Several weeks ago, it was reported in the Almanack that the Adirondacks might be a potential location for mountain lion reintroduction. Over the past few decades, various types of wildlife have been restored to their former numbers in the Park, and over the past several centuries, many non-native species of flora and fauna have become established, either accidentally or on purpose in our environment.
During this present century, there will undoubtedly be a massive influx of life forms occurring throughout the region in response to the changing climate. While the mountain lion elicits much interest and emotion, its return would not have the same ecological impact as the formation of scattered patches of red oaks, white oaks, basswood, shagbark hickory, sweet birch and other trees that typify woodlands to our south.
Let me emphatically state that I know little about trees and herbaceous plants and even less regarding forest communities outside the Adirondacks. I am aware, however, that the climate that has allowed a northern hardwood and taiga forest to dominate the land inside the Blue Line is shifting to one that seems more in line with areas to our south. Only 3 to 4 decades ago, most locations in the Central Adirondacks had a growing season that averaged from 90 to 100 days. This prevented vegetation that is adapted for an existence in a temperate region from expanding their range into our geographic region. In winter there were about as many days in which the temperature dipped below zero as those that remained about this mark. It was expected that there would be 3 to 4 consecutive days when the mercury never climbed above zero, and a handful of crystal clear nights when 30 below readings were recorded.
The cold snap that gripped the northeast last week produced a reminder of what winter weather was like for weeks on end a generation ago. Over the past several winters these prolonged bouts of bitter cold have either been absent, or have been limited in duration. This week marks the mid-point of winter, and we are just now experiencing our first sustained cold snap. Spring seems to be coming a few days earlier each year, and autumn has been arriving later and later. The growing season is now regarded to be over 120 days in most areas, which is typical of a northern temperate climate, rather than a sub-arctic zone.
Nearly all bugs produce a new generation every year, however trees require many years to mature to the stage at which they are capable of forming seeds. This allows insects and other invertebrates to respond quickly to changes in their surroundings, yet trees require a substantially greater amount of time to expand their range into new areas in which favorable growing conditions develop. Because the Adirondacks is becoming more a part of the temperate zone, it would seem to make sense that some help be provided in establishing trees that are better adapted to survive in the new environment.
I realize that temperature is not the only factor that is changing, as the intensity of the wind has also increased, as has the consistency of the amount of precipitation that falls during storms. The soils that occur in the Adirondacks are also different from the soils that characterize most areas covering the eastern half of the country, and this influences the type of vegetation that can flourish in the region. However, attempting to expand the numbers of oaks, hickories, basswood and other trees that predominate across the southern tier seems more sound than reintroducing mountain lions.
For those souls that wish to help the environment beyond recycling solid wastes, conserving water and other natural resources, and reducing their carbon footprint, burying acorns and hickory nuts and sowing the seeds from other trees that characterize the temperate ecological zone might be a great way to deal with climate change in the Adirondacks.
Johnny Appleseed is viewed in a positive light for his efforts to establish certain tree species across the country, and another wide scale tree planting effort may help alleviate some of the environmental pain as the Adirondacks transitions into a region that more accurately reflects a developing temperate climate.
Our wildlife community is already changing with the greatest number of new-comers occurring in our bug populations. A changing plant community is inevitable, and people can help in this process of bringing the Adirondacks into its future.
Illustration: John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1871.