Monday, March 31, 2008

Can't you feel that sun a-shining?

On Friday, December 30, 1994, the City of Memphis and the Memphis Zoological Society signed City Contract #N10713 -- also known as the management agreement for the Memphis Zoo.

3.1. The City hereby appoints MZS as the manager of the Zoo, including all operations, maintenance, and programs at the Zoo.

We obtained our very own copy of Contract #N10713 from the City's Park Services division and scanned it for our growing public document collection [1.1MB PDF]. Now you, too, can savor the flavor of this public/private partnership!

In case you don't relish translating contract-speak into human language, I've picked out a few highlights. To begin with, the management agreement is a yearly contract that automagically renews each year unless it's canceled by the Memphis City Council or the Memphis Zoological Society.
2.2. Either the City or MZS can terminate the agreement at any time, on sixty (60) days prior written notice, whether or not good cause exists for any such termination.

I got bored by the ordinary housekeeping issues -- like how to treat the City of Memphis employees who worked at the Memphis Zoo when its management was turned over to MZS, which is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization blah blah blah -- so I won't go into any of that. You can read it for yourself.

But I was fascinated by the nitty-gritty on who gets what.

According to Contract #N10713, what does MZS get from the City of Memphis?
  1. A management fee of $100,000 per month.
  2. All revenues from admissions, parking fees, rentals and special events.
  3. All proceeds from concessions and rides.
  4. Payment of all property insurance premiums that exceed the Zoo's cap of $12,000 per year.
  5. Payment of all sewer fees that exceed the Zoo's cap of $75,000 per year.
  6. Free maintenance, repair and replacement of all real property.
  7. Free maintenance, repair and replacement of all vehicles and other equipment.
  8. Free gasoline and oil.
  9. Free plumbing and electrical work.
  10. Free parkland for Zoo expansions, as approved by the City.

According to Contract #N10713, what does the City of Memphis get from MZS?
  1. Not a whole hell of a lot.

Okay, okay... I think it's obvious that Memphis does benefit from having the Memphis Zoo as a major tourist attraction. But the management contract doesn't tell us how, exactly, the average citizen gets anything out of this sweetheart deal.

Reading over this contract made me realize that my $99/year Family Plus membership isn't the only check I write to the Memphis Zoo.

The Memphis Zoo depends heavily on the financial support of Memphis taxpayers, and you'd think that gives us the right to expect a modicum of public transparency and accountability.

Instead, we get this:

Let's wrap this up with my favorite clause in the contract:
5.1. Ownership of the Real Property and Equipment shall be and remain in the City. The City does hereby grant and convey to MZS license to use the Real Property and Equipment during the term of this Agreement for Zoo purposes only.

I know it's not poetry but it speaks to me anyway, because it says that the citizens of Memphis own the Memphis Zoo.

That's right. We own the parking lots, the ticket booths, the exhibits, the offices, the executive bathroom, the classrooms, the concession stands, the kiddie rides, the trucks and trams. We own the trees.

And we own that damn fence.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Forest group upset at Memphis Zoo for removing trees

We somehow missed this WMC-TV news story from March 5 about the reaction of Park Friends Inc. to the Teton Clearcut. Be sure to watch the video; the text summary is inaccurate.

Is the Zoo a Tadpole, or Is it the Fly?

As you may have read, the Memphis Zoo has launched a breeding program to save the Mississippi Gopher Frog from extinction. They've bred 94 tadpoles via a program of in-vitro fertilization, which is wonderful because the existing population is only 100. What I find really cool is this species is a nearby native of Memphis; beside the tadpoles, the survivors live in 2 ponds in Harrison County, Mississippi.

I congratulate the Zoo and applaud this work, without irony or sarcasm. Read about the Gopher Frog and you might do the same. Yet the frog, like so many other endangered and extinct animals, has been brought to the brink by habitat destruction; in the frog's case, the destruction of forest. So I have to wonder:

How can the Zoo's spirit of conservation co-exist, in the same body, with the brutality against nature that we saw with the Teton Trek clearcut? Or...

Is the Zoo a tadpole, or is it the Fly?

Will it metamorphosize into a mature and progressive steward of nature, leaving behind atavistic environmental behavior like clear-cuts in ancient forests?

Or will it remain torn against itself, half-destroyer, half-steward, one arm reaching out to protect and nurture, another leg grasping to control and destroy?

The tadpole is the future. What is the Zoo?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nature in a Cage

Since I was tasked with the beer run this afternoon, I swung by the park to check out the mayapples and buckeye trapped inside our 17-acre Enchanted Forest.

This intrepid buckeye is making its great escape. Go, buckeye, go!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Baby, it's a wild world...

What with our kiddos and lack of disposable income, it looks like none of us can make it to tonight's swanky event at the Memphis Zoo. I'm really disappointed about missing it because this is the zoo's largest conservation fundraiser of the year.

And I'm told the wine and beer selection is always spectacular.

You and I may have our differences, Memphis Zoological Society, but at least we all enjoy our wine and beer. Who knows what might grow from that small patch of common ground?

If any of you CPOP supporters are able to attend, be sure to give Chuck Brady a big friendly howdy from us. Then ask him to earmark your donation for the permanent protection of our remaining 136 acres of endangered Old Forest habitat.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The future's so bright, we gotta wear shades

Hey hey hey, look what Google just coughed up!

Now why the hell can't the Memphis Zoo just hand out this simple little Teton Trek map when visitors ask for it? Or, at the very least, include it somewhere in their exhibit description?

I guess that kind of behavior would be too ridiculously obvious and transparent for a public/private partnership.

So, I had to unearth this previously unknown artifact from the depths of the Special Capital Campaign Issue of the Memphis Zoo's newsletter from July/August 2006 (2.3MB PDF) which also includes a lot of fascinating talk about the Teton Wreck and the Zambezi Hippocampus.

Obviously the Memphis Zoo had all of this public info right there at its fingertips ages ago -- in handy electronic form, even! -- so why did I have to waste my precious time digging for it?

Behold the hippopotamus

In addition to bleating "It's been in our master plan for 20 years" every time we squeeze 'em, our fine furry friends at the Memphis Zoo say they were not trying to surprise anyone with the clearcut for Teton Wreck. After all, they did put up signs announcing it.

But the sign also announces the Zambezi River Hippo Camp and lacks a map of either exhibit, so I failed to observe a connection between the location of this sign and the brutal clearcut that was about to happen behind that green fence.

If the above sign was intended to mark the location of Teton Dreck, I'm really starting to wonder what the Memphis Zoo is trying to communicate by the placement of this identical sign:

It's within sight of the panda gift shop and carousel, and that wall is the backside of the Primate Canyon exhibit. Does this location make any sense?

Can we expect Hippopotamus vs. Orangutan All-Star Wrestling in the spring of 2010? Or maybe a happy little ungulate/primate commune in which the siamangs take over the treetops while the hippos and crocs prowl Lick Creek, dreaming of sloppy okapi for lunch? I'm so confused.

Here are the two Teton/Zambezi signs glommed on top of a Memphis Zoo map, so you can see their locations for yourself:

The Memphis Zoo says they plan to take a break from clearcutting and redevelop existing exhibits for the Zambezi River project, instead, but it sure would be nice if they had a public map to prove it.

Note: This is the easternmost third of the official Memphis Zoo map. This is the only map available to visitors. Where is Teton Trek, you ask? Out there, where the map ends and unicorns frolic with leprechauns in fountains of champagne.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Walling in or walling out?

He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly. . .

(From "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Top 10 Things We'd Love to Hear the Memphis Zoo Say

Memphis Zoo spokesmodel Brian Carter and good ol' Chuck Brady are starting to sound like broken parrots. We keep thinking they will get tired of repeating "It's been in our master plan for twenty years..." but it's been a month and they've shown a real commitment to Staying The Course.

We have a few helpful suggestions in case our buddies ever decide to liven up their stale repertoire:

  1. Man, we screwed up.
  2. We honestly didn't think anyone would notice. Oops, you caught us!
  3. We secretly love the Old Forest and feel awful about hurting it but, dudes, you have to understand: $10 million from Fred Smith can buy A WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.
  4. Now we really see the value in asking for community input.
  5. Our planning and decision-making happens in a tiny bubble world and we are lonely. Come visit our planet, Memphis!
  6. Our model for a public/private partnership is deeply flawed and we want to fix it.
  7. We've relied on cronyism and backroom politics for too long. It's time to let the sun shine in!
  8. We apologize to the citizens of Memphis for abusing their trust. We promise it won't happen again.
  9. Who wants to help us take down that 17-acre fence? YEEHA!
  10. Hey, y'all want to go out and drink a few pitchers with us? Oooh, and maybe go dancing later?

Monday, March 24, 2008

They make a desert and call it Teton Trek

I see the Memphis Zoo's Teton Trek FAQ disputes our use of the word clearcut to describe their forest-removal technique:

Q. Did the Zoo "clear cut" the entire four acres?
A. No. While trees were removed from the land on which the exhibit will reside, the Zoo was able to protect trees that could be included in the construction plans.

Let's fix that for 'em:
Q. Did the Zoo "clear cut" the entire four acres?
A. Not in our opinion. While nearly all of the trees were removed from the land former old-growth forest on which the exhibit will reside, the Zoo was able to protect a handful of lonely trees that could be included in the construction plans provide shade and butt-scratching posts for elk.

Seriously, what word do you think is most appropriate to describe this scene:

Or (thanks, Billy!) this:

I think the answer is clearcut.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Giving a Canopy to the Numbers

I've created a visual overlay in Google Earth of the 6 PDFs that Stacey exposed to sunlight.

If you don't want to mess with Google Earth, here's the demolition plan superimposed on the canopy.

Old Forest Canopy and Demolition Plan

It's positioning is not perfect but you can get a sense of what's now missing, based on all those little X's.

Another Master Plan

While hunting eggs with the kids at the Botanic Garden, I stumbled upon a display showing the Botanic Garden's Master Plan! Yes, a Master Plan right out in the open where people could see it! Crazy, huh?

They are building a new children's garden and thought it might be nice to let visitors know all about it.

The Botanic Garden, like Shelby Farms, shows how a public/private partnership should work.

But to be fair, neither Shelby Farms or the Botanic Gardens has anything to hide.

Meanwhile back at the Memphis Zoo, a friend of ours (also a Zoo member) asked to see the master plan on Thursday and the front desk still did not have a copy to show visitors. Instead she was referred to the Zoo's website.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Along the way...

A supporter sent in some pictures from their Friday hike:

I also liked this purple glove caught in a tree across from the Memphis Zoo's fence. I like to think it is giving the Zoo the finger:

Unfortunately, someone removed the signs from the fence, so I could only enjoy them on my screen and not in person.

Demolition, man...

Stacey was too wiped out by her adventures in blunderland to squint at every tree marked on the Memphis Zoo's Teton Clearcut demolition plan, but I couldn't wait to examine our hard-won prize. I printed the six PDFs and broke out the highlighter pens.

I have to apologize in advance for the eye-glazing material I'm about to share. If you'll just try to imagine how awful it was for me to write it, I think we can get through this together.

Hold hands and jump!

Okay, so every X on the demolition plan marks an "Existing tree to be removed with root mass." Page 5, for example, shows a total of 93 trees marked for removal and 33 trees protected by fencing:

The demolition plan shows a total of 202 trees that were exed off by the Memphis Zoo. I'm giving the zoo a free pass on the one labeled "dead tree" so that leaves 201.

The labels show these tree species/genera: Ash, black gum, box elder, cherry, cottonwood, dogwood, elm, hackberry, hickory, ironwood, maple, mulberry, oak, red oak, sassafras, sweet gum, sycamore, tulip poplar, and white oak. The marked trees range in size from 4 inches DBH (diameter at breast height) to 42 inches DBH.

Of these 201 marked trees, 65 were smaller than 10 inches DBH, which is the magic number cited by the zoo's Chuck Brady and OPD's Burk Renner. Our quaint little loophole-infested tree ordinance says that trees smaller than 10 inches DBH are not considered to be "existing" for legal purposes.

My count says that 136 legally existing trees got whacked -- that's pretty close to the zoo's 139. The zoo said it protected 78 trees and my count is 71 -- maybe close enough, until we subtract the 15 protected trees that are smaller than 10 inches DBH. That leaves only 56 legally existing trees that got protected.

You know that phrase "rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic"? It just popped into my head for some reason.

Chuck Brady told the Commercial Appeal that one-third of the trees removed were 6 inches or less in diameter. I counted 33 trees in that size range, which is only 16% of the total tree count of 201. Chuck didn't mention that the zoo also cut 60 trees that were 18 inches or more in diameter (30% of the total) including two 42-inch oak behemoths.

But, hey, we could play number games all day. Just like the Memphis Zoological Society does when it calculates how many trees and dollars it can harvest from our parkland.

I still don't know whether the Memphis Zoo complied with the tree ordinance or not. I still don't know how many board feet of ancient timber was trucked to the sawmill, or how many tons of fertile topsoil are being dumped at the landfill right now.

This is what I do know:

We lost four acres of majestic oaks and hickories, graceful dogwoods and pawpaws, dainty trillium and mayapples, freaky-ass fungi and lichens, and the myriad creatures that depended on this unique habitat. It took 10,000 years for this forest to become what it was, and now it's gone forever.

We lost four acres, and that was four acres too many. It's not going to happen again.

If you want to count the trees yourself, the PDFs of the demolition plan are posted at the bottom of our sidebar.

SUV Convention

Did any of you midtowners get an invite to the Memphis Zoo's Good Friday SUV/Minivan Convention at the Overton Park Greensward? I know I didn't. (But they don't invite me to anything.)

Looks like these picnic-ers didn't know what they were getting themselves into:

I bet these folks with their friend in a wheelchair were really happy with the Memphis Zoo's overflow parking solution:

No doubt many of the conventioneers were thinking, "Damn, when is the Memphis Zoo going to tear down some more forest and build us a parking garage!?"

I actually felt bad for the one family of conventioneers that was dragged over to Rainbow Lake by their inquisitive four-year-old. "Look!!" he said excitedly as he pointed to the ground.

"Yeah, it's a puddle," his mother said unenthusiastically as she counted the seconds until she could be in the puddle-free safety of the Zoo's concrete jungle.

Oh how I wanted to tell that little boy about the really cool stuff he could see just a few feet away, if only his parents knew the Old Forest existed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Group Opposes Clear-Cutting For Zoo Exhibit

Group Opposes Clear-Cutting For Zoo Exhibit
Friday, March 21, 2008 - The Daily News

By Andy Meek

Almost 40 years ago, a grassroots band of activists organized, called themselves Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, and fought a battle against the federal government that persisted all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They won in 1971, effectively killing a plan to build a six-lane stretch of Interstate 40 through the park.

Earlier this month, a small group of Midtown residents organized, called themselves Citizens to Preserve Overton Park in honor of the original group and prepared to fight a different kind of development in the park.

The new target is the Memphis Zoo, which recently cut down four acres of forest - or about 139 trees - to make way for a planned expansion. The three mothers who re-incorporated Citizens to Preserve Overton Park this month are concerned that another 17.5 acres of the park's old-growth forest, which has been fenced off by the zoo, could be at risk of a similar fate.

History repeats itself

The two grassroots park efforts are separated by more than four decades, different areas of focus and different attitudes toward parkland.

The earlier park battle lasted about 25 years and concerned a variety of transportation issues, and the original group of supporters was comprised of environmentalists and citizen activists. Local attorney Charles Newman, who was then as now a member of the historic Memphis law firm Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC, was eventually brought on board.

The new group is just getting started. But it already has distributed its message far and wide in a way that the earlier park supporters couldn't have, thanks to the Internet.

"This is important to us, and it's important to our kids' lives," said Naomi Van Tol, one of the three founders of the new Citizens to Preserve Overton Park. "We wanted to do something long term, promote the forest and get people feeling good about things like hiking the trails. And we thought, 'What more perfect name for the group could there be than the original defenders of the park?'

"We of course weren't involved in that fight, but it's still an inspiration to us. They managed to accomplish what at the time seemed like an impossible goal."

'Little old ladies in tennis shoes'

Whereas the previous incarnation of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park took on the federal government, the new group is focused on the zoo, which is visited by about 1 million people each year. The three mothers who re-incorporated the group - Stacey Greenberg, Amy Stewart-Banbury and Van Tol - are all members of the zoo and regularly walk the trails at Overton Park.

The 1971 Supreme Court case was decided on the grounds that the federal government can only fund construction of a highway through a public park in the absence of a "feasible and prudent" alternative. Even today, an older generation of Memphians is still prone to reminisce about how a group of "little old ladies in tennis shoes," to use the popular description, stopped the federal government in its tracks.

The high court's sympathy for the park supporters is evident in the majority opinion that was written by then-Justice Thurgood Marshall.

"The growing public concern about the quality of our natural environment," he wrote, "has prompted Congress in recent years to enact legislation designed to curb the accelerating destruction of our country's natural beauty."

Communication gap

Where the earlier group had numbers and legal support, however, the three mothers who re-formed the park group have advantages of their own.

Their Web page,, is a clearinghouse of information about their effort. It's also put them in touch with likeminded people from around the country. A representative from a California preservation group e-mailed the Memphis group recently in light of a similar effort under way there.

Van Tol said her group hopes to meet at some point with zoo officials and negotiate with them to rework the 17.5 acres that have been designated as the site where a forest trail area will be developed. She said the zoo has not been upfront about its intentions for expansion, which included clear-cutting the four acres to make way for the new exhibit Teton Trek. That exhibit has a planned completion date of summer 2009.

"After we prepped that land to build the infrastructure for the (Teton Trek) exhibit is when we started to receive comments, that certain people were surprised," said zoo spokesman Brian Carter. "From our vantage point, though, we were very clear what our intention was. Our master plan has been a public document for 20 years."

Van Tol said the plans took her group by surprise for several reasons. She said one reason is that the zoo's intention to clear certain acres of the forest in Overton Park was not explicitly laid out in the master plan document.

"They say it's been in the works for 20 years and that people don't have the right to complain because they should have known this was going to happen," Van Tol said. "Well, I visit the zoo at least two or three times a week with my 2-year-old. I didn't know this was going to happen. All of us are pretty active and involved with the zoo and at the park. The first I knew about this was when I saw the bulldozers."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The medium is the message

Rosa felt the spring fever in the air and demanded that we visit the Memphis Zoo today. She's in that almost-two-year-old stage where she loves being around other bambinos but doesn't actually want to touch them.

The Memphis Zoo was bustling with stir-crazy schoolkids on spring break, so -- the train ride was divine, but leaving the train was tragic -- and the panda movie was riveting, but the end of the movie melted down straight into "WHY DO YOU HATE ME, MAMA, WHY?!?"

I can only take so much of that emotional pendulum before I'm overcome with the desire to lie down in a dark room for the rest of the day.

I figured my best chance of that would be to expose my innocent babe to enough of the zoo's hypocrisy that she'd beg to go home. We started with the global warming placard adjacent to the Teton Clearcut:

Ready for your closeup?

In case you didn't get the message that you need to "PLANT TREES" because "Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air," here's another educational opportunity right across the way, urging you to protect our "VANISHING WOODLANDS":

Here's a photo I took way back on February 19 -- the same day I first noticed that a 20-ton trackhoe was knocking down trees on the other side of that reassuringly green fence:

And here's what the zoo has accomplished (behind the fence) as of today:

This might not look too bad, until you see it spread out across four acres.

Go take a look for yourself if you have the spare time and, ideally, a ladder so you can see over that fence. Before we leave the Memphis Zoo, let's go back to that totem pole you glimpsed in my first photo.

I'm really glad my daughter isn't old enough to ask why the hell this hapless Old Forest Druid is impaled on a pole with a chainsaw bar stuck in the center of its forehead. But it won't be long before she starts asking awkward questions.

Will it, Mr. Brady?

The Zoo Trees

Letters to the Editor
Thursday, March 20, 2008 - Memphis Flyer
The Zoo Trees

Concerning the destruction of Overton Park forest areas by the Memphis Zoo ("Up a Tree," March 6th issue): Is anyone really surprised? I have been noticing the loss of trees in the park for some time, but no one could ever tell me what was going on. Overton Park is one of the coolest things about this city, but no one with the authority to stop this madness seems to care. After all, years ago, they tried to build a highway through the park.

Memphis is one of the most backward cities in the country when it comes to conservation and ecological thinking. Trees? Who cares? Not to mention all the turtles, snakes, lizards, etc. that were killed when large equipment destroyed their homes in mid-winter.

Once you tear down a forest, you can't just rebuild it. Replacing a real habitat with a fake habitat that represents a real habitat? How insanely stupid. And how typical of Memphis.

Yvette Rhoton

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Little Miss Sunshine

In honor of Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide initiative that is intended to raise awareness of the importance of open government, I thought I would share my tale of woe related to getting my greedy hands on the Memphis Zoo’s Demolition Plan (a.k.a The Construction Permit) for the Teton Trek Exhibit.

First of all, the March 5th article Group upset zoo took out 139 trees to build Teton Trek by Cindy Wolff states that the Zoo removed 139 trees. The March 6 Memphis Flyer article Up A Tree repeats this number: "'We did all we could to save trees in that area,' Carter says. According to him, the zoo removed 139 trees..."

At the bottom of the CA article it listed the tree species that were removed, including white fir, paper bark maple, and Norway spruce -- none of which are native to this area. We thought this was very odd. In addition to wanting to verify the number of the trees removed, we wanted to know their sizes and solve the tree species mystery.

Naomi found the construction permit summary and number online. I called OPD (the Office of Planning and Development) to inquire about getting a copy of the full permit, which would include the “Tree Survey” or demolition plan. Don Richardson emailed me to say that he had met with Burk Renner, the OPD staffer in charge of enforcing the Memphis tree ordinance. Burk works at the Mullins Station OPD office, and he told Don that the demolition plan was at the downtown OPD office.

Perfect, considering I work downtown.

I called Burk to confirm this and to ask who I might speak with downtown, but he was out of the office. So I called OPD’s main number. I lost track of how many people I was shuffled around to, but it was at least five. No one seemed to have any idea what I was talking about.

I finally got in touch with Burk who told me to call Don Jones, which I did. Don played a little dumb at first. When I mentioned that Burk told me to call him, he came around a bit. However, he did not want to make me a copy of the demolition plan as I requested, since it was 20+ oversized pages at $5/page. After calling Burk, Don called me back and suggested that I come in and look at what he had in order to decide which pages I wanted copies of.

No problem.

Outside it was starting to snow, so I was able to leave work a little early and go to City Hall. When I got to Don’s office, he was standing by the receptionist with an accordion file in his hand. He led me to a conference room and handed me a large wad of folded maps. It only took me about two seconds to determine that what I was looking at was a landscape plan for the finished exhibit, not a demolition plan.

“Is this what you shared with the Commercial Appeal?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

Well, that solves the mystery as to why the CA's species removed list was so funky.

I spoke very slowly and once again tried to explain to Don what I was looking for. He excused himself and called Burk. While he was gone, I peeked into the folder to see what else was there. The only other document was the landscape plan for the Northwest Passage exhibit. Don reported that Burk was out of the office, most likely due to the snow and the fast-approaching 5 o’clock hour. So Don gave me his card, wrote Burk’s number on it, and promised to follow up with me on the following Monday.

Don still knew nothing by Monday, so I started calling Burk myself. After a series of confusing and confrontational phone calls, his party line soon became, “I don’t have a demolition plan.” The reason? Limited storage space -- which somehow caused it to get lost.

“But it does exist, right?” I asked Burk. “I mean the Zoo did have to file a construction plan before receiving a permit, right?”

“Right,” said Burk.

He then told me that he would contact the construction company and request an electronic copy, then email it to me. This would eliminate the need for me to drive all the way out to Shelby Farms. He said he’d have it in a couple of days —- at the most.

Three days later when I called to check on the electronic copy, Burk said he still didn’t have it. “You can come look at the hard copy though,” he said.

The hard copy? The hard copy that has been lost/non-existent for the past two weeks? Sure, I’ll come look at it.

"Will I be able to get a copy?" I asked.

"It's $5/page," he said and started counting pages...

When he got to 36, I said, "How many pages is the part that actually lists the trees that were removed?"

"1...2...3...4...5...6," he said. "$30."

"Sold," I said.

I made an appointment to drive to his office the next day, which was yesterday. I decided to call before I left, just to make sure he was there. Burk answered and said, “I just got the electronic copy! I’ll send it to you right now.”

A couple of hours later, he actually did.

After looking at the six pages on my computer screen, I called Burk back and asked if there was any type of summary page listing the types and sizes of the trees. (I'll admit it, I didn't want to count and list over a hundred trees, maybe two hundred, if I didn't have to.)

"No, there's no summary page," he said.

Chuck Brady, the Memphis Zoo's president was quoted by Cindy Wolff as saying, "One-third of the trees removed were 6 inches or less in diameter.... Four of the largest trees remain."

Call me crazy, but wouldn't this, along with that 139 total count that Brian Carter later repeated, lead you to believe that there was a summary of some sort?

During this two-week period I had been studying up on the City's tree ordinance. From Cindy's article:

The zoo's plan submitted to the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development was categorized as "office/industrial," which allowed the zoo to remove 90 percent of the trees on the interior of the site and 18 percent in the perimeter, said Burk Renner with construction code enforcement.

So I asked Burk, "If there's no summary, then how did you get the total count to determine whether the Zoo was within the 90% and the 18% requirement?"

"I counted them myself," he said.

Right, of course. This is how he prefaced his email containing the PDFs to me:
By my count the zoo planned to remove 125 of 163 trees for a 76.7% removal rate of trees 10” in diameter or larger. This is in line with the 80% maximum permitted by the Tree Preservation Ordinance for private office/institutional development.

Okay, Burk. Is it an 80% or 90% threshold?

Is it 125 or 139 trees removed?

And what's with the 10" diameter? If they are less than 10" they don't even go into the count? Then why is Chuck Brady saying, "One-third of the trees removed were 6 inches or less in diameter"?


I'd like to suggest that a summary page become a required part of demolition plans involving trees. You know, then everyone could get their story straight.

But in this case, there's no incentive for the Memphis Zoo -- or Burk, for that matter -- to worry themselves over numbers and percentages. Why? Because, according to Burk, the City isn't required to meet the tree ordinance. The city can do whatever it wants. That whole demolition plan with all the tree species identified and labeled? Just a formality.

Ah, the beauty of the public/private partnership.

See the demolition documents yourself! Right there at the waaaaaaaaaaaaay bottom of our sidebar!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Ms. Greenberg,

Thank you for your interest in the Zoo's Earth Day activities.
Participation by organizations in Earth Day is by invitation only. At
this time we must respectfully decline your organization's request to
participate in the event.

Brian Carter
Director of Marketing and Communications
v: 901.333.6566 | f: 901.333.6502
Memphis Zoo | 2000 Prentiss Place | Memphis, TN 38112

Visit us online at

Monday, March 17, 2008

Stick 'em up

Hey y'all, check out our new CPOP flyer:

If you get inspired to download it (JPG or PDF) and slap it up around town, we'd appreciate your help!

Long may they stand

Letters to the Editor
Monday, March 17, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Long may they stand

Unlike your March 14 letter writers ("Residents blue over 'Blue Parkway,'" "Parkway trees don't need gilding," "Artist's 'art' is public's 'eyesore'"), I was glad to learn the trees on the Parkways wrapped in blue were an art project. When I first saw the blue wrappers, I was afraid planners at the Memphis Zoo had tagged a hundred or so of Midtown's finest trees for destruction.

Let's make all trees in and around Overton Park an art project if it will protect them from zoo growth.

Susan Jennings

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Official Position of Park Friends Inc.

Park Friends Inc. has posted a "Position on Retaining and Enhancing Overton Park and the Overton Park Forest, more commonly known as The Old Forest or Old Growth Forest."

The Memphis Zoo and PFI both refer to the 17.5 acres of fenced forest as "the Zoo's land." This is an easy mistake to make, given that this public parkland is currently closed to the public. We want to remind everyone that this land (and the forest growing on it) is still owned by the City of Memphis and its citizens.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Down With Fence, Up With Spring

Okay, so the Memphis Zoo thinks we don't have a right to criticize their Teton Trek clearcut because we should have been able to read their collective mind.

Zoo director Chuck Brady told the Commercial Appeal that he was surprised at the public outcry against the Teton Trek clearcut.

"This project has been part of the master plan for 20 years," zoo spokesperson Brian Carter told Eyewitness News on Monday. "We feel as though the community has had ample opportunity to speak about our plans and the plans for Overton Park. And we're always taking in comments by e-mail and phone."

(You can email the Memphis Zoo at or phone 901-276-9453.)

But as Stacey described on Tuesday, public transparency and accountability do not seem to be priorities for the Memphis Zoo. It's true that the zoo recently updated its website to include a drawing of its 2001 master plan, but that drawing doesn't mention Teton Trek by name -- or Northwest Passage, for that matter -- and it certainly does not depict a four-acre clearcut.

Another recently added section of the Memphis Zoo's website contains this intriguing paragraph:

The Zoo is nearing the end of the current master plan and will be working soon to create a new 10-year master plan. Please check back soon to read details about how the process begins
Is it safe to assume that the planning process for this new 10-year master plan will give the citizens of Memphis a chance to mold the future of the zoo with our sweaty little paws? We'll keep you posted.

Finally, the Memphis Zoo's new Teton Trek FAQ states:
The 17 1/2 acres of Zoo land near Rainbow Lake has never been planned for major development. The Zoo's master plan has reserved this area for a minimal impact forest trail exhibit.
Doesn't this make you wonder why anyone would pay to walk along an Old Forest trail when we can already do that for free? It seems unlikely that the zoo would bother to erect a big fancy chain link fence around 17.5 acres of forest -- which, by the way, is still our land, not "Zoo land" -- if it did not intend to use that land for money-making exhibits.

It's important to remember that without the tireless efforts of the original CPOP in the 1960s and 70s, a large swath of this fenced-off forest would already be dead and buried under concrete. Are we willing to stand by and watch as this hallowed ground is devoured, a few acres at a time, by the Memphis Zoo?

We believe it's high time for the Memphis Zoo to tear down the fence and return this 17.5 acres to the citizens who own it. Public parkland does not belong in a cage.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Yeah... what Stacey said!

Our tulip magnolia wasn't fazed by last week's snowfall.

It's out there right now lighting up our whole street. People keep stopping on the sidewalk to touch a flower or just stare for a minute. I understand how they feel -- after months of bare branches, we're all starved for color.

Of course, the tulip magnolia isn't a native tree, so this morning Rosa and I joined a few friends for a walk in the Old Forest to see what might be rustling around in the understory.

Red buckeye is starting to leaf out!

Trillium is (are?) popping up in the rich soil of the Old Forest. They haven't flowered yet, so keep watching the trillium this month. If you walk too fast, you might miss the small dark-red blossom that sprouts from the center of its three-leaf cluster.

The first mayapples are here already, greening up the forest floor with their little umbrellas. Mayapples look so tender and innocent, but they contain powerful toxins that have been used medicinally ever since humans discovered medicine. Several of these toxins, especially podophyllotoxin, are key chemotherapy ingredients today.

I can easily satisfy my need for color by looking out the front door at my beautiful tulip magnolia, but a walk in the budding woods is the only thing that can really wake up my winterized spirit.

I'll be guiding a CPOP hike through the Old Forest on Saturday, April 5, starting at 10am, so mark your calendars. Check back later this weekend for details -- we hope this will be the first of many hikes. But right now it's bedtime for baby Rosa, and she calls the shots.

Get Thee to the Forest

The weather might be a little wacky this weekend, but try and get to the Old Forest if you can. This is a great time of year to visit! Ok, it's always a great time of year to visit, but I especially like going when the mosquitoes aren't buzzing around. Plus, I bet those thunderstorms last night did some redecorating!

Take pictures and send them to us! Or join our Flickr group.

Have a great weekend! We'll be announcing our official CPOP hikes in a few days!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Friends of Knowland Park

Looks like even zoos in California are misguided...

Greetings from Knowland Park-

I just wanted to let you know you're not alone in this fight. The community in Oakland, CA is fighting to preserve a space much like the one you are, where plans and approvals have been in place for over ten years. It's amazing to me to read the similarities between your circumstances and ours!

Knowland Park is the last remaining large open space in Oakland that looks out westward over the San Francisco Bay. Most of the remaining open spaces are regional parks that contain a very different ecosystem and look eastward to the Central Valley. The Oakland Zoo wants to create new exhibits on nearly 60 acres of prime open space, using only 23 of the best acreage and leaving the rest behind fencing.

Luckily, we discovered this before they broke ground, and are just beginning to gather support and put the word out via the media. The Oakland Zoo has been quite secretive in pursuing their expansion plans, and this will be their 3rd attempt in 30 years to expand into this precious open space, each time being fought by community members from surrounding cities. Unfortunately our representatives are reticent to re-open the case, and we are trying to find ways to get their attention in this year, an election year.

I would like to offer what little assistance and knowledge we can muster to your organization, even if it's only moral support. I will link to your site to ours to help you get a better Google ranking, and to let our community know that we are not alone in seeing a Zoo expand into natural habitat to teach people the dangers of displacing animals from their natural habitat.

What these zoos are overlooking is that people, and children especially, need their own natural wild places to go to take a deep breath and be in touch with nature. There is an excellent book on the subject by Richard Louv, called "Last Child Left in the Woods" that discusses Nature Deficit Disorder and its effects on the younger,
digital generation.

Sorry, for the long email, it's just exciting to find out we're not alone! Please let me know if you need anything, and be sure to check out our website at -- it's not as good as yours, but we're trying! If you ladies have learned any good strategies, please let us know.


Jason Webster
Friends of Knowland Park

Size Doesn't Matter

As you study the cross section of a tree, note that some annual rings are wider apart than others. When you see a wide space between the rings this means the tree grew faster at that time because it got more sunlight, water, and food. Lack of sunlight, food, water and competition with neighboring trees or being subjected to destructive forces such as forest fires, insects and disease, slow down the growth of the tree. The years marking slow growth show the rings closer together and narrow in width.

As Don Richardson pointed out on last Saturday's hike, until a tree breaks through the canopy in a forest, it's rings will be very narrow and close together. Therefore, a tree in the forest that is say 12 inches in diameter could be a LOT older than a tree that is 12 inches in diameter in your front yard.

Just something to think about.

Zoo Land vs. Parkland

Letters to the Editor
Thursday, March 13, 2008 - Memphis Flyer
Zoo Land vs. Parkland

I am totally outraged at the insensitivity the Memphis Zoo showed in its development of its new exhibit ("Up a Tree," March 6th issue). For the sake of expansion, the zoo chose to destroy four acres of old-growth forest in Overton Park. It is environmentally moronic.

I consider myself informed and active regarding environmental issues in our city. I use the park at least twice a week, and yet I had no idea the zoo had plans to "develop" this area. If the nonprofit group Friends of Overton Park knew of this project, why wasn't the public informed? Who is speaking for the trees?

Who did the environmental-impact study on this project? Something like this would never happen in an enlightened city. It is repulsive that we have forever lost one of the last pieces of old-growth forest in the city in exchange for an exhibit that cages wolves and bears.

My fellow citizens, our city power-brokers and leaders are failing us. It's time to break out the monkey wrench.

Billy Simpson

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mixed messages at the zoo

Letters to the Editor
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Mixed messages at the zoo

Your March 7 editorial, "Communication gap dooms trees," warned of the Memphis Zoo alienating future friends of the zoo, specifically the youth.

On my last visit to the zoo, my kids watched the sea lion show, during which a zoo keeper throws a plastic bottle into the water and one of the sea lions retrieves it on the tip of its nose and places it into a recycling bin.

The crowd cheered as the zoo keeper ended the skit with the message that "recycling is good for the environment, and we should all do our part to recycle."

After the show was over, my kids were psyched to do their part, and we looked high and low for a recycling bin. We searched by the vending machines, the restrooms, the various exhibits (pandas, elephants, primates), the Cat House Cafe, and all the way to the Memphis Zoo offices by the entrance. Not a single recycling bin was in sight.

When I asked about the lack of recycling bins, zoo personnel said such bins are untidy and attract unwanted pests. Needless to say, we left the zoo a little alienated.

Teaching conservation of natural resources while cutting down old-growth forest and promoting recycling while not providing recycling bins is indicative of the zoo's "do as we say, not as we do" attitude. The message one is left with is that we should care about making our world a better place, but leave the work to someone else.

Warren Oster

Overton Park in the Snow

The Pavilion, on the eastern end of the Park, during the March 7, 2008 snow.

The picnic area during the snow.

The Gnome Home, along the Old Forest Trail, the next day.

Some of Overton Park's magnificent grapevines in the snow.