Our favorite Memphis Zoo spokesmodel sent an email Friday afternoon to tell us about the Zoo's concept drawings for the proposed Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit. This marked the very first time the Zoo has initiated contact with CPOP, ever, so you can imagine how excited everyone was. I'm thinking of framing it!
From: Brian Carter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Chickasaw Bluffs Artist Concepts
Date: July 24, 2009 4:06:05 PM CDT
To: Naomi Van Tol, email@example.com
Ms. Van Tol:
The Zoo has just posted some artist concepts for the Chickasaw Bluffs trail on our Web site. These are not finished architectural plans. Instead, these drawings are meant to illustrate the intent of the trail and share the Zoo's vision with our community.
Please share this link with others. We've still got a lot of work to do with the results from the GIS tree survey to provide a much more detailed scope of the project, but we wanted to send out materials as we had them available.
Adding to the excitement, the Zoo's President/CEO/Emperor Chuck Brady answered a few questions about the proposed Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit in last week's Memphis News and acknowledged that "public concern" has persuaded the Zoo to "go very carefully in step-wise fashion and then get input."
This would be a HUGE paradigm shift for the Memphis Zoo. Last year when the Zoo clearcut four acres of old-growth forest to build Teton Trek, they didn't ask for public input on their plan. They just fired up the bulldozers and did it.
We hope the Zoo's leaders have learned from their past mistakes and changed their ways, but we're not convinced yet. There's a vital element missing from their concept drawings for the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit.
Where'd our forest understory go? No festooning grapevines? No celandine poppies or mayapples? No lush layers of wild ginger, knotweed, snakeroot, hydrangea, spicebush, hazelnut and pawpaw? No fungus-covered fallen logs?
Is that... mulch?
Sure, these are just concept drawings. But given the fact that the Zoo has been steadily mowing and chainsawing and scraping the understory of the Old Forest down to bare dirt (a few examples here, here, here, and most recently here) we think it's a disturbing omission.
It's even more disturbing when you consider the fact that the Memphis Zoo refused to allow botanist Tom Heineke to include the 17 fenced acres in the year-long Old Forest plant survey that was commissioned last summer by Memphis Park Services.
Earlier this year, we asked the Memphis Zoo why they didn't want a renowned PhD botanist to survey the 17 acres at no cost to them. They said they were already doing an in-house plant survey. Um, okay...
But we recently asked a few more questions and discovered that the Zoo's plant survey only includes trees and invasive non-native species. In other words, the Zoo's plant survey does not include any of the native understory species that make up the vast majority of the Old Forest's plant life.
How many times must we repeat that our forest is not defined by its trees alone?
Yes, it is truly amazing that the Old Forest contains many individual trees that were alive before the City of Memphis was founded. But isn't it also amazing that those trees are rooted in nine vertical feet of loam, built up over the past 10,000 years? And that this rich soil also supports several hundred species of wildflowers, shrubs, and other small plants?
The Memphis Zoo's website says the proposed boardwalk trail will "bring more people into the forest while preserving its native plants and ecosystem" and "educate our community of [sic] the forest's history and awe-inspiring beauty."
If the Zoo's leaders really want to preserve native plants and educate our community about them, why did they refuse to include the 17 acres in the Old Forest plant survey? Do they intend to hire a botanist to do a separate survey of "their" understory? Or do they still think big trees are the only plants that matter?