Sunday, March 15, 2009
The Butler Woods (“Poland Municipal Forest”) is one of the last remnants of the natural forests that once covered the 23,000 acres of the Yellow Creek watershed. It stands as an island in a sea of development where the natural flora and fauna can take refuge. It is here, in only 1 percent of the Yellow Creek watershed, that natural processes are allowed to play out with minimal interference from human activities. In the Butler Woods, lessons are to be learned on sustainability, forest functions and how we can better manage the rest of the watershed to the benefit of all who live in the Yellow Creek Valley.
The Butler Woods provides a respite from the stresses of urban life. It is here on its quiet woodland paths where the hoot of the barred owl, the rapacious call of the pileated woodpecker, the trill of the wood frogs, the colors and fragrances of the spring flowers, the moss covered logs, and thousands of other sights and sounds of nature that sooth troubled nerves, restore our sense of purpose and perspective on life.
We owe our enduring gratitude to Grace Butler for her generous gift to the Poland Village and her foresight to stipulate that the woods be “…kept and preserved in its natural state.” This stipulation enables the Butler Woods to effectively function as a wildlife sanctuary, a place for psychological renewal and provide the lessons of watershed management and sustainability that become ever more relevant as human impacts on the watershed expand. The “natural state” of the Butler Woods set it aside from other public parks in the area and must be cherished and preserved.
But alas, some well meaning and hard working citizens of the area have decided that fallen logs and broken tree branches are untidy. An ad hoc “clean-up” crew was formed and has cut fallen logs into firewood size pieces and shredded broken branches. This action is contrary to the intentions of Grace Butler and probably violates the conditions of her gift to the Poland Village. But more importantly, it diminishes the value of the woods as wildlife refuge and lessons that the forest provides for developing sustainability and managing the rest of the watershed.
Life of the forest is nourished by death in the forest. A forest tree that dies or is toppled by wind remains an important component of the forest. The nutrients in the trunk and branches are slowly released by decomposition, nourishing the wildflowers, living trees and all of the wildlife of the woods – from earthworms to owls. The fallen trees also provide habitat for a variety of woodland creatures, a place to nest and reproduce and a place to seek refuge from predators. The fallen trees slow the rate of water runoff, increase the infiltration of water into the forest soil, and store water in their decaying tissues.
Removal and chopping of fallen trees and branches diminishes the forest. It reduces the wildlife that eat the fungi and mosses that grow on the fallen trees, it reduces the growth of living trees and wild flowers that depend on the nutrients released from the decomposition of the tree trunks. It reduces the water available to the plants of the forest, and increases the water flow in Yellow Creek.
The men with chain saws and wood shredders are well intentioned, but their actions damage the forest. “Cleaning up” the forest is contrary to the wishes of Grace Butler and contrary to the well being of the forest. The “natural state” of the Butler Woods is its most valuable attribute, one that will increase in value as the Yellow Creek watershed continues to be developed.