The Dallas Park and Recreation Department has requested the temporary suspension of tree trimming and brush clearing activities after the energy company Oncor clear-cut a 5-acre swath at the Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area near White Rock Lake.
The area below Oncor’s power line was once home to several species of vegetation and wildlife that has since been turned into a pile of mulch. Wildlife watchdogs in the neighborhood say Oncor’s contractors used bulldozers and heavy machinery to wipe out the area.
In a Facebook post, District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon said city officials, including those in her office, were not aware of impending tree trimming or brush clearing and were not alerted to any such activities. She is meeting with Oncor on Wednesday to discuss proper notification times and how to prevent such large-scale destruction in the future.
“It breaks my heart when you go out there. We need electricity, but how do we balance that with keeping our ecosystems safe and sound?” she said. “How do you do trims instead of a buzz cut? This could be a community opportunity to bring back that area, but it’s unfortunate we have to do it under these circumstances.”
Oncor has two vegetation management projects in the area, according to a company statement. The first is planned maintenance of trees located near White Rock Lake. The trimming, last completed in 2015, is conducted every five years and is scheduled for completion in early November. The company notifies the city of trimming locations each month and the contractor, Asplundh Tree Service, has not received complaints regarding the trimming, according to the statement.
The second project is standard maintenance of the land surrounding its transmission line near Lakewood Park. The work is focused on clearing overgrown brush, already downed trees and invasive vegetative species that may threaten the safety and reliability of electric service, according to the statement.
The work will not affect nearby ponds or dams because minimal-pressure equipment was used, and clearing was scheduled at a time that would be the least disruptive to native species, company officials said.
The Old Fish Hatchery was established in the 1930s and is home to birds, amphibians, beaver, mink, weasel, fox, coyote and possibly even river otter. Clear-cutting of the area first happened 20 years ago when TXU, the only energy-generating and supply company in North Texas at that time, owned the right of way for the transmission line, said Kelly Cotton, former president of the Environmental Center of Dallas and Dallas Audubon Society.
About 100-150 tress were cut down using chainsaws and handsaws, according to a Dallas Morning News article from April 23, 2000. Cotton led weekslong negotiations with the company to change its policies to keep such mistakes from happening again. All was well until this month, when Oncor, which split from TXU in the 2000s, went to work.
“This is vastly worse than what they did in the late 1990s,” Cotton said. “It’s absolutely devastating and brutal.”
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