Some fear that the University’s plans to clear hundreds of acres of land in the area could destroy wildlife and pose a threat to the city’s water system.
The University of Alabama plans to clearcut a 700-acre parcel of endowed land in Hueytown, Alabama, about 45 minutes from campus. Some community members say it could harm the environment and their way of life.
The University has owned and sold land for over a century. the mission of the Land Department of the University is “manage land and real estate to provide income for the University endowment fund. ”
Fred Smith, a Hueytown resident and UA alumnus, said he decided to investigate when he heard the University would be harvesting timber or cutting down all trees in the area surrounding his neighborhood. The 700 acres of land owned by UA have been selectively cut in the past, but never completely cut.
Smith contacted the University’s real estate and land services department within the finance and operations division. He got the impression from a receptionist that the project was imminent and was told to wait for a call from UA Lands Forester Ben Pinkleton. Smith said he never received this call, so he emailed AU President Stuart Bell.
“It’s like they want to keep it a secret,” he said.
A statement to the CW confirmed that the University planned to harvest timber from the land.
“Public and private forestry operations have been underway for decades in the area of this proposed harvest,” the statement said. “The long-term impact is positive to minimize fire risks, their severity and intensity. The University will take care of the land and replant the plot relative to the final harvest date. The clearing buffer zone is 30 feet from residential homes and not from the property line. ”
Smith said he believed the project would be devastating for Hueytown. The land surrounds a residential area and is home to over 10 endangered species. The grounds are currently home to threatened and endangered species like the flattened musk turtle, the Black Warrior water dog, and the watercress stinger.
“I don’t see how it could be anything but bad for this community,” he said. “It’s going to be ugly and dangerous.”
Hueytown High School – with over 1,000 students – is across the street from Smith’s neighborhood. Smith was particularly concerned about the University’s plan to apply liquid herbicides to the area to remove all vegetation after a waiting period of one to two years. Herbicides have been shown cause severe respiratory damage.
Hueytown City Attorney Charlie Waldrep discussed a potential legal remedy with Smith and city officials in an email thread. If logging results in surface water runoff onto neighboring property, community members can apply for an injunction to prevent further damage. This option would only be available to residents who own their land.
If the clear cuts overload the city’s water system, the city can take legal action.
The University statement said the plan is in line with AU forest and land management practices that comply with federal and state regulations for forestry activities.
According to an email sent to Smith by Tim Leopard, senior associate vice president for campus development, the plan includes replanting pines at the rate of 675 loblolly pine plants per acre, after the waiting period of one to two years.
Tom Franzem, a Ph.D. biology student studying ecology and grasslands and president of the AU Conservation Biology Society, said trees and ecosystem habitats are vital for communities.
“Biodiversity has great aesthetic and cultural value,” he said. “It’s really important and I think it’s the character of different places. We are currently living at a rate where things are dying out that we don’t even know yet. “
Franzem said the use of pesticides and other chemical toxins in wildlife habitats can lead to faster extinction of vertebrates, massive loss of land and aquatic species.
This is not the first time that the value of the land has been noticed. Hueytown Mayor Steve Ware said he contacted the University two years ago about leasing the land to build a park because the western half of Hueytown did not have one. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the university, her request was refused because the university “doesn’t do that anymore”.
Ware was not told of the current clearcut plan, but said he was opposed to the plan.
“It’s just strange that they haven’t even tried to tell us what their plans are,” he said. “They haven’t told us anything and that bothers me.”
Smith said that – although the University is not legally required to do so – he believes the University is making a mistake in not contacting community members about this decision in advance. He said he believed this plan would reduce property values and have a lasting negative impact.
“It’s not good for the community or the environment, ”he said. “It’s only good in the short term for UA to make a profit, but that’s not the way to increase it.”
While preparations for the clearcut are currently underway, Smith said he will do everything in his power to fight back on behalf of the community he has lived in for over 60 years.
“If it was a private person or a company, that would be one thing, but UA shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “This land is part of me and it is a special place.”
Pinkleton declined The Crimson White’s request for comment.