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The forest for the trees

“I’m not used to forests you can get lost in,” my friend confided. I eyed the hemlocks surrounding us. Their trunks stretched skyward until they seemed as thin as toothpicks—toothpicks that swayed back and forth in the wind. My hiking party, four evolutionary biology students from Europe, noticed the precarious bending of the trees and walked a little faster.

We were on our way down from the top of Quabbin Hill. Armed with digital cameras, homemade lunches and one iphone with a compass app, we wandered through the 24,529 acres of Quabbin Park—a public space permanently protected from development by the state of Massachusetts. The Quabbin reservoir holds 412 billion gallons of fresh drinking water, consumed by 2 million people.

On our hike, my friends frequently stopped, stared at the forest above their heads, and raised their cameras to the autumn canopy. Members of the party kept falling behind, lost in wonder of the forest surrounding them. One picked up a maple leaf and marveled at its size. Another grabbed a handful of pine needles, held them close to his nose and took a deep breath. With a playful smile, he tossed the needles back at the rest of us.

Later on the walk, he leaned over to me and asked, “Don’t you like this?”

“Yes,” I said, “But I grew up with it. It’s nothing new to me.” Hours after our trip ended, I realized how jaded I’d become to a unique natural wonder. The hemlock trees that towered above us are native to America, as are the red maples and paper birch. Unlike many places in Europe, our corner of America remains covered in some of its native trees. In fact, 80 percent of New England is covered in forest—that’s roughly 56,000 sq miles, an area larger than Switzerland.

Most of New England’s woodlands grew up 200 years ago on abandoned farmlands. New Englanders didn’t plan it, but since then, we’ve benefitted from it. The forest has provided us with resources like clean water, maple syrup and venison. It has provided a staple to our economy: tourism based on fall foliage displays generates $1 billion in revenue for New England businesses. The forest has also given New Englanders a spiritual identity, as expressed by writers like Throreau, Hawthorne and Frost.

New England’s forests are so large and so ingrained in my life experiences that I’ve been taking them for granted. For me, the explosion of color along the highways and across our yards was business as usual. But I should know better.

For the first time in 200 years, forest cover is declining in every New England state. The forests I grew up with are open to the threat of wanton development. Without a vision of strategic conservation, we might lose an essential quality that makes New England…New England.

In 2005, twenty men and women—scientists, economists and environmental historians—worked together to develop that vision. They call it “Wildlands and Woodlands.” Their goal is to conserve 70% of New England as forestland. “This cannot be accomplished by sweeping public acquisition or regulatory fiat,” the Wildlands and Woodlands website warns. “It will require working with thousands of willing private landowners who are interested in securing the future of their land through conservation easements and other approaches. There are many ways for individuals and organizations to get involved.”

I would encourage you to visit the Wildlands and Woodlands website (http://www.wildlandsandwoodlands.org/home) to learn more. New England needs more places like the Quabbin reservoir, places permanently protected from development. Places where we can rely on clean water, bountiful trees and beautiful views that we can share with our friends and family.


My posts here have lapsed again. Since my last entry, I accepted a communications internship with Harvard Forest and Highstead. I'm learning about conservation issues and solutions, often by using tools provided by other conservation-focused organizations.

I'm living at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. My backyard has wild grapes, a black walnut tree, two cows, a red squirrel, a gray squirel and several chipmunks. I've seen American gold finches, chickadees, doves, sparrows, crows and the occasional hawk. In the woods by my house I've seen salamanders, frogs and toads. I'm re-learning how to identify trees, but I recognize white birches and maples.

I'm already halfway through the internship and looking for my next project. In the meantime, I've re-pledged my alliegance to this blog. I'm going to add posts here about the things I learn at my internship and photos I take of this beautiful New England countryside in fall.

As for today...

On HF property, the woods crew has a self-sustaining building for their workshop. The solar panels provide electricity and the building's bathroom has a composting toliet. I also heard that much of the wood used to build the facility came from Harvard Forest. I haven't been inside, but I think it looks neat from a distance.

Blue Dragonfly

One morning I let the dogs out and found this guy sitting on one of our flower bushes. He was pretty intent on staying on that flower, so I got a bunch of pictures from different angles. None of these is "the shot," but as a group, I think these photos provide an interesting view of an awesome little creature. I think he looks like Goofy.

Long-overdue update

Scholars and Rogues published my capstone as a 4-part series in March.

Here's the links to the stories:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Special thanks to Chris Mackowski, for helping me connect with Scholars and Rogues. 

Just Noticed...

The NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website lists a new "acting commissioner." I Googled Carol Ash and learned that she stepped down on Oct. 13. She is replaced by Andy Beers.
Source: http://www.wten.com/Global/story.asp?S=13209645

Why didn't the OPRHP do a press release about her resignation?
More for my records than for youCollapse )

Edit: I booked a room at a Bed and Breakfast in Sackets Harbor called Candlelight B&B. Looks like I'm going there by myself, but I think that'll be cool too.

EPF (capstone)

"New York State's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) was created in 1993 and is the state's primary source of funding for a wide range of environmental projects. The EPF protects our open space and farmland, clean drinking water, recreational opportunities, related businesses, and quality of life. The EPF provides our communities recycling programs, waterfront revitalization, municipal parks, solid waste management, zoos, botanical gardens and aquaria, pollution prevention and more.

The EPF protects our natural resources and public health, and also plays an important role in our local economy. EPF programs eliminate solid waste, prevent pollution, provide clean drinking water, protect natural areas and community character, making our towns and villages desirable places to live, work and visit. The EPF has created or protected thousands of jobs in sectors including, but not limited to tourism, farming, engineering, solid waste management, education, science, land management, and forestry, in every county of New York State."

"Unfortunately, the EPF has been an easy target for raids by state leaders and lawmakers. Over its lifetime, three governors and several legislatures have taken nearly $500 million from the EPF. Since 2002, one in every four dollars appropriated to the Fund has been "swept" into the State's General Fund."

"On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend kick-off to the unofficial summer season, legislators and the governor, under intense public pressure to keep state parks open, announced a deal to do just that.

State Parks will get the $11 million needed to keep them open. That's the good news, and it was achieved by thousands of citizens-including Trail Conference members-- telling their representatives to protect our parks.
The bad news is that in exchange, the Environmental Protection Fund, which pays for land, water, and air protection measures across the state, will be reduced to $134 million from the $222 million it was at in 2009/10. This disproportionately large cut of almost 40% comes on top of the nearly $500 million that has been swept from the EPF in recent years, and which has created a significant backlog of unfunded projects, straining organizations, municipalities and others partnering with the state on environmental programs."

Source: http://www.nynjtc.org/issue/environmental-protection-fund-epf-new-york

Update on Capstone

Here's where I'm at right now:

*I have a draft of a story about Mark Baker, a raptor rehabber
*I have a skeleton draft of a story about the "Free Niagara" movement, which led to the creation of the first state park in the country
*I set up an interview with Dr. Allen Knowles for tomorrow at 1:45. He and his wife attended a rally in the spring to save Quaker Lake. They were with a group of cross country skiers, though I know they're also active bikers and hikers. I'm hoping to glean some more information about their involvement with the rally, and who else was in their group of protestors.
*On Oct. 22nd, I'm taking a trip to Sackets Harbor, New York to interview the site manager, Constance Barone. Sackets Harbor is a historic site suggested for closure in Patterson's bill. On the 22nd, a Canadian(?) filmmaker will be there working on a documentary, and Barone said I could follow him around for a bit. She also sent a list of helpful links and documents/pdf files about the issue. She basically did my research for me, which is a wonderful and unexpected surprise. In particular, I'm glad she sent me this link: http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/story-of-the-week/2010/ny-state-parks-to-close.html

That's all for now.


On Saturday, I went to Niagara state park--the oldest state park in the country. I didn't do a whole lot of reporting, but I took photos and had fun. Tim and I went on the Maid of the Mist tour. We also tried "Niagara Delight" ice cream and I picked up two maps of New York state with all the parks marked. 

This morning, I interviewed Mark Baker, from Eagle Dream. I don't know how I'm going to focus the story, but again, I had a lot of fun. He showed me all the different birds he works with, and his wife showed me a baby squirrel they're caring for. Next weekend Baker is attending the Falling Leaves festival and he invited me to sit in on some of his educational presentations he'll give. I was planning to go to the festival anyway, but now I'm looking forward to it even more. 

One snag: I forgot to put the memory card in my camera this morning, so I couldn't take any photos of the birds. ACK! I can't believe I messed that up. 

This week: write my history feature on the state parks. I plan to have a draft done by Saturday.