Tuscaloosa News


Published Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Perry Lakes Park-area logging proposal irks preservationist

By Dana Beyerle, Montgomery Bureau Chief


MONTGOMERY | The Alabama Department of Conservation has made no decision about cutting down mature pine trees [TW1] in the Marion fish hatchery woods in Perry County, and a Judson College biology professor hopes the agency will never choose to.

The fisheries division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources operates a fish hatchery and woodland adjacent to a state-owned park leased to
Perry County for recreation and watching birds, including nesting bald eagles. The area includes the county-leased park, a Nature Conservancy beach and adjacent state land containing ponds, buildings[TW2]  and woods with native and foreign trees and plants that grow in a former cotton field.[TW3] 

Judson College biology professor Thomas Wilson about three years ago warned that the state had plans to cut a certain species of pine tree and sell it.[TW4] 

"The park is technically 80 acres ... and what we want to do is protect the entire 600 acres,"
Wilson said in a telephone interview. "They've been out there deciding where to cut the big trees.[TW5] "

Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley vehemently denied
Wilson's charge[TW6] .

"What we were talking about was a study that would tell how best we could manage that [property]," Lawley said.

Wilson said the preserve contains mature swamp tupelo, water tupelo, cherry board[TW7]  oak, swamp chestnut oak, bald cypress, yellow poplar and other tree species.

It also has mature loblolly pine trees which, because they only live about 80 years, are candidates for harvesting before they die and become unusable
[TW8] , said Alabama Forestry Commission lands division forester Eddie Kirkland. He said the pine trees are a renewable resource because they can be replanted.

Conservation officials argue that the mature loblolly pines, which really aren't native
[TW9]  to the property and were planted for erosion control on the former cotton farm, can provide income to defray the nearly $1 million annual cost of operating the fisheries and adjacent endangered species aquatic biodiversity farm.

Wilson said a dying or fallen loblolly pine has a value to the habitat. Birds nest in holes in the dead trees and other animals also use hollow fallen logs.

"If they're going to die, let them die of their own accord,"
Wilson said. "We have so little of that habitat left. Let's keep it like a federal wilderness area[TW10] ."

Nick Nichols, an assistant chief of fisheries for the conservation department, said no decision has been made to cut trees, and no one is going to cut any tree a bald eagle nests
[TW11]  in.

Bald eagles are no longer endangered, but are protected. While being interviewed over the telephone, he remarked that a bald eagle just lighted in its nearby nest.

Nichols said there's about 150 acres of "pretty much pure pine"
[TW12] containing some standing dead timber and fallen trees, an indication that sooner or later all will die.

"If they're not cut and utilized it will go back to the dirt," he said. "We were interested in generating revenue from it and ... [experts] said we could clear cut some and replant it and really that's as far as we got."

Wilson takes field trips to the park and lectures about the habitat. Even if he didn't, he said, Perry County residents don't have any other park. It butts up against a beach area that fronts an oxbow lake formed by the nearby Cahaba River.

[TW14]  said he requested stakeholders like the Audubon Society, philanthropists, biologists, park users and others to look at wildlife habitat possibilities and report to his department.

Because there's been no meeting, much less a report, there is no plan to cut trees, Lawley said. "So if there was any cutting it would be through this committee,
[TW15] " he said.

Habitat management isn't just about
Wilson's needs[TW16] , Lawley said. For example, bass fisherman may want more hatchlings to stock ponds, and one way to increase output is to raise revenue[TW17] .

"You have to look at management for all stakeholders," he said of the property closed by the federal government in 1995 and turned over to the state in 1999.

The property also includes the
Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, which is adjacent to the state fish hatchery, the Perry Lakes Park and the Nature Conservancy's Barton's Beach Preserve. The biodiversity project is about raising Alabama's numerous endangered mussel species and returning them to native waters and even potentially replenishing the rare Alabama sturgeon, Nichols said.

But that takes money, and the federal grants and state fishing license fees and donations that help pay the conservation department's operations are already tied down. The department gets no state tax dollars.

"What we're wanting to do, it's still our goal, is internally within the department
[TW18]  after consulting with experts like the best bird biologist, ornithologists, forestry people, come up with a draft resource management plan for this entire property," Nichols said.

Joe Addison, also an assistant chief of fisheries for the conservation department, said
Alabama's forests have been cut at least twice. "There's never been a pristine environment like a Joyce Kilmer [protected old-growth forest] area where there are only trails and you can go backpacking like in North Carolina," Addison said.[TW19] 

Wilson said he isn't buying it.

"They could get a lot of money cutting those old trees but how difficult is it to find a
[TW20]  floodplain forest in Alabama?" he said. "There's no management plan as effective as a wild one. We've got to have a few spots left, like God made them."


 [TW1]And also mature hardwoods

 [TW2]4 marvelous  Auburn Rural Studio projects including a birding tower

 [TW3]old cotton field is justd a small area of the Hatchery  woods.

 [TW4]And old hardwood trees

 [TW5]Not just pine trees

 [TW6]Nick Nichols led this group and it included a forester, an eagle biologist, and a representative of the AL Nature Conservancy.  They were doing a study for selective cutting of the woods and they told this to the  Auburn Rural Studio students as they worked on the birding tower.

 [TW7]Cherry bark oak

 [TW8]Bald eagles nest in the giant pines; these massave old pines are beautiful… a real wonder of nature.  People who love all of nature admire and love these old pines…they help make the woods and the park an exciting and rewarding place to visit.

 [TW9]Loblolly pines are native to the Alabama floodplain forest.  These pines are absolutely native species of the ecosystem.  …Ask any botanist.

 [TW10]Alabama has no tree on State property protected from cutting by a management plan.  Forever Wild forests are not protected from cutting by a plan.  Other Southern states have millions of acres of state forests protected from cutting….natural areas.

 [TW11]If the mature giant pines had been cut…we most likely would have no eagles nesting in the hatchery woods

 [TW12]I have never seen anything of this description in the hatchery woods

 [TW13]Tennessee has almost 500,000 acres of State forest protected as “wilderness…State Natural Areas.  Alabama has 0 State forests protected as natural areas…as “wilderness.”

 [TW14]Gov. Riley and Com. Lawley have each received hundreds of letters and cards asking for the Hatchery woods to be protected as a natural area…do not cut the big trees.

 [TW15]This is a breakthrough!  This gives us hope

 [TW16]This has little to do with Wilson…We want to save a valuable resource for the poorest county  in America…a major ecotourism destination…a place of pride for the deserving people of Perry County and all of Alabama

 [TW17]When we first ask for the trees to be saved, we were told that “it is not about money.”

 [TW18]Commissioner Lawley stated in this artaicle that no trees would be cut unless the stakeholders agreed to such a plan.

 [TW19]People who visit the Park and trails through the Hatchery woods love the place…find it beautiful… a wonderful and rewarding place to visit

 [TW20]A mature canopy haradwood