"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
In 1884, my Great grandfather Archibald Gracie Ogden Sr. (1869-1931) traveled from Elizabeth, New Jersey to Grosse Isle, Michigan to attend boarding school. He stayed with his cousins the Biddles, and was especially close with John Biddle, a recent West Point graduate who would later be the best man at Ogden's wedding and a Major General commanding of American forces in Great Britain and Ireland in 1918. He had such a good time in Michigan, in fact, that he neglected to write to his family as often as they might have hoped (a situation familiar to many parents whose children have recently left the next). His father Dayton Ogden (1833-1914) who had also been away to school at a young age, wryly wrote his son during summer holidays:
"Judging from the numbers of letters you have written I suppose you don't want to be bored with many nor to have your holiday-time to any great extent taken up with answering them. This is partly my reason for not writing & then again it is hard to find anything to write about from here that is of particular interest to you."
All the same, Dayton Ogden concluded his letter to his son to "take all the time you can for enjoyment" and not to answer "unless the humor for writing is on you." From this letter, dated August 23, 1885, I learned that Archibald G. Ogden had witnessed Grant's funeral during the summer and had a view of Niagara falls from the suspension bridge. This photograph was taken during that time in Buffalo, New York. It and the letter from his father were contained in a school grade book covering the 184-1885 year. It is a remarkable record, with daily grades alloted from 1-10 in subjects like Latin Composition, Virgil, Greek Lessons, French, Algebra and Arithmetic. His weekly average was tallied along with his class rank. The signature of his teacher and a parent accompanies each weekly marking period. His grades were consistently strong but even so his class rank was often in the teens and twenties. His teacher made exactly one comment during the entire year on the page for the marking period of January 16th, 1885 - "Ogden can do better" -, to which his mother Esther Ogden replied; "I quite agree with Mr. Cutter."
The temperature has been around 40 degrees all day with a soft and steady rain. Tonight on the cusp of the Vernal Equinox, I thought conditions might just be right for the great mole salamander migration. After dinner, we stuffed children's pajamas into boots, took down our flashlights and headed out for Salamander country.
These first spring amphibians precede the chorus of peepers that will be a feature of late April evenings in our swamps and woodlands. In western New England we have three species of mole salamanders - yellow spotted, blue spotted and Jefferson's - that start to stir on nights like these and move from their winter slumber to the cold dark water of vernal pools to breed. The blue spots hybridize with the Jefferson's in the southern Berkshires, so I'm never quite sure which one I have found when I come across one, though that itself is a rare enough event. These two are also state listed rare species of special concern.
I drove all the muddy back roads in Sheffield where I knew there were salamander crossings. It must have been just to cold, or too early, for we didn't see a one, but we did have the thrill of a rufus phase screech owl that flew across the road near Dry Brook and landed on a post just to the side of the road where we had a fine view of it in our headlights.
This year our backyard maple has experienced ideal conditions, and we've enjoyed a fine run of sap. I have already sugared off enough to make my 1/2 gallon of syrup and it looks like we'll have at least another week of the run before it slows. I should end up with 3/4 gallon from my two buckets and spiles. The sap did not run in January this year, which may have helped. It seems that the emerging bulbs in our yard are less advanced at this stage than in the previous couple of years. There is not a sign of daffodil tips at the base of the tree, even where the afternoon sunshine warms the mulch.
We'll head out again the next night it rains, and one of these times we'll see them, crawling out from the dark woods and into the beams of our flashlights. It is one of the season's great spectacles, but you have to put in some effort - and have a bit of luck on your side - to experience it.
Strap on those brass goggles and gas up the zeppelin, honey. The 5th edition of Cabinet of Curiosities is heavily into Steampunk. What could be more curious than a branch of speculative fiction spawning an entire alternative lifestyle for retro, do-it-yourselfers with a flair for dark wood and brass rivets?
Steampunk is a fantasy genre where form trumps function and sword canes co-exist with ray-guns and pith helmets. It is also a style of art and design. The Boston Globe describes it this way:
"Steampunk has its roots in science fiction literature, where it describes a corner of the genre obsessed with Victoriana and the idea that the computer age evolved alongside the industrial. Steampunk stories, which started appearing with regularity in the 1980s, eschew clean and orderly visions of the future in favor of gas-lighted streets, steam engines belching toxic smoke, and dastardly villains inventing strange technologies. Dirigibles rule the air, and the upper classes employ clockwork servants to serve their meals."
Steampunk tips its hat to the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as well as Twain, Lovecraft and, one assumes, Frank L Baum, whose oeuvre has many beloved Steampunk elements (Tin Man, Tik-Tok and those great green goggles). Films like Wild Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, while box office duds, are classics of Steampunk sensibility. 19th-century inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison are often cited as Steampunk idols, but I would think there would be ample room in the pantheon for Alexander Graham Bell:
"Alexander Graham Bell Note the name and note it well Father of the modern age His inventions are all the rage Of course there was the telephone He’d be famous for that alone But there’s 50 other things as well From Alexander Graham Bell"
From there you can follow links to the wondrous creations of AlexCF, a retrofuture cryptozoological assemblage artist, who will be more than happy to show you his wares. His necropathic spectregraph (shown at left and auctioned at eBay) looks particularly handy for all you spiritualists.
If you are really having trouble with gaslight poltergeists, then Ectoplasmosis! recommends you call a Steampunk ghostbuster. The gentleman in question (pictured at right) was spotted at the 2007 San Diego Comic Con last summer.
"Beautiful, weird, hand-machined -- this is not just art attached to an existing quartz movement, but a fully realized working pendulum clock out of brass and rice paper. The particular clock's inspiration is based on the calligraphy of the numbers."
Steampunk is where the cool kids from shop class go to play. The grand master of this gears 'n goggles breed of engineers is Jake Von Slatt, proprietor of The Steampunk Workshop where keyboards get tricked out in electrolytic etched brass and fellow DIYers take his ideas and run with them.
If you are not handy at hand-tooling machinery, you can still get your Steampunk on with all sorts of fanciful garb through the Aether Emporium.
The Heliograph profiles some Steampunk fashion pinups from photographer Kat Bret if you are in need of further inspiration.
Nor is the Steampunk aesthetic restricted to some Anglo-American tech-nexus. From Uruguay, Marie shares some fantastical Steampunk illumination devices.
Given all this mad tinkering, it is not surprising that Penny Dreadfully Steampunk is all the rage at Esty: purveyors-at-large of all things handmade.
Going Like Sixty observes that late boomers, like Steampunk itself, are "suitably old, but mysteriously advanced."
You can get your very own Pavoni PG-16 Romantica 16-cup Espresso Machine in brass for just under 1K at Amazon - a must have for the Steampunk dream kitchen - or maybe you can get your gauntlets on this Etienne Louis, mechanical hedgehog looking design (at right), previewed at ESP Visuals. Actually, it looks even more like a WWI era anti-ship mine to me, but maybe the coffee is just that potent.
Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire is a collector of Granite State historical oddities, and for this edition of Cabinet of Curiosities she offers up a cautionary tale of the perils of 19th-century self-doctoring in Hanover NH: Death by Sponge in 1851.
"The more I research this old framed piece of embroidery, the more I wish I could "hear" all the stories of the inmates who had a hand in making it. I fear my telling of just this part of the story is only the beginning of some tales unlike any heard before. Everyone says "if walls could talk" but this is a case of wishing that individual threads sewn into a simple cottage scene could tell the story of the individual who stitched the thread into the picture."
"There is a beautiful surfeit of things of brass and wood, and apparently the museum itself is reached through a medieval church with beautiful flying machines (such as the Eole bat-plane...) hanging from intricately carved ceilings. A visual feast; where beauty and science are dramatically entwined, where history smells of varnish, tarnish and soot, and where three-wheeled steam carriages rest proudly next to hand-cranked cinomatographs."
Louis Roderiguez of ...What I Know Now explains the primary function of the Smithsonian to his UK readers as preserving the Junk of the Nation that defines a people. That sounds very much like the function of my house, except it preserves the junk that defines me.
The Museum of Hoaxes shares this Victorian poster for S. Watson's American Museum of Living Curiosities, complete with Australians in what could only be described as their native dress if they were from an alternate universe (click to enlarge).
And then there is the private collection of China's Dr. Liu Dalin, a professor and sociologist at Shanghai University, who is also curator of more than 1,000 objects housed in The Ancient China Sex Culture Museum.
"...if like me, you like to collect things from the natural world, a search for “Coyote Skull” brings back about 91,300 images. Searching for a skull to put into your very own cabinet of curiosity? Searching “Coyote Skull Retail” brings back over 66,000 sites, but you may want to further qualify your search terms. As of my typing this, there are nearly twenty different human x-ray images for sale on eBay (over a dozen of them in eBay Stores). In fact, on eBay, you can find things like crocodile teeth, meteorites, or the disarticulated skeleton of various small mammals. Building your own Wunderkammer is just a PayPal account away...."
Some people use the World Wide Wunderkammer to amass virtual collections of the most remarkable things, like Ethan Persoff's 21 image assortment of paper-based condom envelopes from the 1930s-1940s. If any were made in China, no doubt Dr. Dalin could find a place for them in his Shanghai Museum.
Also at EP.TC, a collection of comics with problems that includes my personal favorite: a 1956/1962 Planned Parenthood comic about birth control called Escape from Fear with the lowbrow lead-in: "Joan and Ken Harper's marriage was on the rocks - because they loved each other!"
Jessica Palmer, whose delicious blog Bioephemera makes her the ideal host for the 6th Edition of CofC in April, shares some of mixed-media artist Ron Pippin's Steampunk creations in this post From the Mad Taxidermist's Attic.
"The first stuff was toy boats. Magnificent, wondrous, perfect toy boats. Hundreds of them. They were exclusively not modern. I didn’t notice anything that looked less than 50 years old. Most looked much older than that. I got the feeling that these were Malcolm’s and, being raised a child of wealth, he got every one he ever wanted (and he wanted a lot of them). They were shown with very few placards, but mostly as if to say: “I got a zillion of these things, here they are in bulk. My collection is the greatest in the world!”
And, by George, it probably is. They were mostly steamship-type boats and they looked like they had a complete life and a wonderful time on small ponds throughout NYC over the years. None of them, at least offhand, looked like a true collector might want them: absolutely pristine and without blemish. Instead, they looked like they had been played with a lot by a boy (or a bunch of boys) with every intention of enjoying them to the max."
"The Dom Museum’s Kunst und Wunderkammer is the lovingly recreated and restored collection once belonging to the villainous Archbishop Wolf Dietrich. Wolf Dietrich held the title of Archbishop from 1587-1612, and it was he who tore down the original Salzburg Cathedral after it was ravaged by fire, and had it rebuilt in baroque style. Today the magnificent Cathedral is the centerpiece of Mozart’s hometown (and the site of the troubled composer’s baptism). But in the late 1500s, the archbishop’s decision to tear down the damaged cathedral enraged the citizens of Salzburg. He showed complete disregard for valuable sculptures and gravestones, destroying them all. His construction crew didn’t stop at gravestones, as they plowed up the entire cathedral cemetery, unearthing and dumping the bones of the dead atop the debris. The citizens had their revenge years later, when Wolf Dietrich was arrested and imprisoned over salt mining rights; the very salt mines which gave Salzburg its namesake and 16th century riches."
March is when most of the United States springs forward with Daylight Savings Time, so be sure to recalibrate your TDAH-meter and remember that not everything that happens in alternate Steampunk time lines stays in alternate Steampunk time lines...
And that concludes this Steampunk-inspired edition of Cabinet of Curiosities. If you like what you've seen, why not check out the links to previous editions of Cabinet of Curiosities here? Be sure to wind up your rosewood laptops for the April edition, hosted by Jessica Palmer of Bioephemera. Get out your collection of mechanical mice, dust off your rattle bags and submit your entries for the 6th Cabinet of Curiosities directly to Jennifer at cicada AT bioephemera DOT com or via the handy pneumatic submission form. Let me know if you'd like to take a future edition out for a spin and I'll make sure there's plenty of coal in the hopper.
And if you need any more convincing that Alexander Graham Bell was ever so Steampunk, just crank up your graham-o-phone and sing along with RT...
"...Graham Bell, Alexander, It is tantamount to slander To call him just a scientist Why his inventions top the list Edison, he was a thief And Tesla nuts beyond belief But Alexander was a gent So philanthropic, so well meant
Founded Science Magazine Wrote a book for kids Because he was a caring fellow Gave a hand to Helen Keller Of course there was the telephone He’d be famous for that alone But there’s 50 other things as well From Alexander Graham Bell..."
Regular commenter David Corbett has asked so nicely to see more of my one guilty pleasure that I could hardly refuse. Here, then, are some of the toy American Civil War soldiers in my personal collection. I add to their ranks when I can and most recently acquired 9 figures from the "Brooklyn 14th" that have just been issued by The Collectors Showcase. Like the rest of my collection, these are matte finished metal figures in 1:32 scale (54mm), but I have just started collecting from this manufacturer. These particular pieces are extremely well done, historically accurate right down to the double row of brass buttons on their chasseur jackets.
I found a central location for them on a shelf with other figures compatible with a depiction of the Battle of 1st Manassas (or Bull Run, if you prefer). I've condensed the action considerably, but there are two Zouave units represented here: Company K of the 69th N.Y.S.M.by the discontinued Troiani Historical Miniatures company, and a recreation of a Don Troiani painting by Conte Collectibles depicting the 11th NY "Fire Zouaves" breaking under a charge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry, lead by a blue clad J.E.B. Stuart. The 2nd Rhode Island in their light blue blouses also makes an appearance in two sets by Forward March, while an ordinance wagon pulled by a mule team from the venerable William Britain company withdraws from the line. I understand that Zouaves don't sell particularly well in this hobby, which I cannot understand as I am always looking for some of these colorful units done well by one or another manufacturer. I had Abbott and Livingston ancestors in the 5th, 9th and 146th New York Zouaves, so it's personal.
In the late 1990s there was a renaissance in realistic, as opposed to "toy soldier" styles, which prior to then had been largely the domain of ultra expensive Russian manufacturers who did museum quality matte finished pieces and a few smaller operators. W. Britains and Conte developed extensive Civil War lines during this period and I collected them heavily. When lead sculptor Ken Osen left Britains for Conte, I followed, and when he moved on to Troiani and then helped launch Old Northwest Trading Company I collected those as well. Now back with Britains, the quality and detail continues to excel. You would think it might not be so difficult to get this historical period right, but many manufactures and sculptors fail to pull it off. Conte has gotten almost cartoonish and grotesque in recent years and had trouble getting the paint right or staying in scale. Britains went through a long dry spell before Richard Walker took over the reins and Ken Osen came back on board.
Collectors of high end Civil War toy soldiers tend to be found in US markets East of the Mississippi. There are a disproportionate number of figures representing the armies of the Eastern Theater of the war than those who fought in the West. I am still hoping that Britians will issue a couple of Army of Tennessee flag bearers with the Hardee and Polk pattern flags. I pulled together the scene at right using Iron brigade figures by Britains, Conte and Troiani with some additions figures by these manufacturers to represent Grant with some of his westerners. I tried to hide them from view, but you can just make out the red circle badge of the 1st Division, 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac on the kepi of one of the officers.
Some genres lend themselves to uniform ranks or duplicate poses. For the kind of money these cost, I have no desire to pay for the same figure twice. Conte ill-advisedly released a Union and Confederate marching set of 6 figures in three poses, and I bought a split confederate set on eBay and passed on the Yanks. Even if the same sculpts are used, a different paint job and a different head is all it would take to diversify the offerings, as some manufacturers have found. Recycled poses are fine except when union cap badges end up on confederate heads. I've got a lot of these now, feel entitled to be picky about what I add to the collection.
Of course, I have a wish list. Besides the Zouaves and flag bearers already mentioned, the cavalry units in my collection are quite thin. I'd like to see some of the Heavy Artillery regiments like the 1st ME or Litchfield's own 2nd CT that Grant converted to Infantry and fed into the furnace at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. It is probably too much to ask for any of Gracie's Alabama Brigade, which would cover the confederate side of the family tree rather nicely. There seem to be very few offerings of confederate NCOs who are doing something other than carrying flags. The Civil War doesn't offer collectors the range of vehicles of all that WWII armor, but I'd like a caisson to go with the six horse team and limber that Britains put out early this decade, and maybe a sanitary commission ambulance and sutler's wagon. Heck, I'd even go for a stampeding Congressman and his lady overtaken in their chaise after the rout at Bull Run. Just not all at once. I have to space out my purchases and stay on budget to keep my finances and my marriage afloat. Here are a few more shots of what is on my top shelves that you may click to enlarge.
Southern Africa is enduring a very wet rainy season. This ReliefWeb map shows that the north and northeast sections of otherwise arid Namibia are experiencing major flooding, particularly the region of ephemeral drainages and pans called oshana in the densely populated north of the country. I lived on the western fringe of the oshana area in 1992, a drought year. Floods are part of the natural order in this part of Namibia during years with good rains. What is happening there now is a 50 or 100 year flood that is inundating communities and raising concerns about a looming humanitarian disaster. Already there have been outbreaks of disease and heavy damage to crops in the few areas of this arid country that are normally able to support cereal production.
According to a 1992 publication of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia entitled Oshanas, Sustaining People, Environment and Development in Central Owambo, Namibia, the central oshana area was submerged 3 million years ago beneath a vast saline Lake which if it were filled today would constitute the third largest lake in the world. Covering an estimated 70,000 square kilometers with a maximum depth of 40 meters, it would have been about the size of present day Lake Victoria in East Africa. Changes in climate and river diversion due to plate tectonics lead to the drying up of the lake, the creation of the vast Etosha salt pan, and the seasonal flooding called the Efundja that occurs along the Cuvelai basin that flows over the oshana country and occasionally reaches Etosha.
When the Efundja comes it gradually transforms the hot white landscape into a network of sluggish streams and deep pools supporting an astonishing array of aquatic life and wetland dependant species, including over 19 different species of fish and even crocodiles. Portions of Etosha Pan can even be covered in 10cm deep water, providing breeding habitat for tens of thousands of lesser flamingos.
This year, the Efundja has come in fast flowing waves, and most of Etosha is under water. So is much of the central Oshana region, which is also heavily populated. The main road between Oshakati and Ongwediva is very close to being cut off by floodwater. The government-owned newspaper New Era reports:
"Residents of Oshakati East and West constituencies as well as those of Okatana Constituency towards the south up to Uvudhiya Proper south of Oshana “are completely cut-off,” and food and other necessities are now being flown by helicopter to these areas.
Cattle herders are also stranded and the Oshana Regional Council has already lodged an appeal to EMU for intervention as a flood relief measure for thousands of those affected.
By yesterday afternoon, water was running towards Omatala Open Market overflowing the tarred road on the Northern side of the road.
The water level at Oneshila informal settlement was above knee-level and Namibia Defence Force members are relocating residents and their belongings to higher ground."
The floodwaters are contaminated with human and animal waste, and people have been warned against drinking untreated water or consuming improperly cooked fish. The Namibian newspaper said on Wednesday:
"Cholera cases have already been reported in the Engela district.So far one death has been attributed to the waterborne disease, and four cases have been positively diagnosed as cholera.
The Director of Health in the Ohangwena Region, Kaino Pohamba, told The Namibian yesterday that all cholera victims identified at Engela recently were from either Angola or from Namibia's border town of Oshikango.
She said that there were another 72 suspected cases of which 13 were close to being diagnosed as positive.All the cases have been transferred to the Ohangwena Clinic to be kept in isolation there.
Pohamba urged villagers not to drink efundja water. She said they should boil it before either drinking or using it, as water had overflown from sewerage oxidation dams in flooded areas.
Many villagers do not have proper toilet facilities and often relieve themselves behind bushes. Pohamba advised people to take spades and to dig deep holes to bury their faeces to help avoid them contaminating the floodwater.
Cholera is transmitted through dirty water. She also issued a warning to those eating fish caught in the oshanas.It was vital to cook the fish properly she cautioned, citing water contamination. Fish are abundant and many people are desperately catching them - for own consumption or to sell to get money to buy food and other items.
Many people who have been displaced by the floodwaters do not have food, or enough food, and are ignoring health warnings.Some are even using mosquito nets to catch fish. Pohamba also told The Namibian that they were very concerned about clinics that have been cut off by the floods."
Meanwhile, along the desert South Atlantic coast of Namibia and South Africa, a ferocious outbreak of a "red tide" plankton bloom, largely dinoflagellate algae, has created extremely anoxic conditions has driven marine life into the shallows in a desperate search for water they can breathe. A bonanza of the claw-less lobster known locally as crayfish (Kreef in Afrikaans) has been gathered from the beaches where many have walked out of the sea, far exceeding catch limits. The cold Benguela current makes this marine environment one of the most productive worldwide, but overfishing, spectacular plagues of jellyfish and spreading dead zones threaten a system collapse.
Hitler's lost U-Boat fleet has turned up on the the bottom of the Black Sea off the Turkish coast. The submarines were among six U-boats transported overland from Kiel on the Baltic to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta in 1942 to raid Russian shipping. Three were lost or scuttled in mid-1944, while the remainder were cut off from escape when Romania declared war on Germany in August 1944. They were scuttled in secret by their crews. Now the remains of U-20 and U-23 have reportedly been found by Selçuk Kolay, a Turkish marine engineer, who believes he is close to finding the final sub, U-19. All three were small, Type IIB U-Boats. Kolay's team has dived U-20 and found it resting intact. None of her 25 man crew died when the submarine was scuttled so it is not considered a war grave and could one day be raised.
"A green cemetery is a natural burial ground that conserves land while providing an alternative to standard burial. It is a cemetery that encourages sustainable and ethical practices by banning the use of toxins and non-biodegradable materials. Green burial is interment without embalming, metal or hardwood caskets, casket vaults or cement liners, and often without permanent markers (although in some cemeteries, natural stone markers are permitted). An un-embalmed body may be wrapped in a shroud and placed in the ground or buried in a biodegradable casket. Typically, family and friends of the deceased have the opportunity to be more directly involved in the burial.
The FCAEM is looking for a conservation group to partner with on this effort. As a conservationist who spends a good deal of time thinking about land use and management questions, I confess I had not been paying close attention to the green cemetery movement. The Litchfield Hills Greenprint considers rural cemeteries to be permanently protected open space, since a change of use is highly unlikely and there are demonstrated habitat and recreational values provided by these spaces. I have written here about America's rural cemetery movement and the rare species and habitats that persist in old pioneer graveyards where the prairie has never been plowed, or where frequent mowing has mimicked the natural disturbance of suppressed fire regimes. The conservation benefits of these places has not been a question for me, but their management and the actual burial practices associated with them is a new angle.
There are protocols for green golf courses that I'd imagine would be applicable to rural cemeteries. My friends at the Ecological Landscaping Association could doubtless offer some pointers and best management practices for these spaces. I believe the main challenge besides changing consumer expectations and behaviors would be in local zoning and public health ordinances that might not be aligned with winding shrouds, and biodegradable caskets. Coincidentally, there was a piece on a UK manufacturer of Ecopod coffins on Marketplace this morning that raised this point, as well as questioned whether importing these things from Britain really resulted in a reduced carbon footprint when compared to wooden caskets made locally. As for how all this compares to cremation, there is certainly an immediate carbon release into the atmosphere but less land required for burial and decomposition.
If you have an opinion on which is the greener option, you can jump into this thread at Live Earth where they had a fine old time getting down and dirty on this topic. I would caution those who advocate a tilt over the side to Davey Jones, however, that burial at sea is not always forever.
The landscape of the Litchfield Hills is 75% trees. Connecticut as a whole is about 60% forested, and actually loses more forest cover now than it replaces through natural succession. We still have forested uplands in Northwest Connecticut that are of sufficient size to sustain a broad array of animals that depend on contiguous, intact forest habitats for their survival.
The Litchfield Hills Greenprint has developed a novel way of defining these areas and is using it to help its conservation partners set regional priorities for conserving large forest habitats. We did so because we were not satisfied with existing data sources for this resource of regional significance.
Both The National Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy recognize exceptionally large blocks of relatively intact forest habitat in Northwest Connecticut. In TNC's case, its Lower New England / Northern PiedmontEcoregion Conservation Plan (2000) emphasized predominantly forested areas bounded by roads encompassing at least 15,000 acres, which TNC considered the minimum area needed to withstand the impacts of major natural disturbance events. TNC believes conserving these forest blocks can serve as a "coarse filter" for most of the region's terrestrial biodiversity.
It is a very coarse filter, however. There are very few of these places and TNC had to ignore a number of smaller roads and fragmenting features to define the areas. It is hard to explain why some roads were considered fragmenting while others are overlooked. I remember one fragmentation metric that did not consider roads where two people could stand and toss a Frisbee for five minutes without having to step out of the way of an oncoming car. I give them points for creativity, but it is still an imprecise means of determining traffic volume and more than a tad subjective.
Merely buffering a digital road layer and selecting larger patches of interior forest as the Greenprint had initially done also proved inadequate, since Connecticut's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) road layer is a real mess and lumps together private driveways, trails, and roads digitized from old topo maps. This makes it exceedingly difficult to select as "fragmenting" a set of roads of a specific width, surface, and traffic volume using digital data.
We needed to be able to account for the impacts of habitat fragmentation as we defined core forest habitat. We decided not to consider roads when defining boundaries, but instead to use the 2002 remote land cover data: the most current available for Connecticut. These data layers recognize 12 land cover types, 11 of which occur across this landscape. The results are shown on the map above inpale green.
Here is how we did it:
We selected altered land cover types - grass and turf, agricultural fields, barren land, utility lines, and developed areas (buildings and associated road infrastructure).
We buffered them by 300 ft. We chose this distance to account for some of the significant edge impacts on core forest habitat, which include the spread of invasive exotic plant species from disturbed areas and invasion by brood parasites that threaten interior forest nesting birds.
We then selected the remaining terrestrial land cover types (coniferous and deciduous forest, forested and non-forested wetlands) and made a single shape file.
We clipped the buffered areas from the habitat shape file, and eliminated patches of contiguous habitat that were <190 acres in size. What remained represented our region's predominantly forested core habitat.
We added the lake cover layer , which we did not want to buffer or to count toward the computation of overall terrestrial habitat. Nothing more resembles egg on one's face than standing up before a commission or land trust and pointing to a purposed forest habitat that is 90% below the surface of a lake.
This is what it looks like close up. Permanently protected open space shows up in dark green, while the habitat ispale green. You can see that small roads that had closed canopies were not detected by the satellite, but houses in clearings and large open fields were identified and buffered. The remote data looks at 100' pixels and classifies them by their dominant land cover type.
These forest habitats cross jurisdictional boundaries and occur across many ownerships. The number of forest landowners in southern New England doubled in the last decade, but the overall area of forest declined. The inescapable conclusion is that forest parcels have been divided and are managed - if managed at all - in lots of ever diminishing size and often without regard for the larger forest system in which they occur.
This kind of resource mapping offers landowners, land managers, land trusts, municipalities and regional planners a new way of understanding the distribution and protected status of our larger forest habitats. If you overlay these data with actual parcels of land, you start to see opportunities to locate development so that it creates less habitat fragmentation, or identify large forest parcels to try and conserve. We believe that we in the Litchfield Hills need to conserve at least 20,000 additional acres of this forest habitat where it expands cores and connects corridors, and do so in the next dozen years.
These maps do not tell us whether there is a willing landowner, or how the forest is managed. That sort of data comes from those most closely connected to the resource and the communities in which it occurs. The maps help focus attention on the resource and structure that discussion.