Back in 1895, some 127 years ago, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) was established, the state’s first non-profit conservation organization (and one of the first in the country). At that time, forest coverage in the state had been reduced from an estimated 97 percent in 1600 to less than 25 percent, due to clearing land for farms as well as use of wood for construction and fuel. There were no state parks or forests, certified foresters (arborists) or municipal tree wardens.
Speaking to 28 Y’s Men of Meriden by Zoom on Jan. 4, Eric Hammerling, Executive Director of CFPA, used a PowerPoint presentation to discuss both the previous deforestation in the state and current efforts to conserve and revitalize this valuable resource. Of interest was the frequency of forest fires in the late 19th century, often caused by sparks from passing locomotives; efforts to solve this problem included prophylactic burning of brush alongside the tracks and installing spark preventers on the engines.
Today, abandonment of farms, along with reduction in fire loss and use of tax incentives for maintaining forested land, have contributed to a rebound to a 59 percent level, with 1.8 million acres now forested in CT (about one acre of forest for every two residents, with 72 percent of forest acreage privately-owned.) But challenges persist, including diseases that have abetted the death of 9 million oak trees in a recent two-year period, the loss of 80 percent of ash trees since 2014 (due in part to the emerald ash borer beetle,) beech trees falling to disease, and climate change effects (including heat, drought, storms, and frost damage.)
So why do our trees and forests matter? Well, they improve our air and water quality, greatly assist with changing climate (a major asset in reducing carbon in our atmosphere,) provide wildlife habitat, reduce flooding, provide jobs, reduce heat stress and provide shade, provide wood products, and allow for more livable communities. And not to be forgotten: provide aesthetic beauty, important for our mental and physical health.
For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.