What better way to celebrate the 4th of July than with my bald eagle friends! But this juvenile bald eagle (they’re brown mottled until about 5 years old when they develop that distinctive white head and black feathers) didn’t want to hang around for long:
He took off for better fishing spots!
There’s so much amazing wilderness up here, it’s hard to imagine that just about a century ago these beautiful northern lakes and forests were severely stressed and in grave danger of disappearing. The logging industry at the turn of the 20th century stripped the mountains and valleys of the best old growth pines. Wealthy urbanites seeking relief from the putrid air of cities (there was no air conditioning back then, remember) fled to the north woods, turning the wilderness into another surburban backyard with great camps and great trashing of the wild lands. Railroads brought loggers and miners and tourists by the thousands, and sparks from the coal-fired engines led to devastating forest fires that stripped what few trees were left from the land.
It’s impossible to contemplate this beautiful place today without thinking of the environmental devastation in the Gulf of Mexico and wondering if the Gulf, too, might recover from the catastrophe of too much civilization distrupting nature.
How did the Adirondacks recover? The same human forces that destroyed the wilderness stopped the madness — in 1892, the New York State Legislature passed the “Forever Wild” legislation that protected the state-owned lands in the Adirondacks, ordering these forests and lakes to remain “forever wild.” This clause means no clearing of trees downed by storms, no roads, no vehicles in certain parts of the forest preserve, no motors on many of the lakes, no development of the lakeshores. Quiet lakes are home to many species including the common merganser (above) and osprey (below).
Each year New York adds land to the original Forest Preserve — about half of the six million acres in the Adirondack Park are privately owned by still-active logging companies, mining companies and private homeowners, and those land uses are now heavily regulated. The remainder of the forest preserve is owned “forever wild” by the state.
As a result of the century of state-mandated protection, the wilderness regenerated itself. But the new growth, in many places, is different from what existed historically. In place of the magnificent and huge old growth pines, smaller evergreens and many hardwood trees took root, especially birches and maples. While the vistas are green from shore-to-shore of the lakes, and across the mountains, much of the forest is new growth in the last century. What this tells us is that nature can reclaim what too much human interference destroyed. But even nature will require many more centuries to make it the same as it was…
What does this mean for other endangered places? While it’s not realistic to expect an end to oil drilling, mining, logging or other invasive industries that support modern life, it is certainly possible, and morally necessary, to expect and even demand appropriate environmental protects, including prohibiting these activities in certain parts of the earth where nature must rule without human fingerprints. Oceans are certainly among the places where human disruption needs careful consideration — especially because of all of the earth’s unexplored and wild places, we know the least about life undersea. Slowing the pace of offshore drilling until we know more about the risks and ways to mitigate risk seems the least we can do to ensure the long-term health of Planet Earth.