Alert...Warning! 29 June, 2008

Forest could be cut to finance fisheries

Proposal for Perry land involves cash, wildlife, public

Thursday, November 17, 2005

KATHERINE BOUMANews staff writer

About 600 acres the state inherited from the federal government has become a quagmire for state officials who are trying to figure out how to manage it for cash and wildlife and the public.

The land, about one-quarter mile from the Cahaba River in Perry County, is well-loved by the public, said Nick Nichols, assistant chief of fisheries for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Nichols' job is to manage the land according to a 1999 federal agreement stating it should be used for the benefit the fisheries program.

That could mean cutting down some of the timber to help finance an ambitious program already under way on the land; next fall the state will open a hatchery for endangered snails and mussels at the old hatchery on the land.

"That is a resource that was conveyed to the state," Nichols said. "It was conveyed to us to support our fisheries programs."

So the state is considering harvesting some of the loblolly pine, which is not native to the area. But Nichols said he already has received negative reactions from Perry County residents who say the forest is healthy as it is.

Much of the public land in Alabama was cleared for timber in the 19th or early 20th century, which led to widespread erosion by the time of the Depression. At that time, the state or federal governments typically planted the land in trees that were expected to be cash crops or grow quickly, not those most suited to the soils or habitat.

That was the case in much of the Marion Fish Hatchery land, Nichols said. "It was kind of let go and kind of grew up on its own," Nichols said.

Now, about 164 acres of it is 70-year-old loblolly pine that could be harvested for cash.

The state lands forester has recommended clear-cutting that land and planting it in a cash crop. Nichols said the conservation department is hoping for a plan that would be less harmful to wildlife.

One alternative is cutting down the loblolly pine and leaving hardwoods so a mature hardwood forest could emerge, as would be natural in the area, he said.

One area will not be disturbed, Nichols said. It borders a preserve on the Cahaba River owned by the Nature Conservancy and is a healthy forest of cypress and tupelo gum with oxbow lakes, he said.

The Nature Conservancy's executive director said his group has only recently become aware of plans for the land near its preserve and hasn't surveyed the forest.

Nichols said that in Perry County there is already some opposition to cutting down the trees, particularly the proposal to clearcut. Local groups use Barton's Beach, the Nature Conservancy preserve, for camping, bird-watching and canoeing. It is said to be the largest beach on the Cahaba.

One Perry County Web site calls for permanent protections for the forest in the area, calling it the only state-owned old-growth forest in eastern Alabama.

Nichols acknowledges that most timber harvest plans would make the forest uglier in the short-term. But he said wildlife and timber management could more quickly return the forest to its natural state.

"We know this is a very sensitive location," he said. "We didn't even want to start down the path of it being strictly a timber management program. We set out to try to develop a plan that was both timber management and wildlife restoration."

He said he expects to be able by spring to present a plan to involved groups, including the Nature Conservancy and the Perry Lake Recreation Area Committee. He said the Conservation Department is seeking endorsement of a plan from the stakeholder groups before moving forward.

Please help protect the Perry Lakes Park ecosystem (both the Hatchery woods and the Park woods) from logging for any reason! Write to:

Governor Bob Riley, State Capitol, 600 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36130 (334-242-7100)

Commissioner Barnett Lawley, Ala Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, 64 N. Union St., Montgomery, AL 36130 (334-242-3486)
Contact: Thomas Wilson, 334-683-6389 (H)