Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dozing at the wheel

Last October, CPOP had a major difference of opinion with Park Friends Inc. and City of Memphis Park Services about whether the understory of the Old Forest should be "thinned out" along the internal park roads. You can review that saga here if you wish.

In particular, PFI proposed removing the understory of the dogwood triangle on the north side of the forest, next to the fenced-off 17 acres. Park Services used to mow the understory of the dogwood triangle but quit doing that some years ago. We thought this was a win-win for everyone, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing the regeneration of native plants. And it looked pretty, too.

North side of dogwood triangle, November 2008

South side of dogwood triangle, April 2009

We opposed PFI's proposal and argued that any understory removal in the Old Forest should be limited to non-native invasive species. PFI and Park Services scaled back their plans and just removed some non-native privet along the park's gravel jogging trail, so we figured the issue was happily resolved.

But guess what? Late last week, Park Services removed a significant portion of the understory of the dogwood triangle. There's now a bulldozed swath of scraped earth, ranging from 10 to 20 feet wide, along the perimeter of the triangle. We do appreciate the routine maintenance done by Park Services to keep park roads clear of fallen trees, but this is not routine.
Bulldozer (back left) included for scale

Jimmy Ogle (back right) included for scale

We talked with the bulldozer operator and the head of maintenance for Park Services on Friday, and they both said the work was requested by PFI. We talked with the new president of PFI, Martha Kelly, who said she absolutely did not request any bulldozing but did tell Park Services that the dogwood triangle might need a little thinning.

This incident shows a disturbing lack of concern for the ecological value of the Old Forest. Nearly all of the plants that Park Services bulldozed on Friday were native species, including dozens of 15-foot-tall tulip poplar saplings that were shooting up like rockets and are now lying in a broken heap.

If those tulip poplars had been bought from a nursery and planted in the park with neat little mulch rings around each one, everyone would have been horrified to see them bulldozed. At a conservative estimate of $200 per tree and three dozen saplings destroyed, Park Services just wasted $7,200 worth of trees that Mother Nature planted for free.

Several of the ancient 12-inch-diameter dogwoods had their surface roots scraped away in a circle around their trunks, like a mulch ring in reverse, which will make it hard for them to survive the winter. It's not clear what Park Services was trying to accomplish here, but they have certainly succeeded in destroying a large number of native trees and uglifying the dogwood triangle.