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DEP Talks To Tribe, Alters Permit For Ocklawaha Logging

By Charles Flowers and Peter B. Gallagher

TALLAHASSEE - The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) amended the permit for a deadhead logging operation on the Ocklawaha River after consulting with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The new permit provides for a 300-foot buffer zone around an Indian cultural site known as High Bluff.

The decision was a first for Tribal representation in a DEP dredge-and-fill permit, (the site specific license required for each deadhead logging site) according to Dr. Patricia Wickman, Seminole Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO). The halt also marked the first time deadhead logging on a Florida river was stopped because of a Tribal protest, Dr. Wickman said: "I was very pleased to be able to conference with DEP officials, who politely listened to the Seminoles' point of view. We were allowed to participate in a process that is very important to the Seminole Tribe." A DEP dredge-and-fill/logging permit was issued to Eric Prokopi of Land O' Lakes on July 27 to take logs from four stretches of the Ocklawaha, between Rodman Dam and the St. John's River, east of Ocala.

While the Tribe had not been notified of the planned Ocklawaha logging, the state Department of Historical Resources (DHR) did receive written notice from DEP several months prior, but failed to comment, despite its duties under the federal Historic Preservation Act. (DHR receives over $600,000 a year in federal funds to support the actions of a State Historic Preservation Officer, (SHPO). In Florida, the SHPO duties are divided among several bureaucrats, with the title given to DHR Director Jan Matthews.)

According to Wickman, the SHPO is supposed to be "proactive" in monitoring impacts to historical resources within the state. "This includes consulting with the THPO," says Wickman "The SHPO should have been a part of this deadhead logging process from the very beginning. Why the SHPO was not is a mystery to me."

DHR employee and State Archaeologist Jim Miller laid the blame on administrative procedures that made it difficult for his staff to properly review the more than 7,000 dredge-and-fill permits which cross his desk yearly. He says he was never asked by DEP to interact with the process at all.

Deadhead loggers are required, by the DEP, to report the finding of any historical artifact, but instruction in the identification and preservation of antiquities is not part of the curriculum in the classes loggers are required to attend. "These workers are moving all over historical sites and may not even know it," says Wickman. "What may look like an old burned out log to one person, may actually be a 5,000-year-old canoe to a trained observer!"

Last month, Gov. Jeb Bush instigated a ban on deadhead logging on Florida lakes in the wake of reports by the Seminole Tribune that seven prehistoric Indian canoes were crushed by a logging operation on Newnan's Lake east of Gainesville.

The DHR failed to challenge the Newnan's permit application even after a staff archaeologist reported damage to two of the ancient canoes in mid-June. Logging resumed in early July, blessed by DHR in an official letter. Five more canoes would be damaged by a bulldozer and other heavy equipment before the logger left with a reported 240 logs, according to the DHR on-site archaeologist Melissa Memory.

A month later, citizen complaints were called in to the Tribune regarding potential dangers to artifacts along the permitted areas of the Lower Ocklawaha; Indian mounds and other sites of human occupation are associated with this very area. After a call from Gov. Jeb Bush's office, DEP official Phil Coram allowed both the Tribe and DHR to comment "after the fact" regarding the Ocklawaha.

"I am pleased the Department of State finally reviewed the permit and gave their comments, also. Close coordination between the DEP and the SHPO in the permitting process is an absolute necessity if Florida's Indian heritage is going to be preserved," said Dr. Wickman.

"The Ocklawaha permit revision certainly is evidence that this process can work." Bush and his five-person Cabinet unanimously approved a resumption of deadhead logging this past April, after a four-month ban caused by environmental concerns. The practice, also banned for 25 years before former Gov. Lawton Chiles reinstated it in 1998, currently allows loggers to recover timbers that sank in rivers when old-growth pine and cypress forests were cut in the early 1900s. The valuable timbers produce fine-grain lumber that can sell for as much as $12 a board foot.

Newnan's Lake (Pithlachocco) was already known as a rich archaeological site before the DEP issued a deadhead logging permit last May to Charles Pinson of Santa Rosa Beach. A distinctive arrowhead called "Newnan's Point" is associated with archaeological sites on the lake. "The word Newnan should have jumped out at them," says Dale Crider, the Lake resident who was first to complain about the logging. "I would say there is a huge communications problem among these state agencies."

In the wake of the Pithlachocco and Ocklawaha crises, efforts have ensued at improving communications between DEP and DHR and the Florida Indian Tribes. The DEP has assigned its ombudsman to the case and Ft. Lauderdale resident Dr. Benji Brumberg has spent much of his time over the past several months massaging solutions from the complex inter-agency problems the issue presents. The tireless Brumberg has toured the Pithlachocco site with Seminole Chief Jim Billie and met with Tribal officials in Hollywood; at presstime he was pulling together a rare inter-agency/inter-government meeting among state agencies and Indians.

DEP has offered to include specific site locations to DHR so that the agency (charged with protecting historic and cultural artifacts) can match the permit applications to a cultural site map. DHR has also sent a written apology to the Tribe for failing to notify the Seminoles, or to act in their behalf, as the Newnan's Lake conflict erupted. DEP officials have also offered to include the Tribe on pre-assessment logging tours to lessen the chance of damage to cultural sites.

"Prior to all of this, I don't ever remember historical artifacts being discussed at all," during deadhead logging policy meetings, says Governor's Aide Boscan. "The chance that canoes or other antiquities would be involved was never considered. The fact the Indians would be concerned about deadhead logging was never even considered." "You see?" says Wickman. "That is what I mean. Those ancient canoes are extremely important to the Seminoles. The Indians must be, and will be, considered.!"

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