions in this case by relying primarily on general knowledge of conditions from the historical reference period of 1400 to 1780 (Chester and Fralish, 2002), which represents conditions just prior to major ecological changes brought by European settlement of the region. The assumption is that these reference conditions represent those to which native species are best adapted, and therefore would best provide for their viability. Because information on these reference conditions is spotty and not well documented, expert judgment is needed and precision is not high. Some benchmark levels have been modified from those in the Draft EIS based on review and input sought from scientists familiar with the ecology of the region.”

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