March 7, 2010

A Sad Thing

We had been hearing a lot of noisy something-or-other going on for about a week. It was obviously big machinery, but we didn't know if someone was cutting or constructing. Last weekend, as I headed up the mountain to my Weaver's Guild meeting, I saw this out my car window ...

This had been completely wooded until last week.

The land belongs to our neighbour two doors down. My unofficial guesstimate based on the aerial photo below, is that it was approximately 20 to 25 acres, once wooded, now clearcut.

We live just outside the city limits of a small town. Our five acres is outlined in yellow. As you can see, we're in the middle of a mixture of developed and undeveloped land. Town is south and east, off the bottom of the photo. It quickly gets more rural if you go in any other direction.

For us, the clearcutting is a sad thing for a couple of reasons. One is because we love trees. Not that we are tree worshippers, nor that we believe that the life of a tree is more valuable than the life of a human. We believe that trees are a valuable, mulit-functional, sustainable resource. They should be enjoyed and utilized with wise stewardship practices, of which clearcutting is not.

We wonder about the wildlife that lived there. I've mentioned that we've seen deer a number of times. I wonder now if they'll head our way, or if they'll move away from town. Birds too; we've just seen a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker in our yard for the first time. Did it used to live in those woods? We wonder if there are other critters, now homeless, perhaps one's we didn't know about?

In the earlier, agrarian days of this nation, farmers had tree lots. Trees were selected and felled on an as needed basis: for building, for tools, furniture, heating, and cooking. As larger trees were removed, sunlight was allowed in to encourage the existing seedlings and saplings to grow. By cutting mature trees before they weakened of disease or old age, there was virtually no waste. Tree lots were consequently both healthy and self-sustaining, and there was enough for succeeding generations, maintaining a balance.

With practices like clearcutting, the balance is gone. Reforestation programs are good, but too often the tree of choice for replanting is fast growing pine, rather than the slow growing hardwoods which were removed. This still does not achieve a balance.

In order to keep the balance, we have to be willing to look at our resources in terms of using only what we need. This is a foreign concept to the modern economic mindset, which equates profit with success. It's akin to "bigger is better," "buy now pay later," and "I'm worth it;" all of which encourage excess rather than balance. Maintaining balance requires being able to discern between needs and desires, as well as having the self-discipline to choose wisely.

Unfortunately human nature is naturally out of balance because it is self indulgent. We see the end result of this all around us: reckless destruction, greed, waste, poverty.... Folks, this is not something politics can fix (no matter what politicians tell us), nor laws can change. Why? Because it's an issue of the heart. It's an issue each one of us has deal with on a daily basis, as we make decisions on how we choose to live our lives.

Anyway, back to trees. The thought occurs to me that we should be planting new hardwoods to replace those that are either cut down by us, or die of old age. True, it would take many, many years for them to mature, but even so, it's the right thing to do as stewards of the land. We do have a large wooded area, but it's mostly pine, which is not suitable for firewood. This year's firewood was courtesy of huge branches from our two old oaks and pecan trees which were in need of trimming or cutting down. For next year, we've found quite a few large branches overhanging the goat field. These should obviously be trimmed before we finish putting the fence up, and will become next winter's firewood.

In total, we've cut down two pecan trees which were allowed to grow in unfortunate places. This year I plan to begin to plant their replacements, maybe not pecans, but hardwoods for sure. I need to look at planting replacement for our two old oaks as well, because we don't know how many years they have left. Planting new hardwoods will be our small part toward maintaining the balance of our land.

We wonder what will happen to the land that our neighbor clearcut. Best case scenario would be that he sold the timber because he needed the money and will let it grow back. After all, times are tough. Worst case scenario would be some sort of housing development, whether mobile homes or luxury homes. Only time will tell.

A Sad Thing photos and text copyright March 2010 


maggie said...

Sad indeed.

But a well written post. And right on the mark.

Razzberry Corner said...

That is sad that your neighbor cut down his trees. I thought I was the only one who wondered about the animals on such land.

Our property is configured as a tree farm for tax purposes. We began planting hardwood trees on our land as soon as we moved in - it's a very good idea. I cannot imagine planting pine, despite the fact that it's fast-growing. So far we have only used already fallen trees for firewood, althought we sold quite a bit of hardwood firewood - the trees on the property were not managed ever - many had fallen and lay on the ground, so we haven't taken down any healthy hardwood trees. Even so, when we do start to take down trees, we will never clear out all trees.

We've done research on the birds - Pilated woodpeckers need large dead trees in which to live, other birds like other types of trees - in my mind they were here first, and in order for us to thrive on their land, a balance must be made. Nature must continue. That's why we personnally moved to the country, to live with nature and get away from the urban environment.

I hope a housing development does not go up in the neighbor's area. Have you seen any zoning or development signs?

Life Looms Large said...

That's too bad! We're lucky to live adjacent to town forest and conservation land for the most part. The neighbor behind us has a family compound with multiple houses and they maintain their part of the forest as you describe - selectively harvesting what they need for firewood. I always say we'll have to move if they sell the land for development. (Not sure I'd follow through on that idea...but I bet it would heavily influence us.)

Is there an easy way for you to find out what's going on with that land near you? I have a few neighbors on the planning board or the conservation commission, so they always know the scuttlebutt. Do you have neighbors like that?

Would they have clear cut for a housing development? Wouldn't people want some trees left on their lots?


Theresa said...

Oh what a shame on so many levels. Living in a logging area myself, we have this conversation at least 3 times a year. For a while the companies that owned vast tracts of land up here clear cut because they were afraid that environmental law would be instituted and make it impossible to harvest anything. They do have to plant a mix of what was harvested though. Ponderosa pine, doug fir etc. A hurry up and grab it thing. There is no easy answer.
My bet is with your clear cut, there will be housing going in. Have you checked records to see if permits may be in the works for water/sewer in the area? If you are out of city limits it might be found in county records.

Michelle said...

Leigh, you expressed my own beliefs better than I could have....

Leigh said...

Thank you Maggie. I appreciate that.

Lynn, good for you for looking at how to manage your tree farm. I think I would plant pine only to replace other pines, but like you prefer to plant those hardwoods.

I know that the cleared land is actually made up of several parcels. One is designated commercial, because he has his business on the property. The others are all designated as vacant land for tax purposes. No signs have gone up to indicate anything one way or the other.

Sue, it would take time and leg work, which I probably don't really have time for, considering everything we've got going on. You would think folks would want trees on their property, but it's still common around here to put in developments with no trees or landscaping at all.

Theresa, yes, it's an old battle isn't it. One of extremes rather than balance, with each side wanting their own way or no way.

In regards to housing, I'm not sure the real estate market around here could justify another large development. Definitely not luxury homes. Another possibility is putting in a large mobile home park, which is also common in this part of the country. Or worse, something industrial or commercial, though most of the newest development is happening on the other side of town.

As I mentioned to Sue, I'm not sure I want to take the time and energy to try to find out what's going on as it would take time away from our long to-do list here. Also, I can't imagine how the knowledge would benefit me at this point as we are extremely unlikely to try to fight our neighbor on whatever he has in mind. For right now, I need to keep focused on our own goals. They take more time and energy than we have as is!

Michelle, thanks!

Renee Nefe said...

I'm so sorry. I am also worried about the animals that have just been evicted and where they might go. So often evicted animals go to the next closest fit and become a nuisance (which is sad because they were there first!)
I so hope that the animals don't come make a living off your lovely garden.


charlotte said...

That's bad, and it looks really ugly. Someone concerned about wildlife and ecology would never do this.

Benita said...

Let's hope he needed the money the land provided. I can't see a housing development starting in this economy.

I applaud your idea of replacing any trees you cut down. Yes, it will take years of growth for them, but, as stewards of the land, we don't really plant for ourselves, but for the next generations. Planting trees is an investment in the future.

Katrien said...

So sorry about that! It's your neighborhood, and you care. Let's hope for the better outcome.

Nina said...

It is a sad thing. Clear cutting is really hard on the land and the wildlife. This is one of the times that having govenmental controls for fairly rigid land stewardship protections in place which means you must get permission and permits for things like clear cutting and draining wetlands.
As well, there are studies which show that managing a woodlot and cutting only mature trees over the longterm, creates a more sustaining income than clear cutting does. You just don't get the immediate return.

We heat with wood. We buy it from a neighbour who manages his woodlot carefully and only sells what he can safely and fairly harvest.

Janet said...

Alarming but what can you do. As I walk around my new neighbourhood I observe that the older suburban parts are missing their original trees. There are still a few where our house is located. One big old tree is on our neighbour's land and I think it is providing too much shade and cutting out the light. I wonder how old the tree is. Much as I love trees, I don't want it to be blown over onto our house!

Leigh said...

Renee, I'm hoping they aren't going to head toward our garden either! I suppose being the time of year it is, they won't have much growing here to attract them. I took a walk in our woods today but didn't see any sign of deer. Fortunately the area is largely rural, so hopefully they won't become a nuisance.

Charlotte, you're right, it does look ugly. And that's another sad thing about it. I agree that someone who valued wildlife and ecology wouldn't have done it this way. Unfortunately, the world is full of all types of folks.

Benita, well put. I think too often though, people see their homes as a temporary living place while they wait to sell it at a profit. Generational thinking just isn't a factor in that mindset, unless it's the money one hopes to leave one's kids.

Katrien, absolutely.

Nina, that's the way it ought to be. And really, you're correct about the economics of the whole thing. I suppose too many folks are in a hurry to get quick cash, which is what clearcutting is all about.

Janet, how true. And yes, not letting those old trees fall on one's house is very desirable! That was why we had our old oaks trimmed in the first place. Eventually we will have to take them down, but we will have replacements started by then. Fortunately.

Woolly Bits said...

is your neighbour irish? I know it sounds mean, but really - the first thing people do here on a new piece of land after buying it - taking off all the trees. never mind where they build or what they do - first of all every tree and shrub has to go:(( no wonder that there is so little forest on this island - ok, I know that the trees first vanished for ships etc. but there's been plenty of time for reforesting! but nothing happens - apart from some christmas tree plantations:(( the one thing I miss living here is walking through forests. there's nothing like walking silently through a forest, hearing birds and wildlife, looking at all the specialist woodland flowers etc. we tried to make up for this a little bit, but of course you can't mimick a forest on just 3/4 of an acre.

Julie said...

My guess would be houses are going in but you never know. I was just thinking yesterday as I pasted a road that goes into the valley behind our little mountain. It looks like there will be a neighborhood go in there before long. We have deer come by all the time but once houses go in on the other side I'm afraid we would see them anymore.

Leigh said...

Bettina, actually a lot of the original settlers in the area were form Scotland. It is said that they stopped in the Appalachians because they reminded them of the Scottish Highlands, and they felt at home.

Odd that clearcutting should be such common practice in Ireland. Here, I think it is mostly thought of as the most cost effective (i.e. cheapest) way to develop land. No big trees in the way!

Even with 3/4 of an acre, you can make a small difference. And just maybe, you can inspire someone else to do the same.

Julie, I should have mentioned that clearcutting simply for selling trees is not that uncommon around here. Wood furniture is an important part of the Carolinas economy, so forests are maintained and managed for that purpose alone. Our state exports about a billion dollars worth of forest products annually, not only for furniture, but for lumber, logs, and paper products. Hopefully that acreage will be allowed to regrow!

Anonymous said...

I can tell by that aerial photograph that you are on the edge of suburban sprawl. Good luck with that. I hate to bring you bad news, but you're going to be completely surrounded in another ten years.

If we want this to stop happening there is only ONE way to fix it: STOP BREEDING. Or, at least, slow it down.

The simple fact is that there is limited space on this planet and selfish people want to have five, six, seven, sometimes a dozen children. Everyone wants to plant their seed. I'm not saying trees are more important that humans, or that we should all get "fixed". I'm just saying, aren't TWO children enough? That would give us a stable population. Of course, we can't pass laws on childbirth or anything crazy like that. And accidents will happen. We should keep things in perspective, but I'm done congratulating people for having their third or fourth child. As far as I'm concerned, they are taking more than their fare share of the earth's resources and are stealing from the rest of us.

bspinner said...

Clear cutting makes my heart sick.

So often we see it on the mountains surrounding us. Large patches of "nothing" where some logger has clear cut. The effects are almost countless.

We love trees and planted at least seven every year since we moved to this house. I have my list ready for this spring planting.

Leigh said...

Anonymous, while I won't rule out urban sprawl entirely, neither will I assume it's a foregone conclusion. The city with it's jobs is east of here, and consequently there's more development on the other side of town, closer to the city. In fact new development in the city is east of that. We'll just have to wait and see.

In regards to population growth, I think it's helpful to look at where the US's population growth is actually coming from. The birth rate has been declining over the past decade so that currently it is about 14 births per 1,000 persons. That translates to only about 1 birth per 4 couples. As you can quickly see, this isn't the problem.

The biggest factor is immigration, both legal and illegal. Without immigration, our population would actually be decreasing. Unless our politicians are willing to make some hard decisions on our immigration policies, the problem will not go away.

Barb, 7 trees a year! Wow, that's a goal for sure! I'm thinking that I may wait until fall, as I think that's the best time to plant them. Still, we planted 6 fruit trees and an almond, so I reckon we have sloughed off in the tree planting department. :)

cwisner said...

When I first saw your picture it reminded me of the view from my office window, which was caused by mother nature and a tornado late last fall. We have lots of work to do over the next few years clearing out the fallen trees and sawing down the topless ones.

However I do want to point out one thing. Even though we assume the clearing in your area was for housing or money it could actually be to remove trees that have a blight. There are several blights that have stricken the Appalachians and have taken out many trees. Some are being encouraged to remove the already damaged trees (which you may not be able to see from the road)to contain the blight to that one area. Our mountain, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, has many trees damaged by the tent caterpillar and an Elm Tree blight, it is sad to look at the mountains and not see leaves on the trees. We also have many tented trees in the area that are being evaluated for other diseases and insects.

Not sure this is the case but thought everyone needs to be reminded that not all clear cutting is for monetary purposes.

The other Charlotte

Leigh said...

Charolotte, while I obviously don't know for sure, you do bring up an excellent point. In our love of nature, we often forget that part of the natural cycle is a "destructive" phase, whether through disease, flood, wind, or fire. About ten years ago, we lost two beautiful oaks to one of the diseases of which you speak. It was sad and I missed their shade, but after they died, a pair of Piliated woodpeckers took them over and we really enjoyed that!

Thank you for taking the time to point this out.

Sharon said...

Sad to see. Trees are part of our respiratory system. I cringe every time I see clear cutting. It's everywhere. Nevada ranches planted poplars, which are short lived, for firewood, and just kept a "crop" going.

Heather said...

How sad and short-sighted. I wonder what it has all been cut down for - development or more conventional type farming pasture? I imagine the wildlife will be hot footing it to your place.

Leigh said...

Sharon, that's so true. We need those trees for their carbon dioxide. Among other things!

Interesting they should plant poplar for firewood. We have yellow (tulip) poplars and they do grow fast.

Heather, either scenario is possible, though with local businesses closing, I wonder at the wisdom of building homes. He may well just have sold the trees for the money. Time will tell.

Liese4 said...

I LOVE trees too. I love them for the shade, the leaves, the branches to climb. I love the rustle of the leaves in the wind and the way the branches hold snow. We had a lot more trees in Houston, but Denver has some amazing cottonwoods and of course aspen.

I came here from my friend Maura's blog, Woodstone prairie. I'll be back to visit!