DEEP removes hundreds of trees in CT state park despite objections

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SHARON – Nearly 200 trees – including 200-year-old oaks – on the banks of the Housatonic River and other areas of Housatonic Meadows State Park were recently felled by the state, upsetting residents and elected officials of the region, who are now asking for changes to state procedures.

State Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, and State Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, recently questioned the Department of Energy and Conservation’s Hazardous Tree Removal Project. environment in the park and its campground. The two say that despite objections to the removal of oak and pine trees along the park’s access road without notice, the agency had no intention of stopping or reconsidering trees marked for cutting.

DEEP launched the tree project in November, after marking more than 170 trees for felling, according to Miner. When residents and state leaders objected, DEEP temporarily halted the project and held a public hearing on January 6 to discuss the work with residents.

Between November and the hearing two weeks ago, nearly 500 people signed an online petition opposing the felling of trees, with testimony from local arborist Michael Nadeau, who questioned DEEP practices.

“Large oak trees (Quercus spp) along with other species were felled along a steep bank,” Nadeau wrote. “The root system of these trees is what kept the bank from eroding. This seems particularly myopic, especially in light of recent storm activity and scientific studies that show Quercus (oak) species to be the most valuable species for insect and bird habitat quality. .

At the January 6 hearing, intervenors also requested that a moratorium be put in place to stop all tree-cutting projects until DEEP’s procedures can be further evaluated. But Will Healey, the agency’s spokesman and head of media relations, said Friday that DEEP fully intends to go ahead with the project.

“As stated at the town hall, DEEP planned to move forward with the removal of hazardous trees, and work to remove the remaining hazardous trees began on January 12 and is nearing completion,” he said. he declares. “DEEP could not support or enact a moratorium on the removal of hazardous trees in Housatonic Meadows State Park or other DEEP properties, as some have requested, because such a moratorium would be inconsistent with the our agency’s approach to public safety.”

At the state park picnic area this week, a red plastic fence blocked access to part of the inner road, where tree removal included a number of pine trees near the edge. from the river. Other trees around the park have also been felled and the remaining stumps are covered in snow.

Miner said the tree cutting affects everyone who lives around the Housatonic River, as well as the river itself.

“There are people who are long-time supporters of DEEP and interested in parks and campgrounds who were unhappy,” he said. “Admittedly, there are also locals who are quite upset, and have been since November when the trees started falling. The park is beautiful, but this procedure stinks.

DEEP Forest Management Program

Healey explained that the agency follows a program to deal with dangerous trees through its forest management division.

“DEEP conducts a program to mitigate public risk from hazardous trees to ensure public safety in our parks and other properties,” he said. “Past storms, years of drought, and infestation by invasive alien species have led to the identification of many hazardous trees across the state, including trees identified for removal at Housatonic Meadows State Park. .”

According to Healey, two trees along the river at Housatonic Meadows State Park broke down and fell, including one last summer.

“In addition, there were three deaths in state parks and forest lands due to falling trees, and a number of injuries that resulted in claims against the state,” it said. he declares.

But among those felled trees, Miner said, were 200-year-old oaks and numerous pines. DEEP completed the project last week.

“There are a lot of trees that go on the chopping block for various reasons, many of which (were) refuted by the arborists who talk about it (at the hearing on January 6) because of the scale of the project and the a lack of planning. ,” he said. “What I mean throughout this process is that there should have been awareness, consideration of endangered species and a requirement to develop a plan None of this, not one piece of it, happened before the trees fell.

More Information Wanted

Harding and Miner requested additional documents from DEEP related to the tree felling.

“Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble accepted accountability (at the January 6 hearing) on ​​behalf of the agency for its lack of transparency and a process that needed significant improvement,” Miner said.

But despite Trumble’s admission and public testimony, nothing has changed, Miner said.

“It is now clear that DEEP had no intention of considering testimony offered by highly qualified and equally credentialed members of the public in light of its plans to resume the removal of hazardous trees,” the lawmaker said. “They have no plan for replanting, stabilizing the banks, mitigating damage to endangered species in the area and no plan to mitigate damage and disturbance in the area.

“While DEEP officials have done their best to feign contrition, the thoughtful testimony of experts and stakeholders at last week’s hearing was not given the slightest consideration.”

Miner called DEEP’s tree removal procedures a “sham” that failed to consider the negative impact on endangered species and other significant wildlife, significant or historic trees, the public and certainly not local and national stakeholders.

Harding said: “I was shocked and disappointed when Senator Miner alerted me to the apparently arbitrary felling of trees at Housatonic Meadows by DEEP this fall. I completely agree that this withdrawal was mismanaged and unjustified.

Review of the situation

Healey said DEEP is reviewing its practices and realizing the importance of informing the public.

“After legislators, members of partner organizations and other stakeholders expressed concerns in late November 2021, DEEP’s Forestry Division assessed the removal of hazardous trees at Housatonic Meadows and presented a plan to remediate the trees. Dangerous Remainers (January 6),” he said. “The area has also been reviewed for natural diversity database concerns. At the January 6 meeting, DEEP staff presented information on the process, next steps associated with this project, and lessons learned.

A recording of the presentation has been posted on the DEEP website.

Healey said DEEP learned valuable lessons from the incident.

“The Dangerous Tree Identification and Mitigation (DEEP) process does not include public notification requirements of significant tree removal activities, and as such, no public notification has been originally drafted,” he said. “However, through this process, we recognize the benefits of better communication, both internally with other parts of our agency and externally with our partner organizations and stakeholders in the region.

“We apologize for the surprise and concern caused by this lack of notice,” he said. “We also recognize the value of providing more information to the public on the issue of hazardous trees and the guidelines we follow in implementing the hazardous tree removal process. We are actively working to identify best practices for communicating and improving our hazardous tree removal process, and we look forward to keeping the public informed of our progress.

Healey said the agency is also “looking forward” to working with local individuals and groups who have offered advice on improving Housatonic Meadows, such as tree replanting efforts along the river, control invasive species, shoreline improvements and erosion prevention efforts.

“We are committed to working with local organizations on how best to implement any improvement plans we envision for the park in the future,” he said. “DEEP will be reaching out to local partner organizations in the coming weeks with information about meetings and next steps on the best ways to implement park improvements.”

Drafting of legislation

Miner said he was waiting for the documents he requested that detail the decisions that were made.

“I hope to propose legislation that will perhaps require DEEP by regulation to treat this process differently,” he said.

Miner represents the 30th Senate District which includes Brookfield, Canaan, Cornwall, Goshen, Kent, Litchfield, Morris, New Milford, North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon, Torrington, Warren and Winchester.

Harding represents the 107th General Assembly district which includes Brookfield, Bethel and Danbury.

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