Robinson Forest: Stumbo, UK should bury mining proposal
No matter how many trial balloons Grady Stumbo launches, more strip mining in Robinson Forest will not fly. The University of Kentucky would have to retract every point it made 12 years ago to get the main forest legally designated as "lands unsuitable for mining.''
UK battled a powerful coal company then to protect the core of Robinson Forest for educational and scientific purposes. Now the trustees are going to turn around and say, "Never mind; we lied about the forest's scientific value in '91''? They'd look like fools.
Does trustee Stumbo seriously think that UK could afford the cost -- not just in legal fees but also public image -- that such a reversal would exact? Or that UK would succeed in undoing a legal designation that it aggressively sought? Environmental organizations would fight tooth and nail to block UK from rescinding the forest's legal protection so it could expand strip mining.
Robinson Forest is Kentucky's premier outdoor classroom and laboratory, the gem of UK's forestry program. It's a rare living repository of mature forests and healthy watersheds in a region that has been ravaged by strip mining.
"The university would have a difficult case to make that its previous evidence and unequivocal position in opposition to mining was in error and that the protections it sought are no longer appropriate or necessary,'' the Kentucky Resources Council said in a presentation to the East Kentucky Leadership Conference last weekend in Hazard.
For the second year in a row, Stumbo, chairman of the conference and a UK trustee, used the annual meeting to float the idea of expanded mining as a way to save a UK scholarship program for mountain undergraduates. Preserving the Robinson Scholars is a worthy cause. But it's important to remember that the Robinson Scholars program is running out of money because of the way UK officials spent almost $25 million in coal and logging income from the rest of Robinson Forest. If the money had been prudently invested instead of scattered willy-nilly, the scholarship program wouldn't be facing early extinction.
That bad decision by an earlier administration does not justify another bad decision. Trying to strip more of Robinson Forest would be wrong. It also would be a waste of time, given the likely futility of trying to rescind a legal protection that UK sought.
Since Robinson Forest was protected from strip mining, time has only made the long-term research, natural inventories and scientific baselines in the forest more valuable.
At Stumbo's instigation, the trustees will soon receive a report from UK's administration on how Robinson Forest should be used in the future. Strip mining should not make anyone's list.