Because of budget shortfalls, which are estimated to be around $1.2 million, the Division of Forestry created new districts for Kentucky. The division will be cutting from nine districts to five.
The southeast region, which is the division that includes Bell County, will now serve 16 counties. Those counties include: Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Owsley, Pike, Perry and Whitley.
Originally, the southeast region served 10 counties. According to the Division of Forestry website, no district forester has been announced for the new divisions. Jared Calvert was the district forester for the southeast region prior to the reorganization.
The new divisions went into effect on Feb. 16, according to a letter sent to Division of Forestry employees.
The letter states restructuring field operations to a regional approach was the best option to reduce costs and continue providing services. According to the letter, the southeast region includes the 16 counties with the greatest wildfire occurrence rates.
The regional office for the division will be located in Perry County because it is more central to the region and in the area of highest historical wildfire occurrence, according to the letter.
According to representatives for the division of forestry, the plan is to continue offering the same services as they have in the past. They will continue to ask for help from local fire departments if it is needed.
According to the letter, the last step in the realignment of field operations was to determine the best location for field personnel in order to optimize employee resources. That information was evaluated using several different factors including: total forested acres, number of local fire departments, average number of wildfires per year, average number of logging inspections per year and average number of forest management plans per year.
The forestry office in Pineville will continue to be used for local offices.
Anthony Cloud can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 606-248-1010, ext. 208