Last updated: February 25. 2014 4:41PM -
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Liz Solters, a Boxwood Lane resident, points to a map of city-owned property at Westwood Industrial Park where timber will be harvested. Solters expressed concern, during a public hearing, about the project's impact on wildlife.
Liz Solters, a Boxwood Lane resident, points to a map of city-owned property at Westwood Industrial Park where timber will be harvested. Solters expressed concern, during a public hearing, about the project's impact on wildlife.
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Lions, tigers and bears aren’t the main concerns of Mount Airy residents living near the city-owned location of a proposed logging project — but snakes and rodents?

With officials poised to have trees harvested at Westwood Industrial Park, they want to avoid adversely impacting neighborhoods surrounding the site at the northwestern end of town.

And that might extend to wild-animal habitats, too, based on comments at a public hearing last week on the timbering plan for a 102-acre tract at the end of Boggs Drive. It calls for clear-cutting the site, instead of selective cutting, which means removal of all trees of value. The harvesting of the timber is considered long-overdue and it is deteriorating by the day, city officials have been told.

The logging activities would uproot some species, according to Brian Elam, a ranger with the N.C. Forest Service who explained the timbering plan before the hearing held during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday night.

“Where is all the wildlife going to go — in my yard?” asked Liz Solters, a Boxwood Lane resident who was among a handful of citizens who spoke during the heavily attended meeting.

“A lot of it will be temporarily displaced,” Elam confirmed. “There will be a few species affected by this — squirrels will lose their habitat,” for one.

The forestry representative added that logging a 102-acre site is a big disruption “from a wildlife standpoint.”

Deer in the area won’t be affected that much due to their roaming patterns, he said. “They’re probably using 1,000 acres around this tract already.”

The project could lead to increased animal numbers in another respect, based on information presented before the hearing, which is where the snakes and rodents entered the discussion.

Grasses will be planted in areas disturbed by the logging operations — which will “put food on the ground” that wasn’t there previously, Elam explained. This will attract more rodents, and in turn, snakes to feed on them in an area where copperheads are already abundant, based on comments.

Impact On Soil

Erosion emerged as another concern at the meeting, with Elam noting that the biggest problems occur not where the trees are cut but the logging roads and skid trails that are developed.

Paul Field, a Lakeview Drive resident, said such paths can become gully-washers.

Elam said the N.C. Forest Service works with logging companies to ensure soil movement is limited during timbering projects.

“Insist on road repairs,” Field suggested.

Carol Burke, a Mount Airy resident who is involved with a group called trees.org, urged municipal officials during the hearing to not have the trees harvested. The fact that seedlings will be planted in their place under the plan is insufficient in Burke’s view.

“When you do a tree planting,” she said, “it takes 80 years to develop mature trees.”

Burke also said logging operations tend to leave eyesores behind.

But Paul Eich, the next hearing speaker, reminded the audience that the trees targeted by the timbering plan are dying anyway. “These trees are decaying and crumbling,” Eich said.

He also reminded the gathering that the plan affects an industrial area and not a forested recreation park nearby. “This has been zoned industrial for 25 to 30 years,” Eich said of the Boggs Drive site.

The plan by city officials involves working with the N.C. Forest Service to market the timber to the highest bidder later this year, with the logging process expected to be completed within about two years after that.

Mount Airy leaders hope to obtain revenues of $300,000 or more from the transaction, to go toward the expense of grading a much-needed site to attract a new company to the industrial park. This could involve a pad or shell building being constructed.

However, Solters, one of the residents who spoke, cautioned city officials about spending money for an industry that might never come, and suggested they instead buy the former Spencer’s Inc. manufacturing facilities downtown to offer clients.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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