Outdoors enthusiasts believe clearcutting hardwoods is strictly for financial gain

Sherrell hosts town hall meeting with TWRA

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When his constituents approached State Representative Paul Sherrell with concerns about Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s plans to cut hardwoods in the Bridgestone/ Firestone Wilderness Area, he organized a town hall meeting so they could make their voices heard and ask TWRA for answers.

The meeting, which was Oct. 6 at, Sparta Civic Center, saw over 200 people come prepared to hear answers from 25 TWRA representatives, far exceeding Sherrell’s expectations for attendance.

“I think there’s a lot of interested people – a lot of concerned people,” Sherrell said.

Sherrell stated the attendance at the meeting spoke for itself with how people are feeling about the project that is slated to begin this fall and will result in the cutting of over 200 acres of hardwoods, affecting trails, hunting, and erosion.

“People from all over the state, and even some from out of the state, came to get answers,” he said.

The project would result in TWRA cutting the native hardwood trees on a large number of acres near the Welch Point and Virgin Falls areas of the wilderness in to create a savanna (a savanna is a grassy plain, with few trees) and increase the quail population in the area.

“We’re not against the quail,” Mike O’Neal, White County outdoor enthusiast, said.

O’Neal has been one of the most vocal opponents of the plans and has led a grassroots effort to educate the public and garner support against TWRA’s plans.

“We’re against the location,” he said. “They’re wanting to cut the same parts used by hunters.”

Those, like O’Neal, who oppose the plan are questioning TWRA’s motives for cutting the trees that provide habitat for deer and turkey as well as keep the cliffs and banks from eroding into the riverbanks below. The area is extensively visited by hikers, campers, and other outdoor adventurers.

“TWRA is trying to say that they need to cut the hardwood timber to have the quail habitat, but the people who hike or camp or whatever don’t want the hardwood cut,” Sherrell said. “It’s beside Welch  Point and Virgin Falls and all the beautiful place people come to visit. They could go across the river to where there is non-native pine that is no good, and they could do the habitat over there ,and it wouldn’t bother people.”

Sherrell said part of his hope in hosting the meeting was to get answers for the people as to why the TWRA wouldn’t consider the Mooneyham area of the wilderness for the quail habitat instead, as well as to get a clearer picture of what the plans were and to let the organization know what the population really wanted their wilderness to look like.

“We really didn’t get an answer,” O’Neal said about the TWRA’s discussion during the meeting. “I think TWRA was impressed with the number of people that turned out, but I think that they have their heart set on doing this.”

The growing concern for the project has stemmed from a discrepancy in the amount of land that is set to be cleared. TWRA has stated the plan is to cut 250 to 300 acres, but a map that was found shows plans for many more acres.

“According to the map, which they are claiming is not official, that has been circulating, they have designated 2,043 acres,” O’Neal said. “When we asked, Aubrey Deck [TWRA biologist] stated that there were plans to deforest several more acres, but didn’t specify how many.”

Deck said he feels this is a misunderstanding and that the leaked map, which was never meant for the public, is a conceptual map and not a planning map.

“The only plan right now is for 250-290 acres,” Deck said, but did admit that TWRA officials have hopes for a wider deforestation effort in the future. “The exact acreage is still to be determined. We can’t commit to X number of acres, but we would love to expand existing fields by 1,000 acres.”

Again, the concern was expressed about why the hardwood area of the wilderness is being chosen, with opponents to the plan stating there are areas better suited for the creation of the quail habitat than the one being chosen.

“The only reason they are giving is that it is across the river,” Sherrell said. “But the State of Tennessee pays their gas and furnishes their vehicles, so there is no legitimate answer for not using the other area that is located on the Van Buren County side.”

O’Neal, on the other hand ,was told it had more to do with the distance for the birds themselves.

“TWRA has said that maybe they won’t migrate over there, but they’ve moved elk from Canada and the Rocky Mountains, deer from Wisconsin, transplanted river otters and species of fish, but you can’t move quail two miles across the river?” he asked.

O’Neal said if they truly believe the quail may not relocate or populate the area, it seems like the whole project may be more of an experiment than the loss of trees is worth.

“It seems like this is a big experiment for TWRA to get the quail back, and if it doesn’t work out, what have you lost?” he said. “Thousands of acres of hardwoods you’ll never seen again in your lifetime.”

According to O’Neal, the area on the Van Buren County side of the river contains several thousand acres of fast-growing, non-native pines that could repopulate in a short period of time, regrowing the forest if desired. Additionally, he said Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation owns property on that side of the river that would provide for expansion should the project be successful and need to be expanded, arguing that the Mooneyham area of the wilderness makes more sense for the quail habitat.

The focus of the Sherrell’s town hall meeting turned to a matter of money.

“People are asking questions about the financials,” Sherrell said. “It has been brought to my attention that hardwood will bring $50 a ton where the pine will only bring $25 to $30 a ton.”

Marvin Bullock, president of Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce, and someone who has been very outspoken in leading the opposition to the plan, said TWRA has admitted they get to keep the proceeds from the sale of trees, at the same time referring to old growth forests as biological deserts.

When Bullock took a turn during the meeting to present a slideshow detailing the benefits of leaving the hardwood area intact, he was cut off because of time constraints but felt it was more because he was beginning to question if the motive was financial.

“The TWRA went over their time limit,” he stated. “They were supposed to have 20 minutes to present, but used 40 minutes. When I got to the portion of my presentation that was going to show some things they didn’t want, they didn’t allow me the same courtesy.”

It is estimated that an average of 38 tons of hardwood can be harvested for each acre that is cleared, with some variances coming from the age of the trees and the density of the vegetation. At the $50 per ton amount that Sherrell quoted and 250 acres, that would mean that TWRA could see $475,000 from the cutting, however, the agency says that number is grossly over-estimated as they only project they will profit $80,000 from the sale of the wood.

“The TWRA is the only government agency that gets to keep the proceeds from anything they sell,” O’Neal explained. “Any other agency is required to turn that money over to the state to be placed in the general fund.”

While TWRA stood by their claim that the site was chosen as the best possible location for the quail, Jimmy Wallace, another White County outdoors enthusiast who is in opposition to the project, said he spoke with TWRA’s Wildlife and Forestry Assistant Chief Wally Akins  after the meeting, and he indicated there may be some financial benefits driving the decisions.

“I asked him a direct question, why would you sacrifice the hardwoods instead of cutting the non-indigenous pine when you have more pine land than you need?” Wallace said. “He gave an answer that had more than one reason.”

Wallace admitted that in the first part of his answer, Akins said they wanted to connect the habitat with the existing land that was already there, hoping to make the transition for the quail easier and encouraging them to migrate to the new savanna.

Wallace then said he turned the conversation to the pines on the Mooneyham side of the river, stating they are 18 to 25 years old and are prime for cutting.

“They are getting ready to create a closed canopy and will have to be cut soon whether that’s where they create the savanna or not,” Wallace said, “but Akins said that there is no market for the pine, and they would have to just leave the wood on the ground should they cut it. He said, ‘so we don’t cut it, because there is no market for it.’”

Wallace said the indication he was given is there is, however, a market for the hardwoods that are being marked for cutting.

While O’Neal, Wallace, and Bullock feel TWRA didn’t listen to their concerns and is set on moving forward, Sherrell hopes otherwise.

“We are going to try our best to continue forward and see if we can get this stopped,” Sherrell said. “I don’t know if they were receptive or not, but a lot of the [TWRA] commissioners were there, so my hope is that [the meeting] helped them connect with their constituents and understand that the people don’t want this to happen, and maybe they can represent the people’s thoughts in further discussions.”     

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JC Higgins

To the TWRA – Bridgestone/Firestone Wildlife Management Area does not live in a bubble.

Another topic we did not have enough time to discuss at the meeting is herbicides. Which ones will be used to kill the trees you will cut down? What are the side effects of these herbicides on the residential population cattle wells, nearby Firestone Lake, the Caney Fork and other streams, ponds and the current animal, fish, insect and plant population in the woods as it is sprayed?

Residents close to Bridgestone/Firestone Eastland Road entrance have 100’s if not 1,000s of acres of land to raise cattle, bees, gardens and to harvest fish and animals from Bridgestone/Firestone Wildlife Area and surrounding areas to provide for their families.

In these uncertain times of the availability of food and the ability to pay for food, poisoning these residents’ private land to turn a forest into a savanna is callous if not criminal. To destroy current trees on Bridgestone WMA (and nearby private lands forests) that are in the prime of their production of acorns to feed wildlife; to kill bees who ARE ENDANGERED unlike quail, to potentially poison Firestone Lake that provide water to the surrounding Bon Air, Ravencroft, parts of Pleasant Hill, DeRossett and Eastland road residents with herbicide overspray, to poison the surrounding private land trees, soil, water, cattle, crops, Caney fork and other streams, need I go on… All this destruction and poisoning to create a savanna which already exists in the United States for a bird that already exists in the United States, based on someone’s BELIEF, but shows no scientific proof, that this is what Tennessee looked like. Savannas provide little sustenance in the winter months for wildlife. Even if Tennessee was a savanna, right now in the PRESENT time people are living in the area, caring for the land and animals, providing food and shelter for their families, so it makes no sense to destroy Bridgestone WMA and private property owners’ lands for something that no longer exists here.

Should we take down all the houses and dig up all the roads so the landscape looks like something from the past? Should we bring back the dinosaurs whose bones have been found in Tennessee – just because some believe they roamed Bridgestone/Firestone wildlife area a while back? https://www.thoughtco.com/dinosaurs-and-prehistoric-animals-of-tennessee-1092101

According to the UT Institute of Agriculture https://utia.tennessee.edu/ and the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries https://fwf.tennessee.edu/ , the herbicides often used in Tennessee are a “Mixture of Triclopyr and Imazapyr”, https://fwf.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2021/02/Herbicide-mixture-for-FSI.pdf .

The manufacturer of Trilopyr reports about the adverse side effects of their product as the following:

Triclopyr and commercially available products containing this herbicide are of particular concern to human health and the environment, due to: 1) potential toxicity from acute and chronic exposures, including eye, skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal injury; 2) potential adverse effects to non-target plants and animals, due to over-spray, drift, leaching, and translocation to aquatic habitats from weather and erosion factors; and, 3) the potentially extreme hazard to both humans and animals from exposure to “inert” ingredients in triclopyr products, such as EDTA, triethylamine, and kerosene.

…..and for specific details of the herbicide side effects there’s this from their website:

https://fwf.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2021/02/Herbicide-mixture-for-FSI.pdf .

Human Health Risk Summary

Acute Effects: Brief exposure to triclopyr has been found to cause severe eye damage, skin sensitization, dizziness and/or drowsiness, respiratory irritation, and gastrointestinal irritation. Acute exposure has also been linked to blood, kidney, liver, and nervous system toxicity in animals

Chronic Effects: Carcinogenicity: Though not widely classified as a carcinogen, two unpublished studies on triclopyr ingestion by rats and mice have suggested increased frequency of mammary gland cancer at high doses.

Reproductive & Developmental Toxicity: In experimental animal studies, high doses of triclopyr have been shown to cause reproductive and developmental abnormalities, including: increased fetal death, skeletal malformations, as well as liver and kidney defects.

Ecological Hazard Summary

Environmental Fate: Triclopyr is moderately persistent in soil, with an estimated half-life from 30-90 days, though it has been shown to persist for over a year depending on conditions. In an aquatic setting, half-life ranges from several hours to 10 days depending on water-depth and sunlight conditions. Adsorption to soil particles varies based on formula and soil type. Butoxyethyl ester has a greater potential for surface-water runoff and waterway contamination than the triethylamine salt, due to its low soil adsorption capacity. Butoxyethyl ester and TCP (the most common breakdown product of triclopyr) may pose significant risks to groundwater and surface water sources.

Risk to Non-Target Flora & Fauna: Triclopyr has been shown to be moderately to highly toxic to freshwater plants and fish as well as some marine vertebrates and invertebrates when in butoxyethyl ester form, as well as in the degradate (TCP) form. Salmonid species of fish have been shown to be more sensitive to both the ester form and TCP than other species tested. , Both fish and amphibian species have exhibited behavioral defects, reduced oxygen uptake and loss of motor control when exposed to low doses of triclopyr. At least one study has indicated that mammal populations dwelling in forested areas treated with triclopyr have been significantly reduced. Because triclopyr is a potent plant growth disruptor, unintended target plants may be destroyed due to spray drift, leaching, erosion and storm-caused translocation. Additionally, triclopyr has been shown to disrupt the normal growth and nutrient cycling properties of microorganisms, fungi, mosses and algae; all of which perform critical functions to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Toxicity of Inert Ingredients

Commercial triclopyr products are typically composed of 40-50% of the triclopyr acid or salt, and 50-60% of inert ingredients or surfactants. Many of these additives have shown to be significantly more toxic to both humans and animals than triclopyr itself. One of these compounds ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) has been shown to cause birth defects, cleft palate, and abnormal skeletons in test animals. EDTA has also been shown to be 10-fold more toxic to fish than the Garlon formulation alone. Another inert, triethylamine is extremely toxic to the eyes, skin and respiratory system. At least one commercially available triclopyr products contains kerosene, which has been linked to severe gastrointestinal, respiratory and nervous system toxicity.

PLEASE THINK BEFORE YOU DESTROY.

Saturday, October 9