Friday, May 22, 2009

"Zoo Does Not Wish to Seek a Petition for an Easement"

The Memphis Zoo's Brian Carter sent a reply to my earlier letter:

A few things:

  • I know the Zoo doesn't want the exact same for the 17 acres as CPOP does. If I believed that I would have asked them to take down the Fence. I know they want to keep the Fence.

    What I thought possible, based on Carter's original statement that they wanted the same things, is that the Zoo might want to protect the Old Forest in their 17 acres, even if it's still fenced up. A conservation easement would do that, without unlocking the fence, without stopping a boardwalk. In fact, they have said repeatedly said that they plan to use "the boardwalk at the William B. Clark Conservation Area in Rossville, TN as an initial concept." It's possible, so why not do it?

  • It is very true "that the primary purpose of a conservation easement is to prevent land from certain forms of uses." Uses like these:

    Understory Rampage

    Exactly the kind of uses we hope an easement will prevent.

  • Whether "the fence that was removed" was permanent or temporary is beside the point. When it came down, they started dumping things on top of plants and knocking trees over.
  • I can assure everyone that CPOP will not send an Old Forest conservation easement petition to the Zoo's Marketing Department* for vetting (!!!). We will send it to the directors of the Memphis Zoological Society and the members of the Memphis City Council.

    Or perhaps, rather than our sending it to them, their sending it to us, ad nauseum, how about the Zoo working with CPOP and other stakeholders to create the easement?
* Does this mean that the Zoo's Conservation Department now reports to the Zoo's Marketing Department? Treating conservation as a marketing function goes to the root of their problem.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We don't need no stinkin' permits?

Remember two months ago, when the Memphis Zoo cleared and grubbed the understory of two acres of forest inside their fence?

If you plan to disturb more than one acre of land for a construction project in Tennessee, you are supposed to get a stormwater construction permit before you start work. We discovered that the Zoo did not have a permit to destroy this particular patch of forest understory.

We reported this permit violation to TDEC and the City of Memphis stormwater program. A City stormwater inspector visited the site and told us that the Zoo was in compliance because they had stabilized the site with mulch and sod.

Since the City did not address the main point of our complaint -- that the Zoo failed to obtain a permit that is required by law -- we asked TDEC to follow up. Here's the result (click to biggify):

The construction permit for Teton Trek (TNR152721) was issued to the Memphis Zoological Society on October 23, 2007, and it covered 4.2 acres of land clearing. Those 4.2 acres were cleared in February of 2008, like so:

The Zoo's suggestion that the recent clearing was "included" in the original permit for Teton Trek simply does not add up.

And speaking of numbers, if you look at TDEC's permit fee range, you'll see that the Memphis Zoological Society saved itself $750 by getting a permit to clear 4.2 acres instead of 6.2 acres.

At best, this was a sloppy mistake on the Zoo's part. At worst, it's a symptom of an above-the-law mentality that does not bode well for the forested parkland that remains captive inside the Zoo's fence.

Will the Memphis Zoological Society pay the applicable permit fee, just like every other land developer in Tennessee? Will the Zoo be penalized in any way for breaking the law? Maybe, but don't hold your breath.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Responding to our request to meet in the 17 acres to discuss the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit, the Zoo has given us an answer:


However, since they've agreed that the 17 acres is a part of Overton Park's old-growth forest, both in conversations and on their website, a conservation easement should be a no-brainer for them, for us, for the City of Memphis.

In fact, their unveiling of the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit plans for the City Council would be an excellent time to pitch the easement.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bygone days?

Jimmy Ogle unearthed this editorial cartoon from 1957:

I couldn't resist bringing it up to date (with apologies to the late great Cal Alley):

Friday, May 1, 2009

Stalking the wild geranium

About 30 people turned up for last Sunday's hike with Tom Heineke, the botanist who is conducting a year-long plant survey of the Old Forest. Tom said that his species count is well over 300 and very diverse, with 55 different plant families represented so far.

Earlier this year the Memphis Zoo chose to deny access to the forest within their fence, despite the fact that it's publicly owned land, but Tom has been working hard to survey the unfenced 125 acres.

Here's a typical action shot:

Tom's survey will be completed by September, and we look forward to reading his report!