Magazine article American Forests

Silence of the Grouse

Magazine article American Forests

Silence of the Grouse

Article excerpt

Stephentown, NEW YORK--I heard the sound as I walked the dog up the hollow. At first I thought it was someone starting a chainsaw. But first light was too early for firewood cutters or loggers. Then it dawned on me--it was a ruffed grouse beating his wings to invite a mate.

"I hear the distant drumming of a partridge," wrote Thoreau in his journal more than 140 springs ago. "What a space penetrating and filling sound!"

How nice to hear that drummer, and the other sounds of spring that the late Rachel Carson warned us 30 years ago could fall silent if we let folly rule the use of insecticides. Fortunately, her warning was at least partly heeded and the music of spring plays on. But though some cries of havoc, such as hers, may be reduced to the simplicity of a single, stirring drumbeat, others--less obvious, yet even more threatening to natural bounty--do not start feet to marching or stir souls to cry out.

Foresters, for instance, are concerned that along with chemical pollutants and other dangers, the integrity of our woodlands is threatened by landholders who fail to manage them as a natural treasure that is not just their own but also is one they hold in trust for the rest of us.

Here in the Northeast, private owners control much of one of the world's last great stands of hardwoods, regenerated out of the depredation of owners in another time. While those early owners acted out of innocence born of an ignorance we can no longer claim, we shall squander a second chance to husband this treasure if we continue to act out of the greed to cash it in for development. Foresters Jeff Carney and Ed Denham are as concerned today as they were during the '80s' land boom when they reported their dismay over what they were seeing throughout New England.

Carney: "It's not just new people who don't give a hoot about the woods. It's also many who've had land for years and seemed committed to the idea of stewardship. Suddenly, they're rushing to liquidate prime timberlands. They're stripping off all the marketable trees and subdividing the acreage into small parcels unsuitable for forest management. We're seeing the land base for timber growth shrinking before our eyes."

Denham: "So many are so hungry for the instant buck that they refuse to consider the benefits of managing their timber for high-quality, sustained yields. …

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