Now & Then
March 17, 2008
Did you ever give any thought to what our backyard may have looked like 500 years ago? I have, and did some research on what the New York metropolitan area was like when it was wilderness.
Manhattan Island was a rocky woodland wilderness heavily vegetated with large trees, ponds and water ways. Similar to what can be seen in Central Park today. Brooklyn was a maze of brooks, as you may have guessed and early trappers write about catching beaver the size of small bears. The rest of Long Island, because it was where the last glacier ended, is a rocky hardwood forest to the north and a sandy scrub pine forest to the south and east. A pine barren forest ecosystem that depends on fire to regenerate. Long Island had a unique grassy meadow area at its center called the Hempstead Plains. The New Jersey meadowland was one of the largest pristine wetlands on the east coat and was home to many diverse bird species. Early American hunters tell the story of wild turkey forty pounds and larger. The lower Hudson Valley region was a mountain wilderness of upland game birds, deer, elk, moose, wolf, bear and eastern cougar.
Many, but not all, of these animals mentioned are long gone and their absence has altered many of the local ecosystems. For instance, the white-tailed deer herd has grown out of control in many areas because of an imbalance that has occurred between predator and prey. I saw old photos, not long ago, of what the Pawling area looked like 100 years ago. It was mostly under agriculture and you could count the trees on the hills in the landscape.
In the last 70 years the forests have re-generated and when the trees came back so did the wildlife. Turkey started reappearing in the 1970’s. Coyote are once again common place. Bear sightings are more numerous and moose are working their way back into the area.
As responsible land stewards we need to keep these wilderness areas in place and expand upon them where we can. It’s important for human and animal well being that we continue in this direction and bring this natural balance back into our area. Its time set and be an example.