lherbst | Indy Week

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Re: “The Triangle Land Conservancy's deep cuts

Will Caldwell and readers,

The science in the article comes from experts. Conveying a variety of opinions was an important part of my job as a journalist. Those experts included Larry Tombaugh, former dean of N.C. State University’s College of Natural Resources. Ben Prater of Wild South earned a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University. Yes, N.C. State University and Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment both have renowned forestry programs. I chose to go beyond these two institutions to include the thoughts and knowledge of other professionals, too.

I understand there are many hardworking, well-intentioned folks at the TLC – and thank you for reminding readers of that. The story’s purpose was to inform donors and the public about the TLC’s timbering. Also, I wanted to convey the issues involving transparency and oversight. And the story begins to draw a picture for readers of the changes in the way that TLC manages its lands.

Now people who donate land will no longer assume it will never be logged. And if they wish to forbid logging so the forest can eventually become old-growth again, they can stipulate their wishes in legal documents. One such document is a conservation easement.

I’m happy to have brought up different ideas about forest health and forest protection in the story and to have read your responses. The editor of the Indy had asked me to respond to comments in this section. I’ve done my job. Now the TLC’s donors and the public will decide what constitutes forest protection on conservation land.

Thanks for the lively conversation.

Laura Herbst

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by lherbst on 10/16/2011 at 7:52 PM

Re: “The Triangle Land Conservancy's deep cuts

Joan Curry -- Thank you for your clarification. As written, Jon's sentence could be construed in more than one way as to the location of the clear-cut for the agricultural field. A more detailed response from the TLC would have helped; that response contained no specifics about Horton Grove.

Also, having read the forest management plans, I don't think they give a skewed view. Rather, they allow readers to see in detail what the TLC is planning for its forests.

Posted by lherbst on 10/16/2011 at 12:00 AM

Re: “The Triangle Land Conservancy's deep cuts

Simonl, thanks for your appreciation. Like you, I hope for the benefit of the donors and the public that the TLC shares its FMPs and that they become transparent in all decisions related to their lands. I'm wondering if you could list the parts of the article which contain the "great deal of insinuation?” The TLC didn't raise objections to any of the facts reported in the story, so I'm wondering what your concerns are.

js, thanks for the support. The TLC has done a lot of good work; in particular, I enjoyed the White Pines trail. I do wish they would be more transparent about their timbering plans and activities. It’s hard to know all that has taken place in those forests and what’s to come.

Jon Scott (former staff at TLC) , I think you’ve misunderstood Mr. Brice’s description, which is easy to do. And that’s because his description is not detailed enough about exactly what’s been done and where. You said that the clear-cutting at Horton Grove was to reclaim an agricultural field. That isn’t true. The “reclaimed” agricultural field was at Irvin.

How can the public understand what is going on when even a former staff member gets mixed up? It seems there’s a lot of confusion about what’s happened in those forests.

To my knowledge, the 12-acre clear-cutting at Horton Grove was not mentioned in Mr. Brice’s description. Also not mentioned were:

the imminent cutting of the blue-lined hardwood trees in Horton Grove’s mature upland forest

the financial aspects of the Horton Grove timbering

the future of the blue-lined hardwood trees at White Pines

other future timbering, including those actions recommended in the forest management plans.

Your point about a plan being a plan and not a mandate is a good one. Still, since some donors have called for the TLC to release the plans, and the TLC so far has implemented many of the plans’ recommendations, do you agree that the public and donors should have the opportunity to see and comment on the plans?

Will Caldwell (former TLC intern, right?), I will respond to your comments soon.

Posted by lherbst on 10/15/2011 at 7:09 PM

Re: “The Triangle Land Conservancy's deep cuts

MichaelB, how about providing links to some of the ideas you mention? In particular, I'd like to read about the model for the 600-800 year forestry succession. I'd like to point you and other readers to this page from the Duke Forest website that highlights some of the forestry succession ideas I used as background for my story. The Duke Forest experts say that land subjected to disturbances will grow a pine forest which will become a mixed, mature hardwood forest in 100 to 200 years. Here’s the Duke Forest link: http://www.dukeforest.duke.edu/forest/succ…

JerryG, if the TLC wants to move its acreage into "working lands," that's the business of its members, its board, its staff, and taxpayers (since the TLC receives public monies). I'm just the reporter, and I wrote the story because I don't think the aforementioned constituents had adequate information about the organization's timbering activities. Also, as mentioned in the story, more than 250,000 acres of private land in the Triangle is already in timber production.

Nate, please take a look at this map (http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/8717) of the historic range of the longleaf pine. I don't think that the longleaf pine was ever the dominant tree in the Triangle.

Laurel, thanks for the compliment. Also, I'm interested in learning more about timber sales to China. Any suggestions as to where to look?

ftyaok, I didn't intend to impugn forestry. I just thought that readers would be surprised to learn about the TLC timbering its conservation lands. Also, did you know that Mississippi also has a "First in Forestry" license plate?

Karl Fetter, the Lake Michie Dam Road clear-cut I described in the story wasn't a loblolly plantation. It was a natural forest of mature shortleaf and loblolly pine with a mix of hardwood trees.

Will Wilson, I understand your point that timber sales could perhaps fund new land purchases (or easements). I suppose that's a choice for the land trust and their members to consider. But, the TLC says that it doesn't timber for income, so maybe that doesn't apply here.

Posted by lherbst on 10/14/2011 at 8:37 PM

Re: “The Triangle Land Conservancy's deep cuts

The emails and comments I’ve received from people who appreciated the “Deep Cuts” story are gratifying. Still, it is important to address the criticisms in this section – and most importantly to address the concerns of the TLC’s president, Kevin Brice.

I would not characterize the TLC’s response to my inquiries as “accessible, transparent, and more than willing….” From misstating the progress of the white pines restoration, to refusing to give figures on current and projected timbering revenue, to denying in email after email that there were plans to add new buildings on the Irvin preserve – Mr. Brice has given sometimes misleading, sometimes partial information that took time to unravel. I’ve waited weeks for responses to questions, and some questions were never answered. And finally, nearly two weeks ago, Mr. Brice refused to speak with me at all, informing me that no staff or board member would talk to me either.

Regardless, it is a journalist’s job to inform readers. Without this story, how would TLC members and the public have known about the TLC’s logging?

The fact that the TLC refuses to release its forest management plans in their entirety on the TLC website speaks for itself. That there has been no public hearing about the plans limits the ability of members, independent experts and others to offer feedback. A problem with the Horton Grove plan, in particular, is that it was written by logging professionals who gain financially from cutting down the trees. The plan lacks balance, focusing on reasons for cutting trees, not for keeping them. For example, when trees are cut to make a habitat for quail, the habitat for some other creatures is taken away.

I respect forester David Halley, the plan’s author. He and other logging professionals provide us with wood products, and we benefit from their labors. Do TLC donors and members agree that those products should be retrieved from the land they have helped to set aside for conservation? Are they aware that the Triangle already has 250,000 acres of private timberland, and more than that if one counts tax-exempt lands?

Further, Mr. Brice’s posted description of TLC’s “forest management” is not the whole story. He says that the TLC has “thinned.” Our photos show a clear-cut of 12 acres off Lake Michie Dam Road where all of the trees have been taken down. The TLC forester has blue-lined more trees in the hardwood forest at Horton Grove than I could count on my short walk down the TLC’s new logging road. He does not acknowledge that this cutting is imminent, nor does he spell out what’s to come in the future.

What’s most important to consider is that no one outside of the TLC staff and perhaps some board members can be certain about what has happened or what will happen in the TLC’s forests because the TLC’s plans and records are not open to the public.

When the TLC’s board adopted a forest management policy in June, the board members vowed the TLC would not cut trees for financial gain. Yet, the White Pines plan includes the following as a goal: “to enhance long-term timber production.” Isn’t timber production an economic endeavor?

As a journalist, I believe it is important for TLC donors and taxpayers to have a full understanding of how the TLC protects forests. Though this process has not been easy for any of us, I do hope it leads to a stronger, even better Triangle Land Conservancy.

Laura Herbst

P.S. I will respond soon to other posted commentary.

Posted by lherbst on 10/14/2011 at 6:59 PM

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