A plan to thin the city's community forest got the go-ahead Monday. The plan, unanimously approved by city council members, should reduce the hazards of wildfires, as well as promote the growth of larger pine trees.
Palestine will partner with Texas A&M Forest Service in the thinning of the city's nearly 1,000 acres of community forest, including the airport.
Proceeds from timber sales will be split: 90 percent to Palestine and 10 percent to the Texas Forestry Service. Officials from the city and forest service said they had no idea how much money timber sales would bring.
City leaders, as well as forestry professionals and certified arborists, say the plan will benefit the forest, and its inhabitants, as much as it benefits city residents.
“The forest service mission is to provide statewide leadership to assure the state's trees, forests and related natural resources are protected and sustained,” City Manager Leslie Cloer said. “They wouldn't help us if we were doing anything to threaten that.”
The website, nationalforests.org, said thinning also reduces the risk of wildfires, and helps remove smaller trees that compete with the larger pines for water and sunlight.
Smaller trees, the site states, create “ladder fuels” – a pathway for fires that historically stayed on the ground to climb into the tree canopy. These fires burn hot and high, and can quickly become unmanageable.
Certified arborist Keith Cooper told the Herald-Press the city isn't doing anything nature wouldn't do on its own; It's just controlling the thinning, instead of having a natural disaster do it.
“From what I understand, the city isn't doing anything a fire, or a horrible storm would do within an hour,” he said. “It's a forest – it will bounce back.”
Woodland creatures, said Cooper, are in no danger of being displaced.
“They don't typically live in the little trees or brush that's going to be thinned,” he said.
District Forester Buster Robinson said the plan to sell the removed timber is not new.
“It's been a long-standing agreement, even before my time,” District Forester Buster Robinson told the Herald-Press Monday. “The last time we did something like this had to be almost 12 years ago, though.”
Robinson said he couldn't speculate on potential profits from timber sales; city council members must first determine the scope of the project.
Cloer said the Texas A&M Forest Service is interested in the public's ideas on forest management.
“They've put a survey online to get the public's opinion on how to better service and manage the state's forests,” she said.
Those interested can go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/forestaction to take a short forest action plan survey.