What does a cold, calm, partly sunny winter day call for? If you said hot cocoa or a trip to the mall, you are… well, you are right, but that’s not what I did. Instead, it was a good day for a visit to the Pine Bush Preserve.
There’s a lot to say about the Pine Bush, but I’ll try not to repeat the info available on their own site too much. Definitely read up on the history of this unique ecological area, but I’ll somewhat reiterate what I keep saying about Five Rivers: this is a hidden oasis, a valuable natural resource that’s threatened on all sides by our own development. In the case of the Pine Bush, it’s even more severe; this rare ecosystem is fragmented by the many busy arterial roads that run through and alongside it, as well as housing and business developments. The learning center itself used to be a bank building with a sprawling blacktop parking lot.
The Pine Bush is preserved by many of the typical management and stewardship means of other nature preserves, but also by one method that sounds odd at first: controlled burns. This is an ecosystem that depends on regular fires to clear away old growth and make way for the new. The skeptical or reactionary question would be, why do we need to do this? Why not just let nature take its course, and if species die off, aren’t they just not fit enough? This mistakes conservation efforts as efforts to save species at any cost. Yes, species like the Karner Blue may become extirpated or extinct due to fully natural reasons — like glaciers covering North America again. But the immediate changes to the Pine Bush are due primarily — if not solely — to human intervention. Specifically, the regular fires that maintain the environment are stifled by the vast economic pressure to prevent fires near valuable developed land. This is a particularly insidious type of encroachment; without necessarily setting foot on the affected land, our choices can have a strong impact on not only individual species but the entire web that holds them together.
Thankfully, the situation here is understood and more or less in control. The Pine Bush is a great place to visit this time of year; the deciduous trees have dropped their cover, leaving some areas softly blanketed in a seemingly endless bed of oak leaves. This not only emphasizes the pitch pines the preserve is so famous for, but also makes it easier to see some of the avian fauna. We heard some nuthatches, jays, and saw some chickadees and sparrows (and possibly woodpeckers, not sure), but the surprise highlight was flushing a hawk out of some brush on the side of one of the trails. You know I’m not the best naturalist when I just stand there and say woah. Oh well.
I don’t expect to get too many more weekends like this past one — mostly sunny, no snow on the ground — until this time next year. Take my advice, and check out the Pine Bush, or a place like it, before the scenery changes too much (at which point you should check it out again, of course).