I’m saddened to learn this morning that Kentucky’s privately owned and managed Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is under threat from the Louisville Power Gas and Electric utility (LPGE) and Kentucky Utilities (KU), which want to route a gas pipeline through its largely intact woodland of 16,137 acres/6530 hectares. They argue their need to meet the growing energy demands of Bullitt County residents and are claiming eminent domain.
Like many self-interested utilities across the national landscape, they haven’t gotten the message. We don’t need more fossil fuel extraction and pipelines. What we do urgently need are renewable fuels. Unfortunately, Kentucky’s a red state, where environmentalists might as well come from Mars.
Home to 2100 species, some found nowhere else, the impact on the Bernheim Forest would menace habitat, migration routes, and streams that have enjoyed protection from its inception, bequeathed as a gift in 1929 by grateful German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim.
The pipeline would transverse a corridor purchased in 2018 from funds provided by the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund and the US Fish and
Wildlife Service’s Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund, with the stipulation it be preserved in perpetuity.
Located about sixty miles from our house, I’ve visited it several times in my younger years, relishing several of its more than forty miles of hiking and biking trails. I remember well its designated groves of native Kentucky flora.
Stop off at the friendly Visitor Center for maps or download them from its site: bernheim.org. I recommend the 1.5 miles as Arboretum Loop as your introduction to Bernheim, a place you can visit repeatedly, yet find something new.
For experienced hikers up to the challenge, there’s the 13.75 Millennium Trail that will you take you 6-7 hours to navigate. It’s rough, true wilderness terrain.
I had lost touch with the paradisiacal landscape, moving to New Mexico. Now I’m back, and I’ve joined its several hundred mentors in preserving its legacy.
Each day, it seems I learn of new challenges in the continuing assaults of fossil fuel and industrial interests on the environment. In Germany, despite its touted environmental safe-guards, billionaire Elon Musk has prevailed in a court decision, allowing the destruction of a remaining 205 acre forest near Berlin to build a giant Tesla factory employing 10,000 workers, despite concerns of conservationists and local residents. This comes in addition to a previous 75 acres/30 hectares of forest already cut.
Here at home, the Interior Department has singled its likely approval of the Alaska Willow Project, a ConocoPhillips endeavor to produce up to 629 million total barrels of oil over the next thirty years, equivalent to 278,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the project’s lifespan. (Biden had promised he’d be an environment president.) The consequences in an area warming four times faster than elsewhere will be devastating for already vanishing polar bears, caribou, walruses and an indigenous way of life.
The Bernheim Forest, in sum, is another chapter in our inveterate struggle for a green planet. Utilities need to respect wilderness preserves, not see them as green spaces to be exploited. A local court decision is anticipated by March. The case, now four years in litigation, will likely move to a higher jurisdiction regardless of the decision.