WINDING DOWN PART 1
In my last Note (HIGH SUMMER SIMMER, August 15), I was rightfully worried about drought locally, particularly as it relates to fires. Fortunately, those concerns have been somewhat allayed by just barely enough rainfall. This is huge, in my book. Hopefully, we will continue to get rain and avoid an otherwise disastrous fall (dried, fallen leaves are extremely flammable). It is entirely possible that with the start of what looks like a late - but active - hurricane season that we could end up on the other end of the “water-spectrum” with entirely too much rain. Even though an excess of precipitation brings its own perils (erosion, flash-flooding) I still maintain that it is always better to have too much rain rather than not enough. I’d rather be a little soggy than in danger of burning up. This recent drought illustrates my point.
Woodstock has banned burning until further notice and the City of Kingston has declared a Moderate Drought Emergency at its main reservoir, Cooper Lake (technically speaking it is Kingston’s Reservoir #3), which has received very little rain thus far in 2022. Needless to say (am going to say it anyway), Cooper Lake is looking pretty sparse. If we do manage to dodge this fiery bullet, I would hope that we all (individual citizens, municipalities, counties, land-preservation groups and state agencies) can find ways to mitigate its potential in the future. I know the likelihood of this occurring any time soon is virtually nil. This was not enough of a “wake-up call” for most, who still aren’t aware of the potential danger. It will probably take a serious fire-event for that to happen and then it might be too late. One thing is certain - sooner or later we’ll find out. The Mountain Laurel continues to proliferate and the underbrush keeps building up. I worry because I love the woods. I want neither to see the forest suffer needlessly nor to see the widespread destruction of homes and businesses that could occur.
FAUNA - major concern recently has been related to our largest mammal, the Black Bear (Ursus americanus). As anyone in Woodstock is aware this summer, bears are a major problem. This is due to a confluence of events - a Perfect Bear Storm, as it were. The bear population has been exploding as they successfully (re)populate the entire region. Mild winters have helped. Normally, the Black Bear is very shy and one thing that has brought them into constant (and controversial) contact with people this summer has been a near-total lack of their normal summer-foods, including High-bush- and Low-bush Blueberries, as well as Huckleberries. This is probably from the drought and has caused them to seek human foods, which they readily get adapted to (much to everyone’s consternation). Yes, this situation is scary for us, but it is also downright dangerous - and even deadly - for the bears as they may have to be forcefully deterred from seeking their human food delights. This is what the DEC means when they say “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear”. Nobody should be feeding bears, either on purpose or inadvertently. Black Bear absolutely LOVE acorns, which is what they will normally gorge on to gain fat to sustain them through their long winter nap, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a good year for acorns, either. If so, this may contribute to there being continuing problems with bears all through the fall. A lack of water in the hills (all the smaller feeder-creeks are bone-dry) has also forced bears lower down into the valleys and may do the same with Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) and North American Porcupines. So far no big snake or porcupine incidents that I know of. As low as the reservoirs and streams are, Great Blue- and Green Herons are still feeding on the small and unwary. I only saw one all white Great Egret this year at the nearly dried up Kingston Res.#1. Most years recently there have been at least several and as many as 25-30 one year. Usually, the different Tree-frogs chorus all season with the Cicadas, Crickets and Katydids, but after a fitful start I don’t hear them anymore, yet it seems most other amphibians are abundant. We also started the season with plenty of turtles but I haven’t seen any in a while. They probably buried themselves in the mud to wait out this dry-spell. Neither the local birds of prey (Bald Eagles, Falcons, Hawks and Owls), nor our “clean-up crew” (Crows, Ravens, Vultures) seem too fazed by the drought. Sadly, many local Grey- and Red Foxes, as well as some of our Eastern Coyotes, have sarcoptic mange and they can really suffer from it. It is so pathetic and upsetting to see. Please, do not go near them or touch them - it is highly transmissible. Some wildlife rehabbers might be able to help. The few Monarchs that have visited us this season are probably getting ready to migrate, as are the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. As most of you know, they both have phenomenal migrations (Hummers - from 2,000 to 3,500 miles, Monarchs, approx. 2,500), particularly considering their size. And it remains a mystery as to how they intrinsically know how to navigate back to their wintering-grounds. Really amazing and intrepid creatures (see www.journeynorth.org).
FLORA - Again, the drought dominates the conversation as leaves shrivel unnaturally on branch and limb of tree, shrub and plant. Normally, this is the time when I write about this being the time of Goldenrods (not an allergen) and Ragweed (which is), and how wildly Poison Ivy is proliferating because of increased carbon in the atmosphere (first native plant to be declared an Invasive). This is all well and good but, as this extreme dryness continues (fingers crossed that it doesn’t), root-systems are drying out, more and more prematurely-yellowing leaves are coating the ground, pines and hemlocks are shedding needles as fast as they can and the ones that remain on the tree are turning yellow or red. Large patches of our mountainsides are turning these sickly colors. I think the only thing keeping any plant alive now is the morning dew, which then evaporates quickly in the morning heat. Some Milkweeds are shriveling up before they can seed, so the Monarchs’ migrating is probably a smart move, maybe sooner rather than later for them. As I said in the previous paragraph, neither the Beeches or Oaks have much fruit this year, which is cyclical anyway, but their leaves also are very stressed, some turning and falling already, as are some Maples which may remove the possibility of their gorgeous red leaf-color this year. It seems that all bets are off now and all the plants, shrubs and trees are simply doing everything they can just to survive. It’s going to be a very interesting (too interesting?) Fall. One long-lasting deleterious effect of the summers drought will most likely be a not very colorful fall with an early leaf-drop. It’s not unusual for northeast Septembers to be very warm. Let’s just hope this one will be wet, as well.
A RACE - Never thought I would pray for hurricanes, but they might be our only hope of significant, soaking rain. It does look like the tropics are getting active and that there is finally a chance of tropical storm development. I’ll be (very) curious to see if the leaves fall before (and if) storms get here or if they’ll all get knocked off by heavy rains and wind. This is the most positive scenario I can see, because if it doesn’t happen, and the drought continues with millions of tons of tinder-dry leaves on the ground our fire-danger will definitely increase. Hopefully, by my next Note, in mid-September, we should have a better idea of the situation. Thank you all.
Please be extra Careful and Safe out there.
“Ranger” Dave Holden / (845)594-4863 / firstname.lastname@example.org / rangerdaveholden on Instagram / woodstocknytrails.com