Monday, July 26, 2010

Forestry Division Clear Cuts

It's taken me a while, well 6 years to be exact, to fully appreciate scenes like this.  This is what I have seen from my front window every day ever since we moved to this house in 2006.
I used to think of it as a jungle crawling with things that, well... crawl... and would just as soon eat people.  And even t though I hope to never have to set up a primitive campsite in the middle of it, I now think of it as a rich display of a fast-disappearing world, thick with life and worlds within worlds.  A wonderland for anyone taking the time to pause, and observe, and be.
It's nice when undomesticated animals and birds come to be thought of by us and all our neighbors as "ours."  We're downright paternal/maternal about our little blue herons, great blue herons, great egrets, downy egrets, red shouldered hawks, owls, ibis flocks, wood storks, legions of songbirds, migrating flocks of all sorts, gopher tortoise, indigo snakes and black racers, deer, armadillos and 'possums, and the occasional roto-rooting feral porker and all the little spotted babies.  We haven't seen a bobcat in two years.  But they were "ours," too.  This is pretty much a communallly-shared feeling in this entire area.  Aside from room for our houses and some cleared space to live, we all like our area wild, green, alive.
These worlds are full of gnawing, chewing things.  But nothing that does those jobs on quite this scale.  This is the sight that met my eyes one day when I heard a lot of loud  noises right across the street.
So I went on a little hike.  My feet raced to the beat of my increasing blood pressure.  I entered properties just like mine, minus any houses.  Private properties.  Owned by people.  Who, I was fairly sure, did not  know their properties were beginning to look like this...
When would this be a good thing?  Well, if you're a developer and you want to just level everything in order to have a clear space to plunk down some fill dirt and level it off and build a home, you'd pay good money for this.  And then the owner would selectively and expensively purchase plants for landscaping, most of which are the same types that had already been leveled, as seen above.
Of course, before doing this clearcutting, the OWNER of the PRIVATE PROPERTY would have walked the property (most times) and given permission to clear part or all of it.  Because in the United States, it's ASSUMED that private property owners have rights, especially to know and endorse whatever is to be done on THEIR property.  (we won't get into a philosophical question here of different thoughts as to the ownership of land vs. things such as native american thought on that land should not be owned.  As things stand, whatever one wants to think about it, private property ownership currently comes with rights according to our US'd think.)
That is, unless you own land in my county.  And probably in other counties this is happening in...look what they can do to your land without notifying you for permission,  if you're not living on your property.
I took pictures of what turned out to be Day One of the clear cutting.  See those bushes?  They're not there now.  Anything below the height the guy with the heavy equipment deems a big ol' mature tree or stand of tall palmettos ...gets chewed up and flattened.  Which leaves...a few gangly mature scrub pines and removes all the diversity of abundant native plants, (which will try to come back...eventually).

On your private property, if you're not there to say NO to the actual operator, this happens.  Remember, no one received notification.  When asked why, I was told that at the end of the year when the tax bills come out, there may be an enclosed slip stating that this project had ALREADY been done.   Hmmm.

I am inserting here the assertion from the man I reached at the end of the line of my calling, who assured me that public announcements had been made for MONTHS prior.  But he could back it up with no proof as to when and where they had run, what the supposed content of the announements had been, what radio stations and/or dates had aired them, what mailings had been sent (none had).  I assured him no one on my own street had any idea about this and asked how the absentee landowners, all fully up to date on taxes and with clear title to their properties but a lot of whom live out of state, would have heard the radio announcements or read local newspapers had there really been what he said.  No reply to that question.  In short, he provided no proof, so till any proof materializes, I contend no notification was given...and if there were any, it was not OPENLY given to ALL.

How many properties?  I haven't pulled up the map, but on this road alone, an entire vacant strip was cleared two properties deep and considerably long, totalling what I estimate to be from forty to fifty 80x100 ft lots (privately owned, all different owners).  And  all zoned residential.
So, how did the fabulous stimulus money contribute to the efforts of The Forestry Department clearing "targeted areas" for fire safety?  I mean, private properties where no one is living, no one has been notified, and no one has a chance to decide if they're copacetic with it?  It got distributed to states,then (nobody knows how exactly) my state decided some unemployed earth movers really should push around some palmettos and we're all safer.  From fires.  And yes, there are fires in Florida.
There were no fires on the horizon...this was not an emergency cut.  I wonder what the law are about clearing private property for "fire protection" without prior notification??

See where this day's work ended and the next day's was to pick up? 
That's the last we saw of that green behind those trees. 
As it was explained to me, in not so clear terms by various people who passed the buck to  variousother people, residents in this area received notice that work would be done hereabouts. (Um, nooo, wrongggg)     It was all over the radio, the newspaper ran an article, blah blah blah, explained The Man.  (No again, gongg.) 
When I asked why no one in my entire neighborhood had received such, heard anything or read anything remotely like what he was saying, no one could supply actual proof that any of those notifications had happened, but the man loved to patronize me for asking (and the other neighbors who called in.)  

So we had no choice, unless it was our own land, and if you happened to be gone to work that day during slice and dice time, well...ooops is you. 
When the zealous equipment operator began flattening one neighbor's private woods, he met with the unpleasant specter of a very irate woman armed with cell phone and attorney on speed dial.  He simply moved a few dozen feet beyond her property and just kept on. 

But if she had not been home, her acreage (she owned several uncleared lots and wanted them left that way around her house) would have been completely leveled.  So I guess unless they're psychic or telepathic, these OTHER private owners of their own piece of Florida woodland were not on site at the time in question and just became the proud owners of Florida flatland.
After speaking to a very defensive machinery operator shown in pic above who I actually did relate to somewhat..(.he's doing his job.  His job is very hot.  Very very hot...) I learned (his version of the story) he's just a mere paid pawn in a slightly-better-stimulated forestry push to protect all us citizens.  Because if they (my state authorities) SAY something gets cleared for our protection, well that just needs to be ok by us.  Because they're going to do it anyway (unless of course we're psychic or telepathic and know to arrive there on site the day of the unannounced clearing, as stated above, to tell them Get Off). 
The next day, the rest of the strip they wanted to clear was cleared in like fashion.  Without anyone's knowledge or permission, to the best of my knowledge.  Except the forestry division's.

I don't hug trees in Florida.  (Too many things that can eat'cha...)  And I don't consider myself an extremist, nor environmentally far far leftwing.  But I respect what cannot be replaced, is a natural treasure, and  the rights that come with private ownership.

When I asked why private ownership does not trump the forestry division's lack of concern for adequately notifying IN ADVANCE private property owners, there was no answer other than "we have the right" and "it's what's best for everyone."

Beware of what's best for everyone when no one of those in question (taxpayers, citizens, landowners) have a say in what's best for themselves.

If there's a policy, let it be clear and do not patronize those who pay taxes.

And if you set foot on MY property (and it's a good thing you didn't, Ricky Bobby and company), you'd better have a court order.


karl said...

very frightening.

small farm girl said...

What a shame.

lisa said...

I actually had to read this twice, send it to my husband and read it again. I was so irate the first time I thought "I must have read this wrong". I didn't though because I read it 3 times and it still says that the county came in and cleared a WHOLE STRIP without the land owner's permission.

I have a cabin with several acres that we don't get to be at during the week. I cannot imagine how devastated (and quite pissed off) i would be if the county came in and cleared my back acres. I like them wild, I love the moose and the deer that come in my land. I dont want anyone clearing it with OR WITHOUT (especially without) my permission.

I live in NH, live free or die, i am sure that this is happening all over the country. I just have such a hard time understanding it :(

Robbyn said...

Karl, we were most frustrated with the nonchalant attitude of the point men we spoke with, whose attitudes either were "it's not my problem, I'm just doing what I was told," or "we have the right" and no answers for me about the responsibility to contact property owners at their contact addresses listed in the tax rolls...clearly people CAN be contacted if the least effort had been made to truly reach the rightful owners. Whatever had been done to notify was clearly insufficient and leaves me suspicious that no effort at all was made (after comparing notes with neighbors).

Small farm girl...yes :( !!

Lisa, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. It left me wondering if there are areas of the country where the individual counties have regular plans in place to clear fire zones or something, and how those counties go about educating or notifying landowners. Surely they do??