County thins trees, despite complaints
By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
SEMINOLE -- While all may not be in agreement with cutting down trees at Lake Seminole Park, the project has begun.
Workers began removing pine trees Tuesday and will spend the next six to eight weeks thinning a 100-acre section of the county park. Removing about 40 percent of the trees will improve the forest's overall health, county officials say, explaining that decades of uncontrolled growth have resulted in the trees competing for water, sunlight and nutrients. Also, in the event of a wildfire, the amount of fuel would be reduced.
"The long-range results are going to be very positive," said Debbie Chayet, a horticulturist for the county's park system, as trees fell to the ground Thursday. The downed trees, some diseased or dead, will be sold to a mill for about $20,000.
Chayet says the harvest, the first of its kind in a Pinellas County park, will improve wildlife habitats. It will help manage invasive exotic vegetation such as air potato vines by preparing the area for natural development of species that grow in the understory, or beneath the shade canopy of the flatwood pines.
During the project, a 2-mile nature trail around the forest will be closed. Walkers and joggers are making alternative paths. On Thursday, some hurried through parking lots, around swing sets and across fields.
Park supervisor Fred Stager says trail users also can try paved paths at Walsingham Park on Walsingham Road and Boca Ciega Park on Oakhurst Road.
The project was supposed to begin in May, but county commissioners tabled it after some residents protested the plan. At a commission meeting in May, a handful of people asked the commissioners to kill the project. They also presented a petition with more than 600 signatures.
The commissioners then decided to seek a third-party opinion on the timber harvest from a specialist in urban forestry. Alan Long, an associate professor of forestry at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told commissioners the county was pursuing the right course of action.
"One of the problems of that park is that it's really overgrown," Long told them.
Gail Conroy, one of the project's most vocal critics, is not convinced that timber harvests and prescribed burns are necessary methods of land management. Conroy, a retired accountant who lives in Redington Shores, says nature can take care of itself.
"I think it's total devastation," she said Friday. "I don't get taking the most popular park and destroying it."
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