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This bright yellow sassafras was one of the few spots of color in the woods

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, with the last days of summer slipping by without a chance to enjoy them. So now it’s officially autumn, and the leaves have begun to turn.

The Vermont and New Hampshire papers say they expect an unusually spectacular foliage season. It certainly doesn’t seem like it will be down here. A dry spell has caused a lot of trees to cast off their leaves early. The colors are muted.
Foliage reports around here tend to be like ski reports. Have you ever heard anyone say the skiing’s no good, don’t bother coming?

I took a walk this afternoon through the woods around Pearl Brook and Willard Brook state forests in Townsend. I felt like seeing something different, so at one point I took off down an unmarked path I’d never been on before. It looped pleasantly through a section I hadn’t been in. There was nothing different in the landscape, no new spectacular brooks or waterfalls, but for me there was still a sense of newness that I found exhilarating. I made a mental note to force myself to go to different places, rather than trooping along the same old trails. I tend to fall into a rut, literally, especially when I get busy.


I like the idea of an off-shore wind farm. They’re mostly out of sight, any noise won’t disrupt neighbors, there’s a constant, clean source of energy – no oil to spill, no pipelines to blow up. Other countries are well on their way to developing offshore wind farms.

First, the problem was aesthetics. People with expensive summer places didn’t want see a few specs on the horizon. Then there were some reasonably legitimate environmental considerations – danger to migrating birds, disruption to fisheries, but apparently those have been answered.

There was a stab at arguing that they would interfere with air traffic, but that argument did have any legs.

The Wampanoags, who’ve been trying to get a casino built in Massachusetts, suddenly decided the wind farm interfered with certain heretofore unknown sacred rituals. Oddly, opponents to the wind farm expressed their approval for the casino plan at the same time. Everyone denied a quid pro quo.

Now they’re arguing about how much this is going to cost rate-payers. The DPU chairman opened this week’s hearing by chiding the opposition with publicizing confidential information about a rate agreement between the developers and the utility company.

Why should that be confidential?

Now nearly everyone is crying foul over how much it’s going to cost. The “secret” agreement between the developer and National Grid starts by setting the rate higher than what ratepayers are paying now, and factors in increases every year for the next decade or so (if I’ve got my information right).

I agree that the state should look carefully at this rate agreement. In fact, I would prefer that an agreement be drawn up with the ratepayers in mind, rather than the two corporations trying to figure out how much of a profit they can make from it.
Give them a reasonable rate of return, but hold the line on gouging the ratepayers.

I don’t get it.

Bill McKibben and a caravan of supporters drove down to Washington the other day to meet with Pres. Obama to encourage him to re-install solar panels onto the roof of the White House. He wanted no part of it.

What’s to think about? McKibben et al. never got a chance to see the president, meeting instead with a handful of administration cubicle drones who knew nothing and cared even less. Their reasoning was vague at best. McKIbben was told the White House needs to think about it.

McKibben brought the solar panels with him. The same ones that Pres. Jimmy Carter put up during his administration, and promptly taken down by Pres. Ronald Reagan. And a California company has offered to give the White House state-of-the-art technology. It’s not like it’s going to add to the deficit.

Other commentators have suggested the political symbolism was wrong. Inviting comparisons to Jimmy Carter might not be such a good thing. But at least Carter’s heart was in the right place, even if his handling of matters wasn’t what it could have been. Later administrations didn’t have the best interests of the nation at heart and were incompetent to boot.

There were other suggestions that maybe there were security considerations that preclude solar panels on the White House roof.

Like what, pray tell?

Is there a terrorist cell somewhere just waiting for a solar panel to go up so they can attack it? Not unless they’re financed by BP or Massey mines.

Equally disappointing is the lack of reporting on this in the U.S. news media. It’s gotten more coverage in the British press, which is where I read about it – in the Guardian. What gives here?

Bridge along the Mass. Central Rail Trail

The Quinapoxet River from the Mass. Central Rail Trail

Lately I’ve been exploring trails in the towns just north and west Worcester, many of them maintained by an organization known as the Wachusett Greenways. The main trail is the Mass. Central Rail Trail, an ambitious project that hopes to extend the length of the state. For now, it’s still a series of loosely connected links, but they go through some truly beautiful scenery.

In particular, there is a two or three-mile stretch that runs along the Quinapoxet River, mostly in Holden, which runs through a steep ravine between heavily wooded hills. In addition to the rail trail, there are several side trails for the more curious hiker.

Walking through the woods, I spent some time wondering what it was that felt a little different. The woods are mostly a mix of hemlock, pine, maple, oak, ash, birch – very typical for this area. Maybe a little more hemlock than I would normally expect this far south.

Then it dawned on me. This was a fairly mature forest. Not old growth, by any stretch, but mature – most of the major trees are well over 75 years old. This differs from many conservation areas which are old farmland, and the forests there are considerably younger.

The trails are well-maintained, and there are plenty of stone benches for those who want to stop and enjoy the scenery.

New Hampshire has recently become one of a number of states thinking about offering corporate sponsorships for their state parks. At a time when budgets everywhere are so tight that even the most vital services are threatened, it’s not surprising that they would be looking around for new sources of revenue.

New Hampshire has been unique in that in recent years no public money has gone into their state park system. The legislature mandated that it survive strictly on user-fee revenues. Not surprisingly, they’ve racked up an $18 million deficit. It was idiotic to assume park areas could operate on any kind of break-even basis. The user fees would have to be astronomical, and no one would go. They’d still have a deficit.

For a time, the state toyed with an equally stupid idea – sell off some of their park properties. In other words, get rid of the things that make the state most attractive. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and (I think) that notion was scrapped.

A recent article in the Nashua Telegraph reports that there are discussions with Peterboro-based Eastern Mountain Sports to enter into some kind of sponsorship agreement. It’s just in the talking stages, so there are no details as such – like how much the company would pay, and what they would expect in return.

This is where it gets sticky. EMS is a great outdoor recreation company. It fits in perfectly.

But what about some other company? Would we want to drive through the golden arches to get to our favorite beach? Or how about driving through the parking lot of our favorite big-box discount retailer to get to Mount Monadnock?

I don’t think so.

California has an interesting program. They’ve issued guidelines for companies they would consider for sponsorship of one of their state parks. They need to be good corporate citizens, sensitive to issues of the environment, cultural awareness, and diversity, among other things.

I like that, and I think other states could look into the idea, as long as there are clear guidelines as to whose money would be accepted.

The links I’ve provided are worth reading.

Nature Blog Network


RSS The Ecocryptic

  • Maine DEP update July 31, 2013
    Maine Department of Environmental Protection has reversed itself and will schedule a public hearing on proposed changes to the state's clean air standards. No date has been set.Environmental groups, legislators, and the general public were outraged when the Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that the state agency had tried to sneak through the cha […]
  • At Maine’s DEP, it’s the fox guarding the henhouse July 30, 2013
    What happens when you put an industry lobbyist in charge of environmental protection? Just take a look at what’s going on in Maine. According to an article in today’s Portland Press-Herald, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection wants to weaken the state’s clean-air regulations, and they don’t want anyone to know about it.No public hearings have […]
  • Northern Pass Rears Its Ugly Head (Again) July 15, 2013
    Despite massive public opposition, significantly over-budget, and three years behind schedule,  the CEO of the Northern Pass Project vows the controversial high voltage transmission line will be built.The project is a 180-mile power line that would bring power from Canada to New England. It first came to the attention of environmentalists and others when the […]
  • Stung by Criticism, Utilities Go on Tree-Cutting Rampage August 11, 2012
    Here in the northeast, we’ve been hit by a succession of “weather events” – ice storms, wind-storms, hurricanes, early snowfall, late snowfall. Each one offered the utility companies serving this area to demonstrate once again that they were completely unprepared. In each case, customers in the most advanced country in the world were left without power for w […]
  • Victory for the Blackstone: Court backs EPA, Worcester must stop dumping sewage into river August 7, 2012
    Score one for the Blackstone River, and all the people who care about it. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted a stay of enforcement of an EPA order that will force upgrades at the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement district sewage treatment plant, according to an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.The problem is a simple o […]
  • NH Senate Denies Eminent Domain for Northern Pass – Or Does It? January 30, 2012
    Under intense public scrutiny, the New Hampshire Senate last week approved a bill that supposedly sets limits on the use of eminent domain to seize property for public projects and excludes using it for privately-funded projects. That would seem to exclude the controversial Northern Pass project, a proposed 180-mile transmission line that would bring hydroel […]
  • Northern Pass Developers Pushing State To Take Land By Force January 24, 2012
    Ever since the controversy began over the construction of a new transmission line to bring power from Canada into New Hampshire slicing through some of that state’s most scenic landscape, the backers of the project have been quietly lobbying for eminent domain powers to force reluctant landowners along the proposed route to sell.The issue gets its first real […]
  • The Balsams Landscape Has Been Saved! January 15, 2012
    Every once in a while the good guys win one.The Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests has reached its goal of raising $850,000 to buy a 5,800-acre parcel of land near the famous Balsams Grand Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH. They made the announcement in a statement yesterday on their website.The land was considered a key piece on the proposed ro […]
  • Worcester officials cite city parks to defend continued pollution of Blackstone River December 29, 2011
    I was trying to find a short, pithy way of describing the gist of an article that appeared in today’s Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.Here’s the story.The Blackstone River has its source in Worcester and flows through Rhode Island into Narragansett Bay. Since colonial times, residents and businesses have regarded it as their personal sewage system. […]
  • Slick media campaign hides the dark side of Northern Pass October 23, 2011
    The campaign to approve the billion-dollar plan to bring hydroelectric power from Canada to New England is in full swing. The home page for the project features pictures of all the things we like about New Hampshire, things like pristine lakes and woods. What it doesn’t show are the 140 miles of transmission lines criss-crossing the White Mountains, with 135 […]

RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

  • Giant tortoise species brought back from brink of extinction
    A species of Galapagos giant tortoises that numbered just 15 individuals 50 years ago, now has a healthy breeding population numbering over a thousand. The news is a rare bright spot at a time when the outlook for many species is increasingly bleak.
  • Stockholm’s backseat therapists to help battle ‘winter blues’
    As the months of extended darkness loom in the northern latitudes, so does the lethargy and depression known as “winter blues.” One Stockholm taxicab company is offering to have a therapist talk with their passengers during their ride.
  • New home colon cancer test goes on the market today
    Beginning today, a new home test for colorectal cancer will be available by prescription. The hope is that the millions of Americans who have been avoiding the unpleasant alternative testing methods will take advantage of it.
  • Heart transplant breakthrough could make more hearts available
    Surgeons in Australia have successfully transplanted hearts that had stopped beating, a major breakthrough in the process that had usually used only beating hearts. This could significantly increase the number of hearts available for transplantation.
  • Denmark rolls out the welcome mat for returning Jihadists
    While officials in many western countries are wringing their hands over what to do about those citizens who want to return after fighting with one of the extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, Denmark welcomes its returning Jihadists with open arms.
  • 'Let me survive this' says fugitive cop-killer lookalike
    Pity James Tully who has the misfortune of resembling Eric Frein, the object of a massive manhunt following the ambush shooting of two police officers six weeks ago, and who lives in Canadensis, Pa., the epicenter of the search.
  • Nine in Conn. ordered quarantined, monitored for Ebola
    Nine people, including a family of six, have been ordered to stay in their homes for the next three weeks while public health officials check for signs that they have contracted the Ebola virus. None of them have shown any signs of the illness so far.
  • Mass. stool bank offers donors $40 a poop
    Ever since the discovery that healthy human stool bacteria could be used to cure such debilitating diseases as colitis, the medical profession has struggled with two problems — collecting a sufficient supply and finding a way to get it into a patient.
  • Chinese officials scramble to find Putin’s tiger before poachers
    Kuzya, a 23-month-old orphaned Siberian tiger that Russian President Vladimir Putin helped release back into the wild in May, has crossed into China. The last thing Chinese officials want is for Kuzya to fall victim to poachers.
  • Trial raises questions over Navy's order for silencers
    What started out as an investigation into an alleged contract fraud scheme by a U.S. Navy directorate involving untraceable rifle silencers has raised questions about whether they were part of a secret mission or rogue operation.