Category Archives: FOREST

Letter to EPA seeks intervention on wetlands destruction

Special to the County Compass

Editor’s note: Monday night in a 4 to 2 vote, elected officials OK’d this letter, which was promptly sent to environmental regulators in Washington, D.C. NEWS1-and-PAGE-24-Letter-jump-rest-to-Page-24_Page_1NEWS1-and-PAGE-24-Letter-jump-rest-to-Page-24_Page_2NEWS1-and-PAGE-24-Letter-jump-rest-to-Page-24_Page_3

My 30-day trapping results

Red Wolf program ‘disastrous, irresponsible farce’

By Jett Ferebee | Special to the County Compass
Red wolf in trao,

Red wolf in trap

Editor’s note: Mr. Ferebee owns a 2,800 acre farm in Tyrrell County, which shares a long border with the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, in northeast North Carolina. Ferebee believes a good faith effort to introduce red wolves into a five-county region has gone awry, primarily because of interbreeding with coyotes. The program began in 1987. In mid-February, Ferebee became the first ever landowner to be granted a ‘take permit’ for red wolves.

TYRRELL COUNTY – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told me there were no wolves on my property and an accidental killing would not be considered a crime. Not wanting to kill a wolf or to have a judge determine if it was an accident, I decided to trap my farm with a private trapper. During the first five days of trapping (which began Jan. 21), three wolves and two hybrids were caught on my farm that “had no wolves.” It was at this point that USFWS realized they did not know where or how many wolves they had and found it necessary to grant the ‘take permit’ because they were unable to remove the unwanted wolves. This is what the law said and this is what they did. Simple enough.

Over a 30-day trapping period in January and February, 18 canines were caught. Four were red wolves. 13 were hybrids/coyotes. One was unidentified. All canines were held until USFWS red wolf biologists could identify the animals with one exception. This one canine was a collared animal that was released by my trapper before the red wolf biologist could be reached by Leo Miranda of USFWS. The decision to release was made because the canine had entered a canal and we were concerned about hypothermia and did not want to injure what my trapper believed to be a red wolf. Pictures were taken and the red wolf biologist thinks that particular collared animal was a coyote. My trapper who saw the animal up close and in person still says it was a wolf.

Since there was no positive ID on this animal and it was released on site, let’s ignore this animal. The numbers now look like this:

17 total canines trapped (18 if the unidentified animal is included)

4 red wolves (originally thought to be 6, but one was reduced as stated above and another was a collared coyote that USFWS did not return so we had assumed it was their wolf)

13 coyotes/hybrids (2 of which were collared canines)

76 percent (13 out of 17) of the canine population trapped was coyote/hybrid

Trapper’s handwritten 30-day record

13 coyotes per the 2,800 acres of my farm yields a project 7,893 coyotes across the 1.7 million acres of red wolf recovery area – basically five entire counties in northeast North Carolina. I’m no biologist so my methodology may be far from perfect, but from a common sense perspective it may be some of the best and most current data out there.

The four red wolves along with two collared and sterilized coyotes (used as so-called ‘placeholders’) were returned to the USFWS. So, in this “coyote free” recovery area and on my “no wolf” farm, we caught four wolves living amongst 13 coyotes. I chose to trap and return the wolves rather than to use the take permit. Hair samples on the first several canines were taken and given to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for DNA analysis. The remaining samples should be sent out next week.

Placeholder theory is supposed to be the USFWS answer to hybridization as the sterile coyote “holds” a place until a wolf can fill it. Obviously someone forgot to explain this concept to the two “placeholder” coyotes who invited 11 of their friends to join them in cavorting with the wolves on my farm.

Placeholder theory is a biologist’s pipe dream for three reasons. First, it is physically and economically impossible to sterilize every coyote in the 1.7 million acre recovery area. Second, the premise that the presence of a sterile coyote precludes another coyote from entering the area is just wrong, as I have proven. Third, coyotes roam. That’s why they have spread across the U.S. so rapidly. They are not simply going to stay put and “hold” a geographic territory. My trapper said one collared coyote caught in the recovery area was subsequently killed on I-85 near Charlotte.

A recovery area with a canine population that is 76 percent coyote, hardly meets the ‘coyote free’ requirement of this 27-year-old experiment that is devastating NC’s native wildlife populations. It is time to salvage the remaining wolves through trapping and relocation and save our wildlife by controlling the canine predator population in this five-county area. If one considers there are 13 coyotes for every 2,800 acres (size of farm trapped), this computes to be 7,893 coyotes throughout the five-county recovery area. USFWS has sterilized just 60 coyotes and thinks they are controlling hybridization! 

USFWS admits to 62 collared wolves and makes some kind of guess that there are 44 “unknown” and unmonitored wolves. They document 135 “disappeared wolves.” There is no way of documenting the breeding results of these “unknown” and “disappeared” populations. The “known” wolf population is comprised of 23 packs, nine of which (40 percent) contain sterile coyotes. If you apply this 40 percent number to the unknown, disappeared, unmonitored and unmanaged wolf population in a 76 percent coyote area, you begin to understand the disastrous effects of this hybridization issue on both the red wolves as well as the wildlife in our state.

If you estimate the wolf population in the recovery area, based on four wolves per 2800 acres over a 1.7 million acre recovery area, the math works out to be 2,428 wolves in the five county area.  Since I was trapping on a farm with “no wolves” on it, you can hardly say my numbers are inflated because I was trapping a high-density wolf area.

Please note the USFWS has stated the carrying capacity of the recovery area is estimated to be 140 wolves. It is quite obvious that the total number of wolves, coyotes, and their hybrids far, far exceeds this carrying capacity.  Consequently the wildlife on my farm has been decimated by this disastrous and irresponsible farce.

Huge forest cut

Are wetlands illegally being converted to farm land?

By Allen Propst | Special to the County Compass

This ditch in the Atlas Tract has recently been cleared of trees. Originally dug in the late 1980s, the ditch was an apparent violation of the ‘Swampbuster’ provision of the Food Security Act of 1985, passed to discourage the conversion of wetlands to agricultural production. Bulldozers in the Atlas Tract have been used to remove stumps of trees recently cut. Hundreds of deer, bear, turkeys and thousands of small mammals and songbirds are permanently displaced.

This ditch in the Atlas Tract has recently been cleared of trees. Originally dug in the late 1980s, the ditch was an apparent violation of the ‘Swampbuster’ provision of the Food Security Act of 1985, passed to discourage the conversion of wetlands to agricultural production. Bulldozers in the Atlas Tract have been used to remove stumps of trees recently cut. Hundreds of deer, bear, turkeys and thousands of small mammals and songbirds are permanently displaced.

Something’s been happening in the woods near Merritt and it doesn’t bode well. The trees are being clear cut on a 4,658 acre tract of land between Florence-Whortonsville Road and Trent Road. What’s worse is what’s to come.

This land is part of the most important watershed on the lower Neuse River. Owners of this watershed, locally known as the Atlas Tract, are trying to convert those 4,600 acres from a wetland forest to agriculture. And that’s what could really harm the Neuse River and both the life within it and the life here on its shores.

A little background.

Spring Creek Farms LLC purchased this property from Copper Station via a holding company called Northeast Dakota Holdings LLC for $7.1 million or just under $1,525 per acre. By converting this property to agricultural land, costing around $1,000 per acre for the conversion, and with farm land currently selling in Pamlico County for as much as $5,400 per acre, a future sale of $25 million could net as much as $13 million in profit.You can understand the incentive then, to make this conversion to farmland.

Spring Creek Farms LLC has hired a large land-management group to provide documentation to the Corps of Engineers saying that most or all or this 4,658 acres is now uplands and is no longer wetlands. If they are officially called uplands, a big obstacle has been removed and converting these former wetlands into agriculture lands can be done without violating Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act.

It’s one thing to say, on paper, that those are already uplands. Visit the grounds out there and you’ll see a different story.

I personally looked at this entire tract two years ago for a client that was looking for hunting property when Copper Station was marketing this tract for hunting and/or forestry purposes. I firmly believe, based on 26 years of buying/selling raw land, that at least 75 percent or more of this property is 404 wetlands.

NEWS1-Dense-Forest-BulldozersHere’s why it’s so important to keep them as wetlands. By permanently converting a wetland forest into farm land, you completely destroy the viability of this watershed. No longer will the heavy rains during the winter months be absorbed by these wetlands with a slow release of moisture during the drier spring/summer months.

Instead, harmful run-off will flow into the headwaters of Trent Creek, Pierce Creek, Orchard Creek and Brown & Lower Broad Creek. If this wetland forest is converted to farm land, then heavy rains will immediately flood these headwaters with agricultural run-off. The result: you’ll see algae blooms and eutrophication – too many nutrients – in the waters nearby, which are valuable primary nurseries for fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters.

Again, if the land is left as wetland, it can absorb, like a sponge, whatever rain hits it. But it’s another thing entirely when rain hits an agricultural field and the draining ditches dug next to them. Consider these numbers: One inch of rainfall on one acre of land will produce 27,154 gallons of run-off if it is ditched and well-drained. On 4,658 acres, one inch of rainfall equals 126,483,332 gallons of run-off. Pamlico County averages close to 60 inches of rain/year, so the annual run-off from a ditched & well-drained Atlas Tract will produce 7,588,999,920 gallons of run-off, containing sediment, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer. That is over 7.5 billion gallons of polluted water. Our headwaters and primary nursery areas collecting this contaminated water will surely become cesspools void of life.

This wetland forest conversion to farm land will have an impact on life on land as well. Please understand, clear-cutting of small tracts, if done periodically, can actually be beneficial to wildlife by creating an edge-effect of new forage without dramatically destroying entire ecosystems. It grows back. But converting wetland forest to farm land , as Spring Creek Farms LLC wants to do, would permanently and forever destroy vital habitat not only for the hundreds of deer, bear, and wild turkey that inhabit the Atlas Tract, but for the thousands of birds and smaller mammals that will be permanently displaced. The Atlas Tract, as well as other large wetland forest tracts in eastern North Carolina, serve as a vital winter habitat for migratory songbirds for several months during the winter. Without large tracts such as the Atlas Tract, songbird populations will be negatively affected.

The Atlas Tract is 4,658 acres.

The Atlas Tract is 4,658 acres.

If Spring Creek Farms LLC wants to clear-cut the entire Atlas Tract, there is nothing that anybody can do to stop them. However, the only way that Spring Creek Farms LLC can convert their clear-cuts into farm land is through systematic ditching, and The Clean Water Act specifically says that you cannot convert 404 wetlands into uplands without a permit. Spring Creek Farms LLC must obtain permits from the Corps of Engineers in order to dig ditches.

If this land is presumed to be uplands, then why does Spring Creek Farms LLC need to ask for necessary permits to dig ditches or even clean-out any existing ditches on this tract? If this land cannot be ditched for farming, then the highest and best use for the property would be hunting/forestry and therefore it would not be completely cleared of trees.

Rachel Carson, who published a book in 1962 called Silent Spring, is credited with launching the contemporary American environmental movement. In “Silent Spring,” she described how pesticides such as DDT thinned the egg-shells in birds such as pelicans & bald eagles, which were both endangered at the time. Awareness of the harmful effects of DDT created a ban of the pesticide and subsequently the recovery of both the pelican and the bald eagle.

If Spring Creek Farms LLC receives permits for ditching the Atlas Tract and converts this wetland forest into farm land, then they should at least change their name to Silent Spring Creek Farms LLC, because the silence of displaced wildlife will be deafening.

Silence is not an option now for those who care about the health of the Neuse River and Pamlico County.

Once the agricultural fields and their chemicals come, so too will come the runoff in to the creeks. The algae blooms will occur. Fish kills will certainly happen. Once NC Fisheries samples occur and discover very few shrimp, fish, crabs & oysters are found, it’ll be up to the taxpayer to correct the problem. That’s you and me. The Federal Government will be forced to step-in and pay the owner of the Atlas Tract money, through the CREPS (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) program, to convert this farm land back into a forest wetland. An expensive outcome.

Why don’t we just not make the mistake in the first place?

The key to stopping Spring Creek Farms LLC from destroying the Atlas Tract watershed is to contact the Corps of Engineers, Emily Greer: Emily.C.Greer@usace.army.mil. Cell: 910-251-4567, Fax: 252-975-1399. Let Emily know that you do not want the Atlas Tract watershed converted to farm land.

You can also contact Anthony Scarbraugh with NCDENR, Division of Water Resources, anthony.scarbraugh@ncdenr.gov. Phone: 252-948-3924. Again, please tell Anthony that you do not want the Atlas Tract watershed converted to farm land.

Organizations that are currently investigating this problem can also be contacted, as follows:

Todd Miller, N.C.Coastal Federation, toddm@nccoast.org. Cell: 252-241-0191, 252-393-8185 (w), 252-393-7508 (Fax)
Derb Carter, Southern Environmental Law Center, derbc@selcnc.org.
Rick Dove, rdove@ec.rr.com.

Editor’s note: An avid hunter and outdoors enthusiast, Allen Propst owns Mariner Realty in Oriental. Readers may e-mail him: allen@orientalncwaterfront.com.

Blind hiker completes trek

Park Superintendent Debo Cox greets blind hiker Trevor Thomas. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

Park Superintendent Debo Cox greets blind hiker Trevor Thomas. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part report.

JOCKEY’S RIDGE STATE PARK – On the afternoon of June 22, we — along with Trevor Thomas’ family, friends, and Park Superintendent Debo Cox — stood atop a dune, which marked the end of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

We were awaiting the arrival of the blind hiker and his guide dog, Tennille, as the pair completed their most recent accomplishment.

Shortly after his arrival to much applause and cheering, Thomas told The County Compass that he felt exhilarated. 

“The fact that so many people came out is really touching,” he said. When asked what he missed most while he was on the trail, he said, without hesitation, “Starbuck’s.”

The hiker’s trail began in April amongst the mountains of North Carolina at Clingman’s Dome.

He and Tennille slogged through snow and rain, conquered challenging terrain, and encountered a variety of creatures, including several large snakes. They also encountered Trail Angels — friends and strangers who generously offer help and support to backcountry hikers.

Several Trail Angels came out to the dune to greet Thomas and Tennille. Some had heard of their pending arrivals along the trail, had offered food and permission to camp in their yards. Others were friends, like Laine Walter, who typed trail directions into emails from her home in Charlotte, and sent them to Trevor’s iPhone.

In this way, he had the information he needed. This, plus his uncanny ability to gather clues from his surroundings, enabled him to keep track of his progress without using GPS.

Thomas received Tennille from Guide Dogs for the Blind in 2012, the same training facility that gave me my guide, Otto, the previous year. Although we enjoyed chatting about our individual positive experiences at Guide Dogs for the Blind, the conversation soon turned to the specialized training he and Tennille received in order to prepare them for the continuation of his career as a professional hiker.

Tennille was trained to think in two modes. When wearing a harness, she knows that she is expected to perform street work, which consists of — among other things — stopping at every curb and change in terrain.

When they are on the trail, however, Thomas doesn’t put Tennille in harness, because, “She would be stopping for everything.” This would make progress painfully slow, so when Thomas puts Tennille’s small backpack on, “It tells her that it’s time to hit the trail.” She knows that she needs to make decisions that allow them to move at a rapid pace, without compromising Thomas’s safety.

Park Superintendent Debo Coxpresents a gubernatorial citation honoring Thomas and his guide dog. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

Park Superintendent Debo Coxpresents a gubernatorial citation honoring Thomas and his guide dog. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

Debo Cox, the park superintendent, presented Thomas with a citation from North Carolina Gov. Pat McRory.

I briefly interviewed Jef Judin, a documentarian assigned to film all aspects of the hike for Thorlos, a sock manufacturer and one of Thomas’ many sponsors. While performing his duties, Judin also made certain that Thomas had more than dehydrated meals to keep him going. At our first encounter the previous week, Judin was grilling steaks, corn and potatoes for Thomas, who burns a significant number of calories daily.

“I now have a completely different perspective of people who are sight impaired,” said Judin. “Because we don’t know, we tend to feel sorry for somebody who’s lost their sight, and feel like it’s a disability that’s very difficult to overcome. And in meeting Trevor, I’ve changed that completely”.

Over the last three months, the two have become close friends, and Judin is grateful for the insights he has gleaned.

“In a lot of ways,” mused Judin, “I feel that Trevor has an advantage over sighted people, because he‘s able to feel things that sighted people don’t even know are there. I have a feeling – a gut instinct – that Trevor is going to play a very large role in shifting consciousness about sight impairment.”

Despite all that he has learned through his work with Thomas, Judin has consistently been ahead of the curve professionally.

“I have always felt that what you hear is as important as what you see,” he emphasized.

He strives to give his films the ability to stand alone as audio without video, and video without audio. He wants his audiences to be able to look solely at the screen or hear only the audio, and, “Get the story,” he said.

While chowing down on a burger and fries – his first meal after coming off the trail – Thomas was already talking about his next hike, the Camino De Santiago in Spain in 2014.

Upon his return to Charlotte, he will be fulfilling obligations to sponsors, and continuing his work as a motivational speaker.

I reluctantly raised the question of whether or not Thomas would want to have his sight restored, if given the chance — a question that I am often asked.

“Definitely not,” he said emphatically.” “I’ve been blind long enough that it’s part of me. It’s part of who I am, like having blond hair or blue eyes. Would it make my life drastically easier? Yes, of course it would. But then I think of the things that I’ve done, and the energy and effort that I’ve had to put in. Would it make my life more rewarding? I don’t think so. If I wasn’t blind, I wouldn’t have this job. I’m the only long-distance hiker in the world that is paid to do what I do. Being blind is actually an asset for what I do. That’s the big positive. It’s given me one interesting job.”

Massive saw hangs from copter

 

Utility saves by trimming from air

Pilot Will Nesbit flies a helicopter and operates an ‘air saw’ at the same time.

Pilot Will Nesbit flies a helicopter and operates an ‘air saw’ at the same time.

By Lester Cloninger | Special to the County Compass

HIGHWAY 304 – An airborne buzzsaw — suspended from a helicopter and controlled by its solo pilot — spurred excitement this week along the Progress Energy right-of-way, which extends from Bayboro to the county’s remote northeast corner.

Over the next several weeks, a small army of employees and contractors are conducting the tactical ground and air assault in which trees are trimmed and debris cleared.

Power lines for Progress Energy sometimes follow Highway 304, but more often that not they deviate, taking much the same path as a crow – or helicopter – might fly, across marsh, forest, and other hard-to-reach areas.

 

This beast is comprised of 10 circular saws, intended to make mince meat out of tree limbs that have the audacity to encroach upon Progress Energy power lines.

This beast is comprised of 10 circular saws, intended to make mince meat out of tree limbs that have the audacity to encroach upon Progress Energy power lines.

This is an annual proactive effort to clear tree limbs and other vegetation from the power lines’ 30-foot right of way.

According to Matt Yaeger, a contract forester with Environmental Consultants Inc. — just one of Progress Energy’s sub-contractors — “this is a coordinated effort to serve the community and keep the power on.”

Ground crew operations normally utilize a boom truck with a 55-foot bucket extension to reach tree limbs and vegetation that encroach upon the utility’s easements. Working with ECI, Lewis Tree Service performs this groundwork support.

Restricted access over ditches, wetlands and other natural obstructions require an attack by other methods and Progress Energy is committed to its objective.

The County Compass received several calls this week. Alert citizens reported a helicopter using some type of an attachment .

The “air saw” trimming operations are being conducted by Aerial Solutions of Tabor City. Pilot Will Nesbit flies a Hughes 500 helicopter, equipped with an aerial saw comprised of 10 circular blades suspended 110 feet below the aircraft.

Nesbit is an Air Force Veteran and an independent contractor working with various organizations requiring his expertise. Along with his Crew Chief, Frank Cox, they have worked with Progress Energy for over six years — all without incident.

During a break, Nesbit said he enjoys the “danger of the challenge” and concedes he must be a little “off his rocker” to fly so close to power lines.

However, Progress Energy spokesman Dan Oliver described aerial sawing as a cheaper, faster, and more effective alternative to traditional ground crew operations in areas where access to treetops is difficult, if not impossible.

Nesbit and his earth-bound cohorts can clear an estimated 17 miles of power line each week, often working six consecutive days. Utility customers frequently overlook this type of preventive maintenance – at least until the lights go out.