Editorial: If a tree falls...

You’ll read this week a story about the status of leaf peeping in our fair state.

To sum up reporter John Purcell’s findings, some experts think leaf lovers are in for a truncated, lackluster season of fall colors because of a hot, dry summer. This hopefully won’t be an economic

problem for the state (the early fall season tends to be a booming time for tourism), but it is a disappointing appraisal nonetheless that comes on the heels of one of the worst local apple harvests in memory. Fall, the much-beloved season of so many northeasterners, is a little less ideal this year.

Of course, a minor hiccup in the cycle of natural colors is not the end of the world. What is more troubling is the years-long trajectory that is increasingly relegating nature to off-the-beaten-path corners of the countryside in favor of strip malls, cookie cutter housing developments and parking lots. The natural world, it would seem, is becoming something you drive to rather than something observed every day.

A 2010 report by a group of leading academic minds entitled “Wildlands and Woodlands” found in the New England states, forest cover has declined precipitously since 1950 after experiencing a dramatic, century-long revival once settlers stopped cutting down everything in sight. It’s much the same story elsewhere. The problem is, what once took man and beast months can take a logging crew a few days — the forests may not be in a state of danger, but it is heading that direction, and quickly.

It is hard to imagine it today, but when Europeans first set foot in the New World what was to become the eastern United States was home to massive, towering trees that rival the redwoods in California (many of which were also recently lost to logging, by the way). White pines routinely grew to well over 200 feet tall. In a matter of years, nearly all of these were felled to make ship masts. At the rate we’re going, it is unlikely anything like them will ever been seen again in this part of the country.

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