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Silence of the grouse.

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."

And so the magnificent oak, ash, maple, and other hardwoods--vulnerable to the malignancies of nature, to rapacious corporate interests, to chemical pollutants, and to outdated government policies--are now threatened by rampant development deaf to any consideration of resource stewardship. The desire for profit is understandable in these tough times; the need for land for new housing must be met. But meeting such needs should be compatible with the woodland husbandry we ignore to our peril.

Foresters such as Carney and Denham are trying to develop new management plans that--without sacrificing basic conservation and silvicultural principles--will provide economic, recreational, aesthetic, and other benefits attractive enough to private owners that they won't cut and run (see "Heeding the Drummer" below).

As Larry Tombaugh, then-chairman of the Michigan State University's forestry department, told the American Forestry Association a few years back: "The future quality and quantity of the nation's woodlands will depend on the capabilities and sensitivities of private owners," who hold three-quarters of the nation's forestlands. This calls for a new land ethic, he said, pointing to Aldo Leopold's reminder that all ethics presuppose a tempering of self-interest with an acceptance of obligations to the community, and a land ethic that "enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals."

Failure to embrace such an ethic as we rush to cash in on land booms would blight our deciduous trees and silence the drumbeat of the ruffed grouse as surely as a dose of DDT would poison the eggs of his mate.


Two new federal programs address the concerns raised in this story. The Forest Legacy Program promotes conservation easements as a way for the government to acquire development rights to private forestlands. In this way, the lands can be protected from fragmentation, while landowners can still manage for conservation goals. The Forest Stewardship Program provides them help in preparing management plans protecting environmental values.
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Title Annotation:the need to protect our forests
Author:Jacobs, David J.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Fire strategy for our sick forests.
Next Article:New hope for forest communities.

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