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Let thinning begin, forestry expert says

Chain saws will soon crank up in a 100-acre section of Lake Seminole Park, even though some say the county is making a big mistake.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


SEMINOLE -- The timber harvest project will proceed at Lake Seminole Park.

The tree cutting had been on hold until Pinellas County commissioners heard what a forestry expert had to say about the park department's plan to cut down half of the pines in a 100-acre section of the park. A handful of residents who oppose the project, along with a petition of more than 600 signatures, motivated the commissioners to seek an outside opinion.

Alan Long, an associate professor of forestry, told the commissioners Tuesday that the county was pursuing the right course of action.

"One of the problems of that park is that it's really overgrown," Long said Thursday from his office at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "Consequently, there's not a lot of diversity."

Thinning the forest will improve its overall health, he said, adding that decades of uncontrolled growth have resulted in trees competing for water, sunlight and nutrients. Also, in the event of a wildfire, the amount of fuel that burns is reduced, he said.

Gail Conroy, a retired accountant who lives in Redington Shores, says the county is making a big mistake. She says she doesn't agree with the mainstream idea that timber harvests and prescribed burns are necessary methods of land management.

Ms. Conroy says she plans to distribute fliers and put information on the Internet about the project at Lake Seminole Park. "I just don't think it's right," she said Thursday. "This is an American problem, not just a Pinellas County problem."

Long said that there always will be people who see no value in trimming forests but that it's a proven method in land management. He did make a couple of suggestions to the county, including cutting 40 percent of the trees instead of 50 percent and doing half of the work now and the remaining half within two years.

With Long in agreement that the timber harvest would provide a more natural-looking forest and improve the quality of wildlife habitat, the commission directed staffers to continue with the project, the first of its kind in a county park. Assistant County Administrator Jake Stowers said cutting could begin within a month.

Workers will thin out the 100-acre area, which is surrounded by a paved nature trail. The trees, some of which are diseased or dead, will be cut down with chain saws and then sold to a mill. A machine will trim thousands of saw palmettos that cover the ground.

Nesting trees will be spared, said Fred Stager, supervisor of the 250-acre park off Park Boulevard. Also, steps will be taken to leave pines of all ages.

The 2-mile nature trail, one of the park's most popular features, will be closed during part of the project.

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