Job Fair Today

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2016

Neighbors distressed over tree cutting at lake 

By John Howell

The scarred landscape along Union Road as it winds its way to Lespedza Point on the north shore of Sardis Lake is a jarring contrast to the canopy that stood there a few months ago.

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A harvest of the mature loblolly pine from Corps of Engineers’ land in the Moccasin Point Public Use Area has removed large swaths of the canopy that homeowners formerly drove through to reach the unique lakeside community. That view is now interrupted by exposed, reddish/light brown soil and tree debris churned around as the large timber harvesters and trucks crawled over the hills.

The drastic alteration of landscape has raised the ire of Lespedeza Point homeowners concerned about the impact of the tree cutting and the mess it leaves behind. 

‘Heart wrenching’

“It was/is heart wrenching,” Union Road resident Deanne Flanders wrote in a May 19 email addressed: “To all of you who are concerned, as well as instrumental, in maintaining the many ecological systems within Mississippi.”

Flanders’ message includes an impassioned description of the “cut-over” that remains after harvesting and the noise and interruptions the log cutting and loading creates in the formerly serene area. She also raises questions about the impact on hardwood trees mixed with the pines, the sediment runoff into streams and reservoir and lost wildlife habitat. 

‘Best Management’ 

John Harrell, Chief of Technical Services for the Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers, said that the logging contractor is required to follow the Mississippi Forestry Commission’s Best Management Practices for timber  harvest that includes inspections by a Corps forester on site most work days.

“Foresters are up there checking,” Harrell said. “They check the site; they check the logs; they check for runoff.”

The harvest management practices also include construction of water bars — earth barriers to slow water draining down slopes — seeding the slopes with grass and placing straw over seeded areas to help hold soil until the grass seeds sprout, according to Harrell. 

Harrell, who was formerly the district’s forester, said the Moccasin Point timber harvest is part of a management program that includes cutting, seeding or replanting that is ongoing continually on land owned or managed by the Corps.

Faded markings

“We looked at the trees you were concerned with today,” Corps forester Dan Kirkland replied in a May 26 email response to an inquiry from Flanders the day before. Flanders shared the emails with The Panolian. “The paint on these trees is extremely faded,” Kirkland continued, referring to blue paint sprayed months ago onto trees selected for cutting.

“This happens often on hardwood tree bark much quicker than pine.  These trees were marked. This means they were paid for and now belong to the timber company. As we have discussed, we did mark several hardwood trees within this pine forest.  This had to be done to allow full sunlight for our future pine seedlings,” Kirkland’s email states.

Water quality

Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Information Center Director Robbie Wilbur said that the agency had received a complaint May 20 about the runoff threat to water quality. 

“We contacted the Corps and asked them to check out the site,” Wilbur said in a voice mail reply to a phone inquiry. The MDEQ spokesman said Tuesday he had not yet received a report back from the Corps.

“If they don’t respond, we’re going to send someone up there and check it out,” Wilbur stated.

 Oversize pines

Canale Forest Management Company owner Bill Canale of Oxford, who has connection with neither the Corps timber sale nor the Moccasin Point logging contractor, said that “mills have quit taking oversize pines” — over 28 inches in diameter.  As a result, the oversize pine butts are cut off, often leaving behind 10-to-12-foot logs along with tree tops and limbs that are removed from the trunks.

Wildlife flourishes

It looks devastated, but that can be deceptive, according to Canale.

“The succession of plant species and herbaceous growth will come quickly. Deer don’t eat sweet gum and elm bushes that grow in the shady understory,” Canale said, but thrive on the new growth — honeysuckle, vines, leafy plants.

“We see turkey nesting in the treetops and debris left behind,” Canale said. The turkeys have adapted, according to Canale, making nests in the slightly higher elevation of the debris piles to avoid the abundant egg-eating predators who search at ground level.

Rabbits also thrive in the cut-over, providing food for hawks, eagles, foxes and coyotes, according to the forester.

But even if the recovery is rapid, it’s little consolation this summer for Flanders and her Union Road neighbors who must drive past the newly-created landsape every time they leave home.