Farmland to Forest - Part 4

The Finger Lakes Today

This is the conclusion of a four-part story by Bill Banaszewski about the land surrounding the Finger Lakes and the wildlife and people who inhabited it in days gone by. While many details are based on research in Livingston, Ontario, Yates and Tompkins counties, the story is representative of the entire hilly landscape of the region.

Despite valiant efforts by early settlers to farm the rugged Finger Lakes hillsides, the process of “abandoning the farm” continued until 1925, when the hillside subsistence farmer essentially became a relic of the past. The land, no longer cultivated, followed a process called natural succession, where one vegetative type slowly emerges and replaces another, and if undisturbed over time, leads ultimately to a climax forest.

The early stages of succession started with lands that had been disturbed by farming. Weeds such as chicory and burdock emerged. Quickly a variety of volunteer annual and perennial plants followed, and the deserted farmlands were transformed into a tapestry of color painted by nature’s landscapers: goldenrod, knapweed and aster. As time passed, shrubs emerged and formed a meager canopy over the grasses and weeds. A variety of dogwood shrubs provided berries for migratory songbirds, while thorn apples offered protective nesting places for the increasing number of birds that found the emerging habitat to their liking. Gradually, trees such as aspen began to colonize areas of the Finger Lakes, aided by winds that blew their light seeds great distances across the hillsides.

By the early 1900s, on lands that were abandoned first, native hardwoods invaded the hills. The native oak, maple, hickory and ash trees continued the succession, shading out and eventually killing the sun-loving weeds, shrubs and aspen. Not to be outdone by nature, humans assisted in the process of re-forestation. Beginning in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine and spruce seedlings that would eventually help prevent more soil erosion on the steep hillsides and provide cover for wildlife and future usable timber.

As the plant species changed, so, too, did wildlife populations. Absent from the area for over 50 years, deer began migrating north from Pennsylvania in the early 1900s to graze in abandoned apple orchards and on new plant life. Laws were enacted, management practices were employed, and the constantly evolving, new plant species all combined to attract and benefit wildlife. Turkey, hawks, owls, eagle, river otter and bear are just a few examples of species that have since returned to the Finger Lakes with populations, in some cases, much greater than in the past.

And so for over 100 years the arduous mending process of nature has been at work, slowly changing farmland back to forest. Today, the Finger Lakes Region is a vastly different place than it was when General Sullivan and his soldiers defeated the Senecas in 1779, or when the loggers and first settlers stripped the hillsides of forest cover, and since early farmers began abandoning their land around 1880.

Today approximately 70 percent of the Finger Lakes hillsides is once again forested, compared to 1880 when only 20 percent was in forest cover. Today there is a new breed of farmer in the region: friendly Mennonite family farmers are revitalizing agriculture, and nearly 300 grape growers have planted 10,000 acres of vineyards on the hillsides overlooking the lakes. The logger, generally absent for 150 years, has returned and is harvesting the majestic and valuable red oaks, maples and walnut trees. Our forested hillsides are now dotted with homes and recreational cabins. This new breed of landowner has settled here because of the rural character of the Finger Lakes, in a natural world that does not threaten them as it did the pioneer farmers.

Although I share a great nostalgia for the past, like many readers of this magazine, it is clear to me our past has often been over-glorified when it comes to the land, its people and wildlife. Yes, it was a simple life, but it was a hard life. Yes, the pioneers were surrounded by natural wonders and wildlife, but these resources were seldom appreciated and often viewed as enemies and threats to their survival.

As I reflect on what the Finger Lakes Region has become today – a special place indeed – I cannot help but wonder what our landscape will look like 100 years into the future.

With developers willing to pay $20,000 an acre for prime lake views, will Mennonite farmers and grape growers be able to stay?

Will the new breed of landowners and loggers succumb to economic pressures and harvest the red oak and the stunning old-growth forests that are evolving throughout the region?

Will black bear, coyote and other predatory wildlife once again be eliminated because we are unable to co-exist?

Will bulldozers continue to replace plows on our hillsides? And will the rural character that once attracted people to this area be replaced by sprawling suburbs?

My fondness for the past and what it can teach us about the future is ever-present when I walk in the forested hillsides and reflect on the relics I encounter.

  • A pitted axe head embedded in a chestnut stump or a piece of rusted farm machinery resting where it was last used
  • A split rail chestnut fence once used to corral livestock, now slowly rotting into the earth
  • An old stone foundation that once supported the house or barn of a pioneer farmer
  • A water pump that with some effort may still be able to pull water from the ground
  • A gravestone telling of the early death of a hardworking farmer
  • A lilac tree blooming in a shaded forest where a home once stood

These artifacts tell a story of where we came from and who we are, and, possibly, what we might become.

Adapting the words of William Chapman White from Adirondack Country, as we tramp through the woods and on the shores of the lakes we will find oaks and asters, blue herons and trout, shadows on the rocks and the glint of light on the wavelets just as they were in the summer of 1800, and as they will be in 2080 and beyond. We can stand on a rock on a hill and be in a past we could not have known and in a future we will never see. We can be a part of time was and a part of time yet to come.

For me, this is reason enough to both appreciate and protect our farmlands and forests.

Click here to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

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Mystery Deaths Solved

According to this month's issue of Smithsonian Magazine, "Multitudes of bats die around the world each year when they migrate through electricity-generating wind farms. University of Calgary researchers now say the main cause of death is "barotrauma": the turbines' large revolving blades create low-pressure zones that cause bat lungs suddenly to over-expand, tear and bleed."

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Farmland to Forest - Part 3


This is part three of a four-part story by Bill Banaszewski about the land surrounding the Finger Lakes and the wildlife and people who inhabited it. While many details are based on research in Livingston, Ontario, Yates and Tompkins counties, the story is representative of the entire hilly landscape of the region.

By 1850 much of the forested green canopy that had covered the Finger Lakes region since prehistoric time had vanished. As the virgin forest disappeared, so did the loggers. They were replaced by farmers, who continued to clear the hillsides until 1880. By then only 25 percent of the lands remained forested, quite a contrast from the 90 percent forest cover that greeted the pioneer settlers nearly a century before.

As the land changed, forest-dwelling wildlife and species that were a threat to the livelihood of farmers became rare to nonexistent. However, species that preferred farmland and open fields, such as bobolinks and bluebirds, benefited from the changing habitat and flourished. Legend is the bluebird was almost as common during the late 1800s as the robin is today.

The early 19th century proved to be a prosperous time for some Finger Lakes farmers. After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, farmers were able to send corn, rye, flax and wheat to many new markets. For a short period of time the area was known as the wheat belt of the nation. Teasel growing, a specialized industry that used the larger thistle for raising the nap of cloth, was prospering near Skaneateles.

As new lands to the west opened, farm competition became fierce and affected everyone. No one was hurt more in the late 1800s than the hillside farmers. It might be said that these farm families enjoyed a simple, uncomplicated life, but it was certainly not an easy one. In fact the romanticism that is often associated with the past bears little resemblance to reality. The physical and spiritual punishment inherent in farming poor soil was accepted by the strong-willed pioneers, but far too often their hopes and aspirations were crushed by uncontrollable forces. Never much above a subsistence level at the best of times, they were constantly battling short growing seasons and shallow, unproductive soil. While glaciers deposited extensive amounts of till in the valleys, very little was deposited on the steep, higher elevations. Layers of topsoil there were thin. Stripped of trees and without crop rotation, the hillsides were exposed to sheet erosion, and within half a century any topsoil that was present had vanished. The hardpan that was left was useless for farming.

While circumstances varied throughout the Finger Lakes, the late 1800s was the time when the destiny of the hillside farmers was irreversibly sealed and doomed. Unable to afford new farming machinery that was changing the economic basis of agriculture, the now elderly farmers were forced from the hillsides and into towns. Younger members of the farm families had little interest in the dawn-to-dusk, seven-day-a-week, backbreaking work that would barely ensure their survival. With little interest in returning to the land, they too left for better work in town or to engage in flatland farming.

Between 1880 and 1925, one quarter of all farms in south central New York were abandoned. Families who came to the Finger Lakes’ hillsides full of expectations packed their meager belongings in their wagons and, for one last time, closed the doors of the farmhouses they had spent months building and transforming into homes. Much of the farm equipment and other remnants of their daily life were left in the fields where they were last used, resting in silent companionship with the illusion of their defeated land users. In essence the farms were left to rot.

Nature took precious little time in starting the process of breaking down man’s temporal effects. The forces of sun, wind, rain, snow, vegetation and wildlife soon asserted their collective power. Left undisturbed, the land follows a process of natural succession. Simply stated, it is nature’s way of repairing and reclaiming disturbances to the land. Natural succession proceeds in stages. In no time, grasses, vines and shrubs covered the abandoned farm machinery, fences, barns and eventually the homes of the pioneer farmers. Once again nature, the original change agent, was in control of the Finger Lakes landscape.

Farmland to Forest is adapted from a multimedia presentation coproduced by Bill Banaszewski and his friend and colleague, the late John Meuser, while they were professors at Finger Lakes Community College. Watch for Part IV, the conclusion of our year-long series, in the Winter Issue of Life in the Finger Lakes.

Click here to read Part I and Part II of this series.

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A Better Perspective

The modern concern about the environment, and the very development of the science of ecology, began in the middle of the nineteenth century when human power over creation began to expand rapidly. As we might expect, good and evil were inextricably mixed in this development. On the one hand, industrialization and modern agriculture have enabled more people to live – and live a more fully human life – than ever before. After a difficult transition period, for instance, manual laborers in advanced economies achieved a security and sense of dignity never before seen in any society. Advances in technology have made famine – which was a regular scourge to humanity around the globe before modern times – a thing of the past, except in places where political tyranny or turmoil prevent intelligent development. Advances in medicine have all but eliminated diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, and malaria, and have made formerly life-threatening maladies such as measles, mumps, and others, relatively minor nuisances. All of this was achieved by the slow and patient accumulation of human knowledge and the creation of free institutions that enabled the fruits of that knowledge to be shared by even larger numbers of people.

On the other hand, industrialization also had its negative effects. Early industrialization polluted cities, disrupted agricultural communities, and challenged modern nations to find ways to integrate growing urban masses. However, these were largely transitional problems. Today, it is precisely industrialization, new forms of agriculture, and other human advances that are making it possible for humans to increasingly live well and in proper relation to the earth. Even in difficult cases, such as the increase in greenhouse gases, we want to be wary of taking too narrow a view of the matter that neglects a broader perspective on the goods of development. Fossil fuels, which come from beneath the earth, have made it possible for us to forego the far more destructive, inefficient, and polluting use of wood and other so-called natural fuels that must be harvested from the earth’s surface. Paradoxically, fossil fuels may have even helped save whales from extinction. Prior to learning how to use petroleum, humans had few alternatives to whale oil for generating heat and light.

Moreover, fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, have also had far-reaching positive environmental effects that a good steward should wish to consider in drawing up the global balance sheet. The first effect is to make it possible for farmers to replace beasts of burden with machines and, therefore, to cultivate land more efficiently. (Much of the developing world is now beginning to undergo this process of agricultural modernization today.) Second, fossil fuels have been turned into fertilizers that, together with new pesticides, other means of preventing spoilage, and advances in new plant species – the so-called Green Revolution – have produced so much more food per acre that large amounts of land have now been spared from cultivation altogether. For example, America’s forests, contrary to popular perception, have been growing steadily for the past fifty years and are actually larger than they were one hundred years ago. Even in the heavily populated coastal areas, small farms have returned to forestland. The result of all this is that despite its vast fossil-fuel consumption, North America currently shows a net minus in the amount of carbon dioxide it puts into the atmosphere. In other words, North America absorbs more carbon dioxide through plants and forests than it emits through industry. No one intentionally set out to produce these consequences, but human ingenuity, aimed at doing better with greater cost efficiency and lower amounts of raw materials, seems here to reflect a providential convergence of man and nature. Now that we are conscious of the effects of our activity on nature, we can set out to do even better.

If other countries in the world could imitate such ingenuity and efficiency, we would not see an exhaustion and despoliation of natural resources. Instead, we would see their enhancement and protection. Agricultural scientists have estimated that if the rest of the world could achieve the level of efficiency and care for the land exhibited by the average farmer in the developed world, then ten billion people – which is almost twice the current world population, and is a larger figure than is now expected when the population levels off in the middle of the century – could be fed on half the land. Put into concrete terms, this means that an area the size of India could simply be left untouched worldwide in spite of population growth. It is a modern scandal, then, that out of a misguided concern for the earth, some philanthropic foundations and environmental groups from developed countries, and some international agencies as well, have discouraged, or even refused to support so-called "unsustainable" agricultural practices. These practices are, in fact, necessary for saving and improving the lives of the world’s poor and hungry.

Excerpted from "The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation" recently published by The Acton Institute.

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Farmland to Forest - Part 2

The Pioneer Farmer

This is part two of a four-part story by Bill Banaszewski about the land surrounding the Finger Lakes and the wildlife and people who inhabited it. While many details are based on research in Livingston, Ontario, Yates and Tompkins counties, the story is representative of the entire hilly landscape of the region.

The year was 1779, and the Seneca Nation’s political dominance in the central Finger Lakes was about to end. Two years after the Seneca joined the American Revolution on the side of England, American General John Sullivan brought 5,000 soldiers to the Finger Lakes with orders from George Washington to destroy the crops and settlements of the Iroquois Confederacy. Ironically, Sullivan used fire, a tool of the Seneca, to lay waste to food supplies and villages all across the region. The traditional way of life of the Seneca Nation was over.

The first immigrants to America and the settlers who came to the Finger Lakes then had a markedly different view about natural resources than the Seneca. In his book, The American Indian as a Hunter, John Whitthoft explains that land, trees and wildlife were not subject to individual control and ownership. To the Seneca, these natural resources were allies and part of a shared domain controlled by the supernatural. In contrast, early white settlers sought property rights to natural resources in order to exploit and transform them.

Pioneer farmers harvested deer, small mammals, birds and fish as sources of food and clothing, and for barter. However, they relentlessly hunted wolves, cougar, bear, fox, snakes, hawks and owls; these animals were considered enemies because they preyed on livestock. Bounties were established on nearly all predators, and $10 bounties for large predators, like panthers and wolves, were common.

In the History of Yates County, a farmer from the town of Jerusalem recalled, “In 1800, wolves were so numerous that on many occasions I listened to their discordant chorus – wolves were making the night hideous with frightful howls. One night when my dog was absent, a wolf seized a sheep and disemboweled it within a few feet of the house door.”

As similar stories became abundant, pioneer farmers were prompted to take action in a big way. “In 1811, wolves were driven off by a great hunt in which a line of men posted at 5 rods distance from each other extending from Penn Yan a distance of 18 miles reaching into Steuben drove the vagabonds before them to the south.”

Scattered records left by early settlers indicated that bear were also numerous and troublesome: “The pigsty, no matter how strongly protected, was no challenge to hungry bruins who developed a taste bordering on mania for tender pork.”

Hunting bears became so intense that one hunter shot five bears in one day. Bounties were profitable, but bears were also an important source of food, clothing and cooking grease. A Mrs. Crane of Yates County recalled that no less than 50 bears were killed in one year around the lower part of Keuka Lake. By 1830 bear had been hunted to the point that a bear sighting was news.

As predators were eliminated, deer numbers increased. Hunters of the day used various practices to slay deer. Blinds were built near salt licks. When the deer approached the licks, night hunters would shine lights in their eyes and the bewildered deer, frozen in place, were easily shot. Fawns were captured and kept as pets. When they matured, hunters put bells around the deer necks, and they would come and go freely. In the woods they mingled with other deer and were a great help to hunters – the sound of the bells indicated where more deer might be found.

Each year, farmers typically harvested two or three deer for food, but when the railroads were constructed in the 1830s, market hunting took over and became big business. Deer, passenger pigeons and other wildlife were sent by train to restaurants in New York City. One famous hunter, Bona DeRock of the Genesee area, “reckoned he shot 2,000 (total) deer and 102 in one season.”

By 1850, the hillsides surrounding the Finger Lakes were markedly different than they were when the Iroquois Confederacy was founded in 1142. Thousands of acres had been stripped clear of trees, and the hillsides were alive with small farms. A combination of factors, including loss of habitat, bounties, unregulated hunting and market hunting, resulted in dramatic declines in wildlife populations. Little thought was given to these declines. By 1860, joining deer in virtual extinction were wolf, cougar, bear, bobcat, beaver, snowshoe hare and turkey. Fox, owls and hawks were scarce.

This dramatic transformation was not the last one the Finger Lakes would experience. It would soon be time for another change agent, natural succession, to take control in the region.

Farmland to Forest is adapted from a multimedia presentation coproduced by Bill Banaszewski and his friend and colleague, the late John Meuser, while they were professors at Finger Lakes Community College. Watch for Part III: “Abandonment” in the Fall Issue of Life in the Finger Lakes.

Click here to read Part I.

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Farmland to Forest - Part 1

In The Beginning

This is part one of a four-part story by Bill Banaszewski about the land surrounding the Finger Lakes and the wildlife and people who inhabited it. While many details are based on research in Livingston, Ontario, Yates and Tompkins counties, the story is representative of the entire hilly landscape of the region.

Looking out across Keuka Lake from my deck to the expanse of heavily wooded hillsides visible in all directions, it is hard to comprehend how these same hills surrounding Keuka and the other Finger Lakes have changed from mature forest to farmland and are now reverting back to forest in less than 300 years.

For uncounted centuries dense primeval forests covered a vast area from the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard. In the Finger Lakes region a canopy of vivid green comprised of hardwoods and conifers in the higher elevations blanketed the landscape. The lush vegetation was virtually uninterrupted except for clearings created by lakes, wetlands and fire. The branches, leaves and needles were so plentiful, they formed a tightly woven shield preventing most of the sun’s rays from reaching the forest floor. It was a time when the land was enveloped in stillness, broken only by the natural sounds of wildlife, the roar of thunder, wind or water. Soon, startling new sounds would join the natural spectrum, for it was time in the Finger Lakes for a significant change agent to make its presence felt.

Most mainstream scholars estimate the time of the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy between 1000 A.D. and the mid-twelfth century, and many tie it specifically to a solar eclipse on August 31, 1142. When the Seneca Indians arrived in the Finger Lakes region, they initially established their settlement near the south end of Canandaigua Lake near exceptional hunting and fishing grounds.

The Senecas are one of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Haudenosaunee. Within the Confederacy, the Senecas are known as “the keepers of the western door,” but their own name for themselves, O-non-dowa-gah, translates to “people of the great hill,” a reference to their origin story. Over time, they migrated north to Canandaigua, the Seneca word meaning “the chosen spot.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the maximum population of the Haudenosaunee prior to European contact. Numbers cited vary widely and range from 5,000 up to 25,000 or more.

The entire Seneca culture was based both on a spiritual and knowledgeable relationship with the earth, its plants and animals. From oral history we know they believed human happiness was only possible through a spiritual relationship with the natural world. Plants and animals were their allies, and they succeeded as farmers or hunters through the favor of supernatural deities.

The Senecas were the first dwellers in our region to commit a large portion of the land to agriculture. They cleared the forest by girdling trees and using fire. By most estimates, as much as 90 percent of the land was forested before they began to establish farmland. Mother Earth, together with the women, owned the farmland, and women were solely responsible for planting and harvesting apples, squash, beans, sunflowers and corn. In some years over 100,000 bushels of corn were harvested.

Equally important as agriculture to the Senecas was their relationship with wildlife. They believed bear, wolf and eagles were supernatural creatures. All animals were considered intelligent fellow members of the same spiritual kingdom.

The whitetail deer, beaver and turkey were the most useful of the game they harvested. Beaver and turkey were trapped, and deer were taken by still-hunting, stalking, using snares and, when deer were abundant, by driving.

Knowing that deer did not thrive in mature forests, the Senecas used fire not only as a tool to establish farmland but also to create “edge” habitat and to help drive deer during communal hunts. This method of hunting involved building brush fences 8- to 9-feet high in order to lead the animals to an ever-narrowing trap. A ring of small fires was built around the perimeter of the area, and groups of men and boys would walk several paces apart, beating bones and barking like wolves. Deer were stampeded into the enclosure where other hunters awaited with snares and spears. In the longhouse after a successful hunt, they would celebrate and give thanks to the supernatural keeper of the game.

Every part of a deer’s body was utilized. Venison was a major source of food, and bones and antlers were fashioned into tools and weapons. Hides were used for clothing, blankets, floor coverings and numerous other practical items in the daily life of the Senecas.

The Senecas grew and prospered for hundreds of years, but their time of greatness in the Finger Lakes region was soon to come to an end. The year was 1779 and it was time, again, for a change to the land.

Farmland to Forest is adapted from a multi-media presentation co-produced by Bill Banaszewski and his friend and colleague, the late John Meuser, while they were professors at Finger Lakes Community College. Watch for Part II, “The Pioneer Farmer” in the Summer Issue of Life in the Finger Lakes.

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Pope on Global Warming

In today's edition of Britain's Daily Mail, Simon Caldwell reports:

Pope Benedict XVI has launched a surprise attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology. The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics suggested that fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering.

The German-born Pontiff said that while some concerns may be valid it was vital that the international community based its policies on science rather than the dogma of the environmentalist movement.

Click here to read the entire article.

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What is a Megawatt?

The following claim was made by UPC Wind and repeated in yesterday's Democrat & Chronicle article (see below) about the Cohocton wind project:

"It said the proposed facilities would have a combined electric generating capacity of 127.5 megawatts to power approximately 45,000 homes on an average annual basis."

How can we evaluate exaggerated claims like these? Click here to read an article that will explain the process clearly.



Global Warming Solutions

In a recent, thought-provoking article, Dr. Nina Pierpont writes:

As an ecologist, I’ve known about global warming since the 1970’s, especially in the work of certain marine scientists who began studying and modeling global carbon cycling forty years ago. The earth’s fossil record makes it clear that the earth has cycled back and forth between warmer epochs and colder throughout its history. At certain times the earth has been tropical to the poles.

There is no doubt that we are in a significant warming stage and that the human role in this is
critical, by releasing to the atmosphere enormous amounts of carbon locked up by trees and plants eons ago into oil and coal. Not only the burning of fossil fuels, but the destruction of forests also disturbs the carbon balance, on the other side. Forests are carbon “sinks,” reabsorbing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it up again into wood and leaves, cellulose and lignin. The energy in wood is the sunlight of past summers, but the substance is carbon from the air.

Global warming means not only more marked heat waves and melting glaciers and ice caps, but also increased variation in the weather. There is more energy in the atmosphere and hydrosphere not only for high temperatures, but also for more air movement, more wind, more storms, and greater swings between warm and cold, as air masses replace each other quickly and vigorously.

But wind generation is not the solution, even in a gustier world.

To appreciate a cogent, comprehensive, and remarkably concise analysis of the situation, click here to read the entire 2-page article.

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Interview: May Berenbaum

Where have all the honeybees gone?

Honeybee populations in more than 20 states have mysteriously crashed. May Berenbaum, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studies "colony collapse disorder" and its consequences. Click here to read a fascinatingly delightful interview with her about the problem (which has absolutely nothing to do with wind power in Cohocton as far as I can tell), published in the June issue of Smithsonian Magazine.



A Celebrity's Green Ideas

I have spent the better part of this tour trying to come up with easy ways for us all to become a part of the solution to global warming. Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating. One of my favorites is in the area of conserving trees which we heavily rely on for oxygen. I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required. When presenting this idea to my younger brother, who's judgement I trust implicitly, he proposed taking it one step further. I believe his quote was, "how bout just washing the one square out."

I also like the idea of not using paper napkins, which happen to be made from virgin wood and represent the heighth of wastefullness. I have designed a clothing line that has what's called a "dining sleeve". The sleeve is detachable and can be replaced with another "dining sleeve," after usage. The design will offer the "diner" the convenience of wiping his mouth on his sleeve rather than throwing out yet another barely used paper product.. I think this idea could also translate quite well to those suffering with an annoying head cold.

This next idea I have been saving but I will share it with you if you promise not to steal it. It is my latest, very exciting idea for creating incentive for us all to minimize our own personal carbon footprints. It's a reality show. (I feel pretty certain NO ONE has thought of this yet!). Here is the premise: the contest consists of 10 people who are competing for the top spot as the person who lives the "greenest" life. This will be reflected in the contestant's home, his business, and his own personal living style. The winner of this challenging, prestigious, contest would receive what??.... a recording contract!!!!!

Can't believe it? Click here for Cheryl's weblog.

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Problems with Biofuels

Biofuels may threaten rainforests

According to an April 26, 2007 article in London's Financial Times, a European plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may create other problems:

"In a bid to solve one problem, we risk creating another, and making things worse. Rainforest destruction is a major contributory factor in global warming and it would be ludicrous to promote this loss to slake our thirst for fuel," said Chris Davies.

If it isn't one thing, it's another. Click here to read a PDF copy of the report.

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What Being "Green" Means

Because You are "Green" Doesn't Mean You Have to Love Wind Farms

Industrial wind farms, like the Cape Wind project, are on the rise and along with them public protest and opposition. Is it anti-environnmental to even question much less object? Not at all. In fact, questioning wind power does not mean anti-environment and in fact the opposite is most often the case. Those that question are those that care or they wouldn't be involved in the debate at all.

In fact, being Green means you should question not only the viability of wind power but its potential negative impacts on the Earth, its communities and the living beings and ecosystems on which it depends.

Making responsible and informed choices are the keys to living Green.

Click here to read a PDF version of the entire article.

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No reduction in pollution?

Wind Farms May Not Lower Air Pollution, Study Suggests

Building thousands of wind turbines would probably not reduce the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, but it would slow the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases, according to a study released Thursday by the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found, however, that officials who will decide whether to build the turbines have few tools to measure the devices' impact on air quality, on animals like birds and bats, and on wilderness preservation.

In fact, making good decisions about wind energy may be difficult, said David J. Policansky, the study director, because negative effects occur locally while benefits are probably regional or national.

by Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times, May 4, 2007

Click here to read the full report.



Let There Be Light

Incandescent or fluorescent?
What would Edison do?

This month's Smithsonian Magazine has an essay addressing the question:

Live long enough, and technologies that once seemed immortal fade into oblivion, often taking a piece of your heart with them: the 45 rpm record, the transistor radio, photographic film, a typewriter left at the curb to be anointed by passing dogs... Still, there's always something poignant when a pear-bodied vestige of our past gives way to a younger rival once dismissed as clunky and cold, and now revealed in a slimmer, smarter, sexier new form. I am talking about the impending demise of the incandescent light bulb, at the hands of the compact fluorescent lamp.
Click here to read Richard Conniff's article and learn more about how you can stop wasting electricity and save money at the same time.

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Setting Global Priorities


As the 38th annual Earth Day approached on April 22, many who care about both the poor and the environment were listening to calls for radical measures. The fear is that flooding in coastal regions could displace millions, mostly the poor; heat waves could kill many who are elderly or diseased; and decreased crop yields could lead to starvation in developing nations.

So does compassion require the federal government to require immediate and drastic cuts in CO2 emissions? Enter Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish academic, author, and founder of the Copenhagen Consensus, a group devoted to economic analysis of policy proposals to solve the world's toughest problems. Lomborg's congressional testimony last month systematically deconstructed the much-hyped testimony by former vice president Al Gore.

Lomborg argued that the high economic costs of emissions-cutting proposals would deliver meager global benefits compared to what such funds could accomplish elsewhere. He cited his organization's global priority list, a ranking of the world's most cost-effective opportunities to improve the human situation. A panel of top-tier economists, including four Nobel Laureates, constructed the table in 2004 based on their analysis of areas where the most good could result from the least economic harm.

The panel ranked various measures to control the spread of disease and alleviate food and water shortages as top priorities. Climate-change solutions, such as carbon taxes or the Kyoto Protocol, scored at the very bottom, delivering minimal gains relative to their costs.

Click here to read the full report published in last week's issue of WORLD Magazine.

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Charles Komanoff's Vision

Mark Densmore has posted a link on the Yes! website to what he calls an "Excellent Article on Wind Power" written by Charles Komanoff, a wind power activist, and published in the September/October 2006 issue of Orion Magazine. It's a pretty article and quite beguiling in its own way, but many of Orion's faithful readers took their favorite magazine to task for publishing it. As Dr. Dennis McNair writes:

Charles Komanoff’s article, “Whither Wind?” Orion 25(5), reveals him as a simplistic apologist for the wind industry. That such deliberate misdirection and propaganda were allowed to be published in your magazine is disappointing.

Eric Rosenbloom continues in a similar vein:

Komanoff's vision of the ways things ought to be is threatened by environmentalists who haven't swallowed the sales spiel and instead have determined that industrial wind turbines on rural and especially wild sites bring negative impacts that far outweigh the elusive benefits. He spent almost two months repeatedly pestering an environmental leader in western Massachusetts for opposing giant wind turbines in the Berkshires. Though Komanoff contacted her through a mutual friend, she quickly saw that he was not at all interested in discussion and she rightly ignored his continuing prods. He took this turning of the cheek as a sign of defeat and posted the "exchange" on his website as a trophy of victory. But if one does not deny the impacts nor the shortcomings of big wind on the grid, the only conclusion is that the benefits do not justify its industrialization of rural and wild areas. Komanoff and other pro-wind environmentalists are on the wrong side of this issue.

Yen Chin carries the argument further and concludes:

Wind power has a place in a humane and sensible world, but that place cannot and should not be as prominent as Mr. Komanoff would have us believe.

Follow these links to read Dr. McNair's complete commentary, followed by Rosenbloom's critique of Komanoff's credentials as an environmentalist and Yen Chin's cogent thesis on the difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency. All of which demonstrates that a person can be very persuasive until other intelligent observers offer their well-reasoned rebuttals. Unfortunately, the arena where most of the struggle for truth is taking place in our country is in quiet places of beauty that we've taken for granted for too long.



A story about our deer

It is difficult to believe that between 1860 and the early 1900s whitetail deer were essentially eliminated from our region. When settlers came to this area, they slowly but steadily cleared the forests to create farmland. By 1880, approximately 70 percent of the hill country surrounding the lakes was farmland and only 20 percent remained forested.

After hillside farming began declining around 1880, nature started reclaiming the abandoned farmland. Finding apples in old orchards and new successional plants, deer began migrating north from Pennsylvania. Laws were established to regulate hunting, and “deer sightings” were the talk of the town between 1915 and 1920.

Today, deer thrive in the Finger Lakes region and have adapted to living in close proximity to people. Newspapers no longer run stories about deer sightings, and although some consider them a nuisance, they are revered by hunters, naturalists and photographers.

Click here to read the whole story, complete with photos and information about the life cycle of whitetail deer, by Bill Banaszewski and here to download a PDF version you can print for your family.

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Chautauqua US-FWS Report

No reduction in emissions

"We agree that there are serious consequences associated with burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, and we support energy policies which promote renewable sources, such as wind and solar, to provide alternate forms of electricity. However, construction of wind energy facilities will not reduce air pollution emissions at existing power generation facilities. Coal, oil, and nuclear generating facilities must be kept in operation and online to provide the main source of electricity, especially when the wind resources are not turning the turbine blades. The intermittency of wind, coupled with the fact that the times of peak availability of wind resources in a given location may not coincide with the times of peak demand for electricity, makes wind energy less suitable from an energy standpoint."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
New York Field Office

Click here for the context of this quote. We've also posted (as very large files) the full article by the FWS and a similar companion report by the DEC, both of which primarily addressed the Avian and Bat studies submitted by the developer on behalf of the unsuccessful Chautauqua Wind Project.

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Will wind power cut CO2?

Less for More

The primary reason industial wind power is being promoted so extensively is its inherent promise to reduce CO2 emissions by replacing conventional power production. In a well-researched and scholarly article published in December, Jon Boone reveals the fallacy of this premise. According to his research, "Wind plants are unable either to mitigate the need for additional conventional power generation in the face of increased demand or to reliably augment power during times of peak demand. Ironically, as more wind installations are added, almost equal conventional power generation must also be brought on line. Crucially important, wind technology, because of the inherently random variations of the wind, will not reduce meaningful levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide produced from fossil-fueled generation." For the complete story, read the full article and then follow up with a recent companion article by Wolverton and Bliven that carries the argument even further.

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Bald Eagles Returning

Bald eagles at record high

The Department of Environmental Conservation announced that this year’s bald eagle population has increased statewide and is at a record high. State wildlife staff and volunteer “nest-watchers” monitor the nesting-eagle population each year. When active nests are identified, aluminum flashing is placed on trees to prevent raccoons from climbing and eating the eggs or young eagles. Since 1975, when the Fledgling Endangered Species Program began, the DEC has worked to restore bald eagles in New York. More than 200 nesting eagles were released between 1976 and 1989. Two productive pairs of eagles were established in 1980 and the population began to grow: to four pairs by 1987, 16 by 1991, 35 by 1997, 64 by 2001, and 92 by 2005. This year, 110 nesting pairs were counted with a record 172 young produced during the breeding season. For more go to www.dec.state.ny.us and click on “2006 Bald Eagle Annual Report.”

Sunday Edition, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

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Bald Eagle in Hi Tor

Yesterday morning at 10:05 am I was traveling north on State Route 21 just approaching Woodville when I noticed a very large raptor heading toward me very low to the ground, flapping madly to gain altitude. At first glance it was obviously a Bald Eagle, very white bright head, wingspread wider than my truck. It passed within a hundred feet of me. I immediately pulled over and got out to watch it climb up over the Hi Tor marsh. It continued to circle to the south toward Parish Hill (also Hi Tor) and was out of sight in less than two minutes. Once again it seems that eagles cannot read a DEIS to understand that Hi Tor is "not the proper aquatic habitat" for them. Perhaps we need to take a new approach to wildlife education.

Brad Jones, Naples, NY



How to save on emissions

According to Foreign Policy, "Microsoft could save 45 million tons of CO2 emissions with a few lines of computer code." Their suggestion is to install "deep hibernation" on all Microsoft PCs so that when they sit idle overnight they use less energy. This is the kind of thinking we need more of, plans to reduce the demand for energy. Wind farms, while an apparently appealing approach to some, are a classic example of what environmentalists call an "end-of-the-pipe solution". Instead of tackling the problem - our massive demand for energy - at source, they claim they will provide less damaging means of accommodating it. Read the full article here.

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VN 9/19 - Saving the Planet?

Local wind power supporters seem to be convinced that developing a large industrial wind power plant on our local hills will make a significant contribution to the future safety of our children. How could wind power in Cohocton help save the planet? Read the article we published in this week's Valley News and then check out the section called "The Problem" in our main website for some thoughts on this important question.

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Corn Pollution?

Michael Pollan wrote a fascinating article in this month's Smithsonian Magazine entitled "What's Eating America" that starts off with this catchy subtitle: "Corn is one of the plant kingdom's biggest successes. That's not necessarily good for the United States." How he traces the development of modern hybrid corn through a Nazi scientist and finds its agricultural success at the root of overpopulation and other global time bombs is nothing short of an environmental tour-de-force. It's a great article for putting our global problems in perspective. Besides, it's fun to read! Click here for an online version with links, or here for a printable PDF copy with illustrations.