A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alien Invaders of Our Forests

Watch out for the Big Three of Forest Pests in New Hampshire
Hemlock woolly adelgid.
Photo by Steve Roberge

If you’ve ever been horribly sick, you know the power of a tiny bug to cause harm and disruption.

Our forests aren’t immune from the power of tiny bugs. Even as sprawling and resilient as forests are, they face potentially enormous threats from small pests so small you could fit a bunch on a penny.

Three pests in particular deserve their mugs on a most-wanted poster for threatening our forests: emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid and Asian long-horned beetle. Those are the big three that foresters like Steve Roberge worry about.

“All three of these pests have the potential to change the way our forests look,” says Roberge, who lives at the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands’ Shieling Forest in Peterborough and is the UNH Cooperative Extension forester for Cheshire County.

All three have unique differences and affect trees and forests in different ways, according to Roberge and other foresters.

But they all share at least one commonality: They’re not native to North America. As such, our trees and forests lack the protective defenses against their potential harm. And as non-natives – with nature providing few elements to keep their numbers in check – they can spread like crazy if we’re not careful.

That’s why Roberge and others concerned about forest health want to spread the word about these big three. “The key to all three of these pests is early detection and an informed public,” Roberge says. “We should never let our guard down with all three of these. We want to have an informed public to make sure they know what these pests look like and what the signs of their damage look like.”

Early detection, Roberge says, can help prevent them from spreading and becoming a costly endeavor to eradicate.

So here’s a look at the big three:

Emerald Ash Borer

This little beetle from Asia was found in 2002 to be causing widespread mortality to ash trees in Michigan and Ontario. Larvae feeding on the tissue between the bark and the sapwood disrupt the flow of nutrients and water, eventually killing branches and the entire tree.

Since 2002, the emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of ash trees as it has spread to 18 states, most recently in western Massachusetts in August. While not detected in New Hampshire yet, it has potential to seriously damage ash trees here, which are important part of our hardwood forests and provide an excellent source of heat for our homes.

Asian Long-Horned Beetle

A bit bigger than emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle is up to 1½ inches long, with very long black and white banded antennae. It is believed to have arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s via wood packing material coming into a port in Brooklyn. Since then, it has spread to many states and provinces and has been found in Worcester and Boston, Mass. In Worcester, tens of thousands of trees have been removed because of an infestation there.

Maples are a particularly favored host of the Asian long-horned beetle. If a serious infestation takes hold in New Hampshire, it could devastate maples, which are important to our maple sugar industry and are a critical part of our hardwood mix.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

This is a small aphid-like insect that feeds on hemlock and, if left untreated, can kill a hemlock within four to ten years, often by weakening the tree’s defenses from other pests. Introduced in Virginia in the 1950s, it has since spread from Maine to Georgia. And it’s already here. In our region, hemlock woolly adelgid has been found in Peterborough, Greenfield and Jaffrey.

The insect can be recognized by a dry, white woolly substance on the young twigs of hemlock. This woolly stuff is a defensive covering over the insect’s body.

While hemlock is often considered a species of low commercial value in New Hampshire, there’s no denying its importance to the ecosystem. Because of its habitat preferences and growth characteristics, the hemlock is like a forest’s ultimate shade and cover creator. It provides cover and habitat for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fisher, porcupine, blackburnian warbler and many other species. It keeps forest streams cool for Eastern brook trout.

Losing hemlocks – or suffering impaired populations – could wreak havoc on the above species that are now fairly common. No other tree provides the same ecosystem service as the hemlock.

You Can Help

While it’s possible that these species will ultimately invade our forests, Roberge and other forest health advocates say we should not give up and should not let down our guard.

Owners of forestland can take many steps to protect to prevent, slow or limit the spread of nasty invasives. A key part in that is early detection through an informed public, not just foresters, loggers and land managers, but folks like you who enjoy the forest for all it provides.

Another step is to make sure you don’t inadvertently move forest pests via firewood. Pests can travel in firewood at various life stages, so don’t help spread infestations by buying untreated firewood from out-of-state or long distances, say 50 miles or more.

For more information
about invasive forest pests, visit, or Also, check out this video: Trees, Pests and People.

Steve Roberge will give a talk on the “The Emerging Forest Pests in New Hampshire,” Thursday, December 6, 7 p.m., at the Keene State College Science Center. The talk is sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, and the Keene State College School of Sciences.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Silence is Deafening

A Few Environmental Issues That Won’t Go Away

Since the presidential campaign began -- what seems like years ago -- we’ve been subject to a barrage of ads, signs, debates, news coverage and noise, noise, noise!

But when it comes to a handful of environmental issues, the silence is deafening.

Sure, environmental issues seldom reach the top of the issues list in presidential contests. But they have at least been the topic of one debate question or one point in a candidate’s case to American voters.

Not this time.

And it’s understandable that environmental issues would get lower billing than the enormous challenge of pulling our country out of recession and getting Americans back to work and prosperity.

But as Germany and many other countries have capably demonstrated, embracing green energy and environmentally friendly policies can bring new jobs and economic promise. The old argument of jobs vs. the environment is a false choice and at least one of the candidates knows this.

So why the silence on the green?

As one who’s always leaned more toward the natural sciences than political sciences, I can only offer speculation. Both candidates at this point in the campaign are trying to appeal to an endangered species: undecided voters, especially in those “key battleground states” like New Hampshire. They don’t want to ruffle any feathers of those rare voters by possibly alienating them with some language about energy-efficient light bulbs or global warming.

They want to play it safe. Naturally.

So here’s a little volume on just a few of the silent issues.

1. Climate Change. This, of course, is the biggie, the one neither side mentions in the campaign. As president, Obama has tried but failed to pass limits on carbon emissions, an effort that’s been a non-starter with a Republican-led House whose GOP members continue to ignore -- and mock -- the growing mountain range of scientific evidence about human-caused global warming. And Romney has back-pedaled hisonce tepid support for curbing carbon emissions. No matter who wins, this issue will challenge the next president, not only in terms of global warming’s ever-growing impacts on civilization, but also what we’re going to do about it.

2. Saving Our Lands. This has never a big topic on the presidential campaign, for sure, but in practice, the notion of safeguarding America’s precious landscapes -- at the national and local level -- has always been dear to our hearts. National surveys have confirmed this many times: No matter the party affiliation, Americans believe that “conserving our country's natural resources ‐ our land, air and water ‐ is patriotic.” But House Republicans have proposed drastic funding cuts to programs like the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has funded such projects as additions to national parks and land-protection projects here in the Monadnock Region. The next president may have an opportunity to lead this argument back to the direction of Americans’ desires.

3. Energy Conservation. As president, Obama has pushed greater fuel economy standards for new vehicles. In his campaign, Obama has mentioned many times the need to broaden our energy mix toward wind, solar other clean energy sources. And while Romney gives quiet support toward a green energy mix, his rhetoric leans toward more domestic development of oil, coal and gas sources. But both candidates have said little about energy conservation -- the energy that we don’t use is energy that we don’t have to develop. The next president may have an opportunity to encourage more energy savings.

4. Clean Air & Clean Water. Signed into law by President Nixon, the Clean Air Act has not only spared the air of millions of tons of toxins, it has prevented an estimated 200,000 premature deaths and thousands more the harmful impacts of bronchitis and other diseases. Heavily funded by oil and coal companies, House Republicans have led an all-out effort to weaken the Clean Air Act in many ways, including measures that would curb carbon pollution. The Clean Water Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and facing a similar assault by House Republicans. This comes at a time when science is showing that, while many rivers have improved, estuaries from New Hampshire’s Great Bay to Long Island Sound are increasingly threatened by nitrogen pollution. President Obama or Romney will have to decide whether we continue cleaning our air and water or whether we leave it to the next leader.

5. Endangered Species. Also signed into law by President Nixon, the Endangered Species Act is now deeply flawed, often unworkable and outdated from gains in conservation science. But as troubled as the law is, it has helped bring back the bald eagle and other species. Many terms of Congress have kicked sorely needed changes to the law to an uncertain future, while dozens of species continue sliding toward extinction, even species once common as the little brown bat. Ignoring the act -- along with its troubled political fallouts -- won’t do anything to help species sliding down the biological drain. Political courage from the top could reverse this troubling trend.

No matter who wins on Nov. 6, the environment has long been a priority among New Hampshire-ites and Americans. When the victor emerges and a new Congress gets settled, feel free to remind them that a few issues that were silent during the campaign will soon deserve a little more noise.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.

Friday, September 21, 2012

“World’s Worst Mom” or Inspiring Parent?

Lenore Skenazy Wants the Kids to Play Outside

Let the kids go, says Lenore Skenazy, author of "Free Range Kids:
How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts
with Worry." Let them climb a mountain, scurry up rocks and take
risks, like Ian Aldrich here, who celebrates a successful
hike up Mount Skatutakee. Lenore Skenazy will be the keynote
speaker at the N.H. Children in Nature Coalition's annual conference,
Oct. 4 in Windham. Photo by Eric Aldrich.
There are plenty of reasons why kids are becoming less-connected with the outdoor world -- the Internet, video games, TV, sports and all sorts of other competing activities.

Another reason is fear. Some parents are afraid their kids might get hurt, lost, kidnapped or worse. The outdoors is full of awful things: poison ivy, bugs, snakes, big scary woods and all kinds of creepy people.

But such fears are silly, according to Lenore Skenazy. “We’re swimming in fear soup,” Skenazy says. “Fear of lawsuits, fear of injury, fear of abductions, fear of blame.”

Skenazy says let kids be kids. Let them climb trees, jump in puddles and catch frogs. Let them do all the things we did as kids. Take risks. Fail sometimes. Succeed. Build confidence and grow.

Her book and its message have become a rallying cry, a movement for “free range kids,” kids whose parents let them play outside, build forts, explore the world and become self-reliant. It’s a backlash against over-protective helicopter parents who watch over their kids’ every move, sometimes smothering them under a blanket of protection.

While Skenazy’s message is about basic parenting, it’s also a strong refrain in the children-in-nature movement prompted by Richard Louv’s 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods.” Moving kids away from “nature deficit disorder,” Louv argues, will require not only generous exposure to nature, but giving children the freedom to explore, play on their own and take risks.

Taking risks was exactly what Skenazy had in mind when the New York City mother allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the subway by himself. The boy had asked his parents to take him somewhere and let him find his way home solo.

The Skenazy family had been riding the NYC subway system for years, so it wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for the boy. At Bloomingdale’s one day, Skenazy gave her son a subway map, a MetroCard, a bunch of quarters for a phone call, $20 for emergencies and a few questions and words of advice. Forty-five minutes later, the boy arrived safely home, ecstatic and proud from his adventure.

Skenazy, a former reporter, wrote a column about her boy’s adventure. Two days later she was making appearances on the Today Show, NPR, MSNBC and Fox News. One person who was upset with Skenazy’s risky, free-range style described her as “America’s worst mom.” Skenazy found herself defending her parenting and the notion that kids need to take risks, including exploring the great outdoors.

What resulted for Skenazy was her “Free Range Kids” book, a popular blog by the same name and a reality TV show that Skenazy hosts: “World’s Worst Mom.” The reality show produced by Cineflix is kind of like Supernanny, featuring over-protective parents and Skenazy offering advice and real-life challenges about giving children independence while also staying safe.

One of her key points is that it’s okay for kids to fail.

“If they don’t fail sometimes, they won’t learn that they can get back up and go on with their lives,” Skenazy writes. “For instance, we don’t want our kids to fall off a bike. Who does? But we do want them to learn how to ride. So we have two choices: We can hold onto their handlebars forever. That way they’ll never, ever fall. Or we can wish them luck and then — let go.”

Eventually, they’re going to fall. And when they do, they need to get back up and try again. Ultimately they’ll succeed and be all the better for it.

The media’s barrage of horrible crimes against children has given parents a false sense of alarm, according to Skenazy. Statistics from the Department of Justice show that crime rates have actually fallen since a peak around 1990 to 1970s levels. So — unbelievable as it seems — if you were playing outside as a kid in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids are actually SAFER outside than you were!” Skenazy says.

Skenazy calls herself a “safety geek” and is constantly making sure her children wear seat belts and bike helmets. But there is a point where concern for safety can become over-protective. The point of Skenazy’s message is to push that line toward independence and self-confidence.

  • Lenore Skenazy will be the keynote speaker at the N.H. Children in Nature Coalition annual conference on October 4, at the Castleton Conference Center in Windham.
    For more information about the conference and Skenazy’s talk, visit

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Own Mystery Mammal: The Eastern Coyote

An Eastern coyote in mid-February.
How well do you know Canis latrans var.?

As we paddled around a corner in the marsh, motion caught my eye some 70 yards away, where the forest narrowed and the North Branch River turned into a rocky stream.

At first, I thought the blur was a bobcat. Then, as it hopped across the rocks to cross the stream, I saw it was a coyote, with a nice, long, bushy tail. It didn’t see us -- a small group of kayakers -- as it crossed and loped slowly into the woods.

Then another crossed the stream -- a pup, much to my delight -- playing in the water as it went. I held my hand up to the other kayakers behind me, put my finger to my lips so they’d be quiet, and pointed to the scene. Another pup crossed. Followed by yet another, all seeming to enjoy themselves as much as we enjoyed seeing them.

Finally, another adult crossed, all business-like, and off they went, into the woods. They never even saw us.

You don’t see coyotes too often, even if you spend a lot of time outside. Rarer still to see a whole family of coyotes, in their own setting. They’re kind of a mystery mammal.

With that in mind, here’s a quiz about coyotes:

1. New Hampshire’s Eastern coyote populations were wiped out in the early 1800s; they returned in the early 1900s when the forests grew back.
True or false?

2. Why do Eastern coyotes howl?
a) To excite other coyotes about a hunt.
b) Because it’s mating season.
c) To tell competing coyotes to stay away.
d) To draw their pack together.

3. Eastern coyotes typically eat:
a) House cats, small dogs and other pets.
b) Squirrels, mice, voles, frogs, apples, berries, fawns, adult deer, snowshoe hare and other seasonally available foods.
c) Fruit and vegetables.
d) Fish and rabbits.

4. An Eastern coyote typically weighs:
a) About as much as a Western coyote.
b) 30 to 50 pounds.
c) 80 to 100 pounds.
d) Much less than a Western coyote.

5) The Eastern coyote is more accurately described as a “coydog,” because of its hybridization with dogs. True or false?

6. The term “coywolf” is a more accurate description of Eastern coyotes. True or false?

7. Because of their impact on deer populations, the best way to manage Eastern coyote populations is to encourage high annual harvests. True or false?

8. If you encounter a coyote, the best thing to do is:
a) Run away.

b) Savor the sight calmly and safely from a distance, standing your ground, but not making a big reaction.
c) Yell and throw objects at the coyote.
d) Curl up in a fetal position and hope that it goes away.

1. False. According to prevailing scientific thought, New Hampshire’s first confirmed coyote was in 1944 in Grafton County. The spread of Eastern coyotes across the state really took off in the 1970s, north to south.

2. D. Biologists have observed that Eastern coyotes howl to locate each other and regroup their pack, especially in the fall and winter when the pups are old enough to start hunting on their own.

3. B. Coyotes are omnivores that thrive on opportunities offered by the season, whether it’s berries, rodents, ground-nesting birds or even garbage and carcasses. They will occasionally take pets, but that’s not a big part of their diet.

4. B, about 30 to 50 pounds. By comparison, the smaller Western coyote typically weighs 25 to 30 pounds.

5. False. While coyotes and dogs have been known to breed, there’s generally low viability of their litters. For one thing, the female coyote needs the male’s help in providing food. Studies have found little evidence of domestic dog genes in the mix of Eastern coyotes.

6. True. Genetic studies have shown that our Eastern coyotes are the result of hybridization between Western coyotes and Eastern wolves.

7. False. While the science, sociology and politics of managing coyotes is complex, research and experience have shown that Eastern coyotes can respond to hunting pressure by having larger litters or freeing up young females to breed. The end result can be more coyotes. This is a testament to the coyote’s remarkable ability to adapt to changing conditions.

8. B. If you encounter a coyote, the best thing to do is savor the sight. Relax and enjoy. Coyotes don’t want to mess with people and attacks are extremely rare. So watch and enjoy them. Running away can trigger a chase response in a coyote, and throwing things could upset them.
Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Canoe-Camping: The River Awaits

Enjoying a shady lunch on the river.

A few cool things about paddle-camping.

After years of dreaming about canoeing a long stretch of the Connecticut River and camping along its banks, I finally did it.

As my son and I paddled, we found ourselves comparing our trip to adventures of earlier summers, like car-camping and backpacking. We resolved that canoe-camping is a pretty cool way to get around and see the great outdoors.

With that backdrop, here are a few things to keep in mind about canoe-camping.

Every river has its own personality

We chose to paddle-camp on the Connecticut River, the stretch between Bellows Falls and Vernon, Vt. There are a plenty of good campsite choices, all outlined in the handy Connecticut River Boating Guide, published by the Connecticut River Watershed Council. The stretch has plenty of mid-summer water, and some parts are accessible by canoes or kayaks only, which was fine by us.

We could have chosen other rivers. There’s the close-to-home Contoocook River, with its calm waters and beautiful places. But it doesn’t have the big water character and camping options of the Connecticut.

There’s the sandy Saco River in New Hampshire and Maine, with loads of camping options and outfitters who can help pick you up or drop you off. The Saco’s reputation as a party river is starting to wane, but sometimes it can still seem like a riparian version of Spring Break.

There’s the mighty Merrimack River, the wild Allagash in Maine, the rugged Deerfield in Massachusetts. The list goes on, and each river has plenty to offer.

You can bring lots of stuff

Unlike backpacking, where every ounce weighs on your shoulders, you can haul a few extras in the canoe. You can bring camping chairs, a lightweight table, tarps and extra rain gear or all kinds of things to make your trip more fun and comfortable. You can even bring a cooler, full of all kinds of great food and beverages.

But all that stuff has its limits, too. More weight means harder paddling and can complicate packing and portaging. Test-packing will help you decide whether you need it or leave it. 

Keep your gear dry
No matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance you’ll dump your canoe. If it happens, just hope that no one is watching and take a few simple precautions to keep your stuff safe and dry.

You can use dry bags, like the many kinds offered at EMS and other sporting goods stores. They come in sizes small enough for maps or snacks or big enough to fit your sleeping bags, tent and plenty more. You can also get dry boxes and pouches for cameras or cell phones. A cheaper option for storing gear are 5-gallon pails or plastic storage boxes, both with tight lids, of course.

If you’re really paranoid about losing your stuff, you can clip your dry containers into a rope. 

Water, water to drink
Like backpacking, you want to stay hydrated, especially when you’re paddling in the hot sun. Pack a full, collapsible 5-gallon water container and keep it handy. You’ll need it. If you can’t refill it along your journey, bring a water purifier or tablets.

You can refresh your provisions!
As we paddled our stretch of the Connecticut in the boiling heat, one of the nicest sights was the Chesterfield-Brattleboro bridge. On the other side is an easy pull-out and a store with ice cream, ice and beer. Just a short paddle downstream, we could have stopped for a meal at the Marina in Brattleboro.

If you’re paddling the Allagash, you won’t have options like that. But when you pick a river, stores and pit stops like that are good options to keep in mind.

It’s fun for kids

Not every child will enjoy canoe-camping, but some will love it. They don’t have to paddle all the time; sometimes they can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Depending where you go, the paddling can offer lots of cool things to see around every bend. To break up the tedium of long, straight stretches, take breaks, go swimming or use that rod and reel.

The river can move you
Our stretch of the Connecticut River had a little current to move us along, but most of it was flat. If you want the river to do some of the work, you really have to do your homework and find stretches with current that’s strong enough to keep you moving, but not so strong to turn your placid camping trip into a crazy whitewater nightmare.

Remember that dams and their release schedules can have a big influence on flow. A nightly release at Bellows Falls, for instance, raised the river a few inches and significantly increased the flow.

By the way, remember that a dam’s release schedule can impact your choice of campsite. Camp too close to the river and you may find the river lapping against your tent at night!

It may be mid-summer, but the year’s best times for canoe-camping are still ahead. The bugs will soon be gone, the air will get better and the river awaits.

Eric Aldrich
writes from his home in Hancock.