Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Is It Legal to Denude a Riverside Hill?

Another lovely day of blue skies and warm sun.  Since every day now is like a weekend day, with kids and their parents home from school and work, I guessed that every park and nature trail would be kind of crowded.  So I chose to bushwhack down to the Hudson River through a trail-less woods at the end of Potter Road in Moreau. The river here runs back behind an island and in and around little bays and rocky promontories.  Very pretty! And very serene today.

After checking to see if a patch of Trailing Arbutus I knew of might be blooming now atop some boulders  (they weren't), I decided to walk downstream toward the Sherman Island Dam, sidestepping soggy spots and pushing through shrubby thickets.  I knew of a spot where Leatherwood grew and I wanted to see how close it was to blooming.  But I never got there.  My way was definitely impeded.

Gosh, look at all these fallen trees! Did a straight-line wind come barreling through here and topple all these trees in the same direction?  That was my first thought.

But then I saw that it wasn't a wind that toppled these trees. They had been toppled by human hands wielding a chainsaw.

The entire steep bank to within a few dozen yards to the river had been denuded of trees, many of them large mature trees.  Now, why would anybody do that?  Wouldn't deforesting a bank as steep as this and so close to the water contribute to destabilizing the bank and cause the erosion of soil and the polluting of the river?

The bank was so steep I had to crawl on hands and knees and pull myself up by grasping at saplings.  When I made it to the top of the bank and onto level ground, I saw that even more trees had been cut down up here.

When I turned, I saw I was close to a house.  I wondered if now I was trespassing in their back yard. Did these homeowners own this property all the way to the river?  I had thought the banks and adjoining forested lands were controlled and managed by National Grid, the power company that operates the two hydroelectric dams (Spier Falls and Sherman Island) at each end of this river catchment.

When I turned and looked back down the bank, I could see all the way to the river and the mountains beyond through the now-thinned forest. Was it possible these homeowners were clearing the woods from their house to the river so that they would have a better view?  Would this be legal? Did they need a permit to do so? Would such a project require an environmental impact review?

I am trying now to reach the power company and ask them about this deforestation project.  I hope they can answer my questions.

UPDATE: After many attempts, I finally reached a representative from the power company, who told me that the company had sold all the property they owned along the river in this catchment.  This person did not know who owned the land, suggesting I contact the Moreau town administration to find out.  But the town offices are now closed for the duration of this pandemic, so my queries will go unanswered for the time being. And why should I bother to pursue this issue? Nothing can be done about it now, even if the tree-cutting occurred on land that did not belong to the adjacent property owner. 

Considering the much greater problems we are all facing right now, I must just let this one go.   But I can't help grieving the loss of all these mature trees for no good reason, especially since mature trees are among our greatest defenses against climate change.  As I look around the housing development that has grown up along this part of the river, I see little evidence that these homeowners are particularly concerned about environmental issues, anyway. When I first started exploring this area over 20 years ago, I approached it along a dirt road where giant trees spread their canopy over the road from the forest that closed in on either side.  All those trees and the roadside forests were sacrificed when the road was paved and building lots were cleared.  Dozens of houses were built, and the people who came to live in those houses have cleared whatever remained of the forest to plant large lawns of turf grass, monocultures that require pesticides and weedkillers to maintain, plus the release of many hydrocarbons from all the power equipment used to mow the useless grass.  Makes me wonder why people move to the woods, only to destroy it.


Woody Meristem said...

With the high stumps and mismatched undercuts and backcuts, to me this looks pretty amateurish. Sometimes something like this is done when somebody wants to open up a view -- the Green River Reservoir State Park in Vermont had a similar situation. Unless the felled trees are dragged out by equipment that leaves ruts there almost certainly won't be any erosion, especially since by late summer there will probably be a flush of new vegetation. Whatever the goal, to my eyes it's a pretty sloppy job.

Anonymous said...

Was it legal?

voiceofthefair said...

I'm very sorry for the shock this must have been for you. We can hope nature will fill the scar quickly and the downed wood, as it decays, will feed many grubs and fungi.
While I can share your dismay I must confess that a few years ago I cut down some dead trees in the woods near my house. I reasoned that it would be drier for topping off my stove wood pile. Only later when I was cutting it to length did I see my mistake. Woodpecker holes, carpenter ants and signs of bird nests brought to mind the Pileated Woodpeckers which come though here every spring. The 6 "dead" trees I had removed were indeed very much a part of the living forest. No reason for the pileated to pause now on its way thru. Lessons are sometime learned hard.
Thank you for the 100 weeks I've been able to read your blog. You have raised my spirits many times.

Steve Plumb