When out in the backcountry I tend to bushwhack through areas that receive little human traffic so I rarely encounter examples of illegal tree cuttings. But this past summer I went on an eight-day trip hiking and bushwhacking through the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness from Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake where I discovered tree cutting on the top of Cat Mountain on my final night.
This put a slight damper on an evening highlighted by watching multiple Independence Day fireworks displays and culminating with sleeping under the stars on the cliffs. The cut trees were located around the single large campsite just off the cliffs to the north. This site is obviously very popular with campers given the fire ring and the large, flat, open area perfect for pitching tents.
Once there was a substantial wind-break consisting of several coniferous trees with many dense limbs reaching almost to the ground between the open cliffs and the campsite. Many of these limbs were cut away and at least one tree removed. Granted, the tree and perhaps some of the limbs had already succumbed to the harsh conditions along the cliffs of the mountain but they were clearly cut and removed.
In addition, several sizable trees were cut and removed from the area around the campsite. These trees were clearly cut with an axe and dragged away making an already naturally open area even more so.
These illegal cuttings may have some unfortunate side effects. The trees and limbs between the campsite and the cliffs once provided a significant windbreak. But during the time I spent there I had a difficult time lighting my alcohol stove from the increased wind. Was it just windier than all the other times that I had camped here? Or was it due to the reduction of the windbreak?
There could be an impact on wildlife requiring the cover provided by the removed limbs too. Last year when I was in this location I was visited by numerous varying hares but this time not a single one was observed. Could this be due to the lack of cover the tree limbs provided? In addition, the removed dead tree could have provided a food source for woodpeckers and other birds for years before falling to the ground.
Why would someone cut these trees and branches? It appeared from the charred remains in the fire ring that they were used as fuel for a campfire. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation webpage (click here to read all the camping rules) clearly states that only dead AND downed wood should be used in fires and cutting standing trees is prohibited. Obviously there are some campers who need to review these rules.
Although discovering these illegal tree cuttings was disheartening I did not let it ruin the ending of my trip. It is unfortunate that some people either are ignorant of the rules or merely disregard them altogether. Avoiding these people and their inappropriate behavior is just one of the many reasons I bushwhack more now than hiking marked trails.
Photos: Cut tree, remains of windbreak and cut stump on Cat Mountain by Dan Crane.
Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking and hiking experiences at Bushwhacking Fool.