Critical Time for Connecticut Forest

October 6, 2013

On the one hand Connecticut forests good: lush and leafy. They may in fact be as robustly wooded and healthy as they have been since the beginning of the 19th Century. The fall foliage color should be great.

The Asian long horned beetle is an invasive pest species already identified in New York and Massachusetts that can do enormous damage to Connecticut forests if it became established. Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Click to enlarge.

The Asian long horned beetle is an invasive pest species already identified in New York and Massachusetts that can do enormous damage to Connecticut forests if it became established. Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Click to enlarge.

On the other hand, development, an onslaught of new invasive insect species and climate change seriously threaten their health and viability in the immediate future.

“Connecticut forests in the latter part of the last century and now are in about as good shape as they have been in two centuries,” said David R. Foster, director of Harvard University’s Harvard Forest in Petersham, Ma., and chairman of the board of Highstead, a forest conservation and education organization based in Redding.

But the state’s forests “are starting to be whittled away. That is the other piece of it,” he said. “They are in great shape, but we have to do something to hang on to them.”

It is a critical time for Connecticut forests, and these woodlands are environmentally and aesthetically invaluable.

“Forests lend beauty and character to the New England landscape where they play a vital role in local industry, as habitat, and as a source of natural infrastructure that cleans our water and air,” Foster said.

Connecticut forests continue to be carved up into smaller blocks of trees to make way for roads, businesses and homes, with major implications for forest health and wildlife habitat. Development pressures eased with the crash of the economy late in 2008, but the conservation community expects another surge of development as the economy rebounds.

It was only a decade ago that researchers identified a significant and troubling trend with Connecticut forests.

Prior to European settlement, what is now Connecticut was heavily forested. But by the mid-19th Century, practically all of the state was cleared for farming, leaving a vast, almost-treeless landscape. As larger scale farming developed to the west, Connecticut farming went into a steep decline after about 1850, and thousands of acres of land were left to revert to forest.

That reforestation continued until about 10 years, leaving Connecticut about 60 percent wooded. But now the total acreage of forests in the state is in decline once again. My story on the condition of Connecticut forests and the threats they face can be found today on the front page of The Hartford Courant, with photos and graphics.

An Outer Banks Outing

July 29, 2013

At Nags Head, N. C.

Indian blanket in bloom, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click to enlarge.

Indian blanket in bloom, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click to enlarge.

Exploring the Outer Banks, I walked the North Pond Wildlife  Trail in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge this morning just to get a feel for the refuge. Plenty of birds to be seen, including great egret, boat-tailed grackle, rusty and red-winged blackbirds, laughing gulls, terns, a probable tri-colored heron, catbirds and a yellowlegs, a bird that I am guessing has already returned from the far north to winter in the south. I am not sure, because the bird was a good distance away, but I think it was a greater yellowlegs.

The boat-tailed grackle likes to be near water. Click to enlarge.

The boat-tailed grackle likes to be near water. Click to enlarge.

Pea Island NWR extends from Oregon Inlet south to the town of Rodanthe, incorporating all of the land between the Sound and the ocean for 12 miles. The 5,834-acre refuge includes ocean beach, barrier dunes, salt marshes, fresh and salt ponds, and tidal creeks.

I had not realized until I got here that this refuge is a highly regarded birding destination, with more than 365 species seen. Among the possible sightings are black skimmer and black-necked stilts. I’d like to get some nice bird photos here this week.

I’ll need to revisit tomorrow. There is a lot more to see here, and in the adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

A Winchester Lake Outing

June 22, 2013

At Winchester, Ct.

Ahhh, summer. I drove to Winchester this morning to re-explore Winchester Lake, a lake I paddled many years ago, I think.  If I did in fact paddle Winchester Lake I have no clear memory of the day. So, clearly, it was time to take another look.

Kayakers flock to Winchester Lake, where power boating is limited to 8 mph traffic. Click to enlarge.

Kayakers flock to Winchester Lake, where power boating is limited to 8 mph traffic. Click to enlarge.

What a perfect day. Winchester Lake is very lightly developed. I’d say more than 95 percent of the shoreline is wooded. What is most striking this time of year is the mountain laurel. The shoreline is thick with large colonies of the state flower overhanging the water. Today may have been the peak bloom of these gorgeous cup-shaped white and pink flowers.

Mountain laurel, the Connecticut state flower, is abundant on the shores of Winchester Lake. Look for a sunny day in mid-June to see the showy pink and white blooms at their peak. Click to enlarge.

Mountain laurel, the Connecticut state flower, is abundant on the shores of Winchester Lake. Look for a sunny day in mid-June to see the showy pink and white blooms at their peak. Click to enlarge.

Winchester Lake is man-made, an impoundment fed by 5 brooks that empties into the East Branch of the Naugatuck River.  In reading “A Fisheries Guide to Lakes and Ponds of Connecticut,” a most helpful book written by Robert P. Jacobs and Eileen B. O’Connell and published by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, I learned that trees and shrubs were cut at ice level in the winter after the lake was created, leaving many tree stumps and tree trunks lying  in shallow water. All that wood and a fair amount of boulders in a shallow lake – much of it is only a few feet deep – mean that boaters need to pay attention to the water just ahead. For experienced canoeists and kayakers, that is not a problem. A benefit is that the shallow water and an 8-mph speed limit on the lake keeps power boat traffic to a minimum. Mostly you see anglers with electric motors. Canoes and kayaks greatly outnumbered the power boats yesterday. There is a state boat launch with ample parking at the southern end of the lake.

Water quality seems excellent, and, in addition to the all the laurel, the surrounding forest is a pleasant mix of hemlock and white pine, with plenty of red maple and other hardwoods mixed in. I suspect the fall foliage color is very nice, the red maples providing the red, the laurel, pines and hemlock the deep greens, the hickories and birches some brilliant yellows.

My suggestion: watch for a sunny day in mid-June and paddle the perimeter taking in the gorgeous laurel display. I looped the lake and its coves in 90 minutes, with several stops to take photos and gab with other kayakers. Hug the shoreline and it might be a 4-mile paddle.