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SPRINGDALE -- The Water and Sewer Utilities plans to cut down trees on 170 acres it owns along North Wagon Wheel Road near the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.

The selected cutting will improve the forest's health, utilities commissioners were told recently. They worried the move might upset the public.

Water & Sewer Commission

When: 9 a.m. Jan. 16

Where: Springdale Water Utilities building, 526 Oak Ave.

Information: 751-5751

"It's a big responsibility cutting trees and doing it the right way," said Commissioner Lynn Carver. "People in the community also will be wanting to be reassured. We've got to back it up with the right information."

Heath Ward, executive director of Springdale Water Utilities, recommended the cutting.

"This will not be a clear cutting operation like you see in south Arkansas," he insisted.

Ward and his staff will present project information during the Jan. 16 meeting before commissioners are asked to approve the plan. They'll bring in people with knowledge of forest maintenance.

The city-owned utilities provide water and sewer service for Springdale and many surrounding towns. It owns about 1,000 acres of undeveloped land in Washington and Benton counties used for drying sludge, Ward said.

Ronnie Bowen, owner of Bowen's International Loggery, told the commission he found many dead trees and other large trees nearing the end of their lives during a recent walk of the Wagon Wheel property. Within a 20-foot radius at one spot, he saw a handful of dead, mature trees, he said.

Brad Stewart, wastewater treatment plant pre-treatment manager, said maintaining forests supports the water shed. Stewart worked with water quality and forest management in a previous job with Fort Smith's Water Department.

Healthy trees rely on organic material in the earth to grow, and they take up nutrients that would flow into the watershed and damage it, Stewart said. Carbon, for example, drains into the region's underlying limestone when a dead tree decomposes.

"Nutrients in the ground are not bad," Stewart said. But if there's too much nitrogen and phosphorus, for example, algae grows and can impact the water quality. Enough algae can cut off oxygen, and fish will die, he said.

Excess nutrients draining from the ground on the west side of Springdale could make it to the Illinois River, which could carry the problems onto different areas, Ward said.

Forest management is very different now than 10 to 15 years ago, Stewart said.

"The thought was just to let a forest go, and it would take care of itself. The goal now is a healthy forest with some mature trees and some new trees coming up."

Stewart said the land on Wagon Wheel Road doesn't include many young trees.

"We've done a pretty good job at managing our pasture lands," Ward said. "But we haven't done so well with our forests."

The utility leases its pastures to farmers who cut the grass for hay or graze cattle, he said.

Don Struebing, a spokesman for Bowen's Loggery, told commissioners they wouldn't notice any difference in the tree canopy.

"We won't cut anything that's smaller than 18 inches at breast height," he added.

Ward called Bowen's "high-end timber cutters" and contacted the company for an initial analysis.

Bowen's employees also would plant hardwoods, pines or a mix, Struebing said. The group also will clear underbrush on the property.

An additional benefit of harvesting the older trees comes in the form of income to the utility. Trees have no value once they're dead, Ward said.

"You've got a great commodity ready to harvest," Struebing said. Bowen said some of the walnut trees he saw on the tract could bring $4,000 to $5,000 apiece at a mill.

The utility would collect a percentage of the sale price of each individual log, bringing in a little bit of revenue, Ward said.

"And we've got wood thieves," he told the commissioners.

He reported several recent incidents of trespassers cutting down trees and taking the wood. Last month, a water company employee saw a stack of wood ready for pickup -- a tree the water utility hadn't cut. The department sent a truck out and recovered the wood, Ward said.

NW News on 12/29/2018

Print Headline: Utility considers harvesting trees

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