The bobcats are back in the park.
Last week, I traveled to Whallonsburg to attend a lecture on bobcats in the Adirondacks. By the time I arrived, there were over 50 cars in the small lot, and the Grange Hall was nearly filled to capacity. There is no doubt about it, Adirondackers are curious about their cats.
The event featured renowned tracker and naturalist, Sue Morse, who offered an educational and entertaining program, which combined personal observations with hard science, along with a mix of animal calls and extraordinary photography.
The purpose of the program was to familiarize the audience with one of the region's most elusive creatures, the bobcat, and the extraordinary landscape it calls home.
The event was sponsored by the Northeast Wilderness Trust, a Vermont-based organization responsible for conserving over 8,500 acres of wild lands throughout the northeast, since 2002.
Although the organization has maintained a relatively low profile in the Adirondacks, their mission involves a comprehensive effort to create and conserve a series of linked wild lands that will permit wildlife to reestablish migration corridors throughout the vast, Northern Forest, which encompasses existing boreal forest tracts from New York to Maine and beyond into Canada.
The concept of a 'wildway' is based on the science of wildlife corridors, which have been verified by observtion of the annual migrations of numerous species,ranging from birds to fish to game animals.
In a sense, the fish-ladder on the Boquet River at Willsboro is a wildway. The structure was established to allow landlocked Atlantic Salmon to utilize traditional migration routes to access their historic spawning grounds upstream.
After the combination of mill dams, poor water quality, and overfishing had essentially extripated the species from most area rivers by the late 1960’s, an aggressive, restocking program, combined with major cleanup efforts and a new fishladder allowed the king of sportfish to pass beyond the remnants of an old mill dam to return to their historic upstream domain.
The proposed, Split Rock Wildway is a wildlife corridor which is intended to link the Split Rock Wild Forest and the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area to the Champlain Valley and Lake Champlain. The Wildway will incorporate a diversity of natural communities in the northern forest ecosystem, including a variety of forests, rivers, wetlands, floodplains, and sub-alpine flora.
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson.
The wildway will incorporate numerous major flyways for hawk, songbirds, and waterfowl as well as habitat for a variety of wildlife, including mink, otter, beaver, whitetail deer, fisher and bobcats, as well as the northernmost population of eastern timber rattlesnakes. According to the Northeast Wilderness Trust, a majority of the lands proposed for the Wildway are currently in private hands, and at risk of subdivision and habitate fragmentation.
Unfortunately, land preservation is a very unpopular topic in the Adirondacks. In fact, in many circles, it is an outright abomination. However, the concept of preserving, and enhancing wildlife habitate is not a foreign language to most sportsmen and women. Surely, it is not a dirty word among the birders, wildlife watchers, and the other 93 percent of travelers who continue to regularly travel and spend their hard-earned money in our neck of the woods.
Certainly there are going to be critics, naysayers and non-believers who will cast doubt on the concept of mega-links and wildlife corridors. Who’s going to believe that moose, bear, deer or wildcats, are going to return to follow in the tracks of their forebears. It’s plain foolish, nonsense! Or is it?
In just the past two years, wildlife biologists have confirmed the presence of wild mountain and wild wolf having returned to the region. For unknown reasons, truly wild lands have a real tendency to attract truly wild animals.
Ask a dedicated whitetail hunter to explain why deer are always taken from the same,‘Farthest Lost Runway’ where their great grandad, grandad and father all shot their’s. Or ask a trapper why he places his sets in a natural funnel between two brooks, or ask a duck hunter why he returns to the trapper familiar section of the big marsh year after year.
They learn from observation, and so do creatures of the wild. Bears have generational trails to food sources such as berry patches or cherry trees, which their cubs learn to follow, and so on and so on. These are just a few of the links in corridors which had been established well before country roads, interstates or even hiking trails intruded on nature’s way.
When moose first began to venture into New York state back in the late 1970's, they didn’t simply walk across the Champlain Bridge, or take the Essex Ferry. They did what every previous generation of moose had done, they swam across the lake.
Megalinks and corridor restoration efforts are largely a concept foreign to man. The effort does not ask man to, “Build it and they will come,” rather it implores, “Don’t build it, so they’ll have room to come.”
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.