Northeast Wilderness Trust is proud to be an initial endorser of “The Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth,” along with leading international conservation organizations such as Rewilding Europe, Tompkins Conservation, and African Parks.
Northeast Wilderness Trust purchased 359 acres from Paedra Bramhall last week, creating the first privately protected, forever-wild preserve in the Chateauguay No-Town Conservation Area.
Black Bears Emerge from their Winter Slumber
Many of my friends bemoan April in the Northeast as one of the worst times of the year. Dirt roads turn into mine fields of muddy ruts and potholes, melting snow and flowing springs turn trails treacherous and even make off-trail woods-walking messy. The trees are all still leaf-less, as though the mud from the roads is stretching brown fingers high into the sky. Even the leftover snow is dirt-covered and dingy.
I always jump passionately to April’s defense in these conversations. April is one of my twelve most favorite months of the year and hopefully when you know where to look you will love it as much as I do.
April is (usually) when most of the snow melts in our region, and while that may be sad for lovers of winter sports, it means that water is once again abundant in our landscape. With that water comes all of the things that rely on it to live, breed, and migrate. Geese fly overhead, resting at lakes, ponds, and even flooded fields. Amphibians begin their annual migration to breeding pools, singing merrily for all to hear. The earliest blooming spring wildflowers start to poke up through the soil, unfurl their delicate new leaves, and drink in the sunlight before the trees leaf out and snatch it all away. Melt water trickles down into the ground, displacing the gasses in the soil that have accumulated from winter decomposition, and releasing what we all think of as the quintessential smell of spring, geosmin. April in Vermont is magic, if you know where to look.
One of my very favorite signs of spring, and one that I often first see in April, is black bear (Ursus americanus) tracks. Sometimes staggering, sometimes determined, the prints tell the tale of one of our region’s largest wild predators, and spotting them always gives me a thrill. By now black bears are out and about (time to bring in your bird feeders!) and the females might even have some cubs in tow. It’s been a long process for all these bears to den up in the late fall and emerge five months later—a process that goes unseen but is nonetheless fascinating.
There is some debate about whether or not bears should be considered “true hibernators,” since they don’t dramatically lower their body temperature during their winter snooze. Yet they do spend the winter in a den, mostly sleeping. Their sleep ranges from deep to light, and they wake regularly to scratch itches, shift positions, and stretch. During this time their metabolism and heart rate slow down slightly so they burn fewer calories, which come from fat stores they’ve built up over the previous summer and fall. Adult bears rarely urinate or defecate in their dens (though newborn cubs do) because the slow use of calories stored in body fat generates less waste than eating. Bears also possess the impressive super power of “pee-cycling,” meaning they can recycle built-up urea into new proteins. This prevents the waste buildup from becoming toxic.
Male bears and non-nursing females coming out of their den in the spring might weigh as much as 15-30% less than they did in the fall. Female bears have an extra challenge through their winter survival, as they often are also pregnant when they enter their dens. Mama bears are mostly asleep through their pregnancy, waking briefly to birth their cubs around January, and then hitting the pillow once again. The cubs, born around the size of chipmunks, will then nurse on their semi-comatose mom until spring, when she will emerge from the den up to 40% lighter than she was when she went in.
Despite all this, bears don’t wake up hungry. Their bodies suppress their appetites starting in late fall, triggering them to stop foraging and start looking for a cozy place to hole up through the cold. Black bears would be unlikely to stay safely in their dens during the winter if they woke up hungry, so a hormone that simulates the feeling of fullness sticks around in the blood at high levels until well after it is warm enough for them to emerge. And when they do venture out they are, as you might imagine, pretty groggy and stiff. A bear may come and go from its den or other shelters several times while recovering from their winter sleep. Early in the process they blearily stumble and yawn, stretch and laze about, just like I imagine that I would if I slept for 5 months. Gradually, they regain their strength and stamina, and eventually their appetite too. To get a sense of the experience, check out this video of a bear in Minnesota waking up over the course of many days.
As mama bears begin to wake, their cubs are around three months old and weigh around six pounds— slightly more than a Chihuahua, but with significantly more fur! Over the summer the cubs stay with their mom. These three cubs were caught on a game camera last spring following their mom across the brand new Bramhall Wilderness Preserve in Bridgewater, VT.
As they wrestle and play their way through their first year of life, they learn what foods to eat, how to climb trees, and other bear necessities before entering hibernation alongside their mom in the fall. This will be the last time they will share a den though, and the following April they will strike out on their own, seeking new territories where they can begin the cycle anew.
Spring is a time of transformation. The sleepy silence of the cold white winter recedes into a decadent symphony of sound and color, slowly at first, but with continually increasing vigor right on through until summer. There is so much to see and hear during this time of the year that it is easy to overlook one of my favorite spring sensations: the smell.
Usually described as “fresh earth” or “muddy” the smell is one we all know well. I associate it with those hardy little flowers known as spring ephemerals that come up as soon as the ground thaws, producing both flower and fruit before the trees above open their leaves and soak up all of the available sunlight. Trout lilies and spring beauties and trilliums—just writing their names brings the smell of spring to my mind; but it is not these flowers that give us that springy smell. So just what is it that we have to thank for spring’s classic scent?
It turns out the scent of spring is the very same substance responsible for the earthy taste of beets: a terpene known as geosmin. The name geosmin comes from the Greek words for “earth” and “smell.” Geosmin is produced by blue green algae and certain kinds of soil bacteria called actinomycetes. These bacteria break down plant material, and in the process convert another soil chemical (farnesyl diphosphate) to geosmin in a two-step process.
Geosmin exists in the soil year-round, but its smell is only noticeable under certain conditions—you might notice it when digging into soil, during spring thaw, and after a rain. This is because generally the gas pools in spaces beneath the soil surface and is only detectable when these pools are disturbed, like when digging turns over the soil or water soaks into it, displacing the gasses within. Sometimes the smell of geosmin is apparent before a storm hits, the result of decreasing pressure associated with the approaching weather causing the soils to off-gas geosmin and carbon dioxide that has built up beneath the surface.
With spring in full swing I hope you take the time to get out into the wild, where forests are coming to life and there is so much to see and explore. And while you are out there don’t forget to stop and smell the geosmin.
Northeast Wilderness Trust is delighted to welcome four new members to our Board of Directors!
This winter, two Northeast Wilderness Trust Preserves were featured in local news. A big thank you to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript and Wicked Local Kingston for highlighting these special places and the wilderness message! Click below to read the full articles.
Every so often, we encounter a special wilderness champion whose passion for nature makes a very real difference in the lives of wild beings. Annette Dykema was just such a person. Annette passed away last December, but left a legacy that will last for generations to come.
Annette and her family spent summers and weekends at their property in Guilford, Vermont, connecting with each other and the land. The forested valley lay at the end of a dirt road, “For my mom, it was a big part of her; she knew every inch of that place,” said Alex Liston Dykema, her son.
Annette deeply cared about protecting any property she could; she had placed a conservation easement on her former property in Oregon. In the early 2000s, Annette began to explore conserving the Guilford forest surrounding her home. Annette’s wishes were for the valley to remain wild and unmanaged, but she had difficulty finding a land trust that was philosophically aligned with her personal land ethic. Alex, who is now an attorney for the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, began to do some digging and eventually came across Northeast Wilderness Trust. It was a match.
“The concept, for Mom, of being able to protect [the land] as a completely natural space forever was remarkable,” said Alex. Soon after Annette had placed a forever-wild easement on the land with Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2004, an adjacent parcel of land came up for sale. So she worked with her neighbors to buy it and raise the funds for the Wilderness Trust to place forever-wild protections on it. In total, Annette’s devotion to the wild protected 232 contiguous acres in Guilford.
Annette’s daughter, Martha Frost, will keep the land in the family. “My siblings and I were outside in all four seasons as kids,” noted Alex. “Mom’s eight grandkids each have a connection to this land—it is firmly rooted in all of us.”
In the 45 years since they have owned this land, the family has watched it evolve. In addition to seeing the forest itself grow older and wilder, they have seen moose and black bear come back to the woods. “The property really gave us a sense of what rewilding could do,” said Alex. “There was no chance we’d have seen moose or black bear four decades ago, and now they’re there.”
Annette’s generous spirit and warm heart will be missed. She has set an example of unfailing dedication to the wild. For that, we are grateful…and we’re pretty sure those moose and bear are, too!
Thank you as well to the donors who made a gift to the Northeast Wilderness Trust in memory of Annette Dykema. Together, you contributed $1,375 to wilderness conservation. Thank you!
Thanks to those who support wilderness conservation, Northeast Wilderness Trust has made strides towards a wilder tomorrow for the northeast. In 2015, we set a goal of conserving 10,000 additional wilderness acres by 2020, and we exceeded that goal this past year with the protection of Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve.
Thanks to those who support wilderness conservation, Northeast Wilderness Trust has made strides towards a wilder tomorrow for the northeast. In 2015, we set a goal of conserving 10,000 additional wilderness acres by 2020, and we exceeded that goal this past year with the protection of Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve. Each conservation success in the intervening years was critical to making it this far.
Check out our work in each state below!
In 2019, NWT launched a campaign to expand the Binney Hill Wilderness Preserve in New Ipswich, NH by 47 acres. With the help of 76 generous donors, we have met the fundraising goal and now count the Sawtelle Addition as a forever-wild piece of this critical wildlife corridor! This land connects Binney Hill to the NWT-protected Wapack Wilderness to the north, and it secures the last piece of the Binney Pond shoreline so that this undeveloped pond is now fully protected.
Just west of Poke-o-Moonshine in the northeast Adirondack foothills, the brand new Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve now protects 2,434 acres. The land includes pristine ponds, cliffs where peregrine falcons nest, wetlands, brooks, and vernal pools. The protection of this land furthers the effort to secure a swath of interconnected lands for wildlife, linking the Adirondack Park to the shores of Lake Champlain.
NWT bought the 12 acres to add a beautiful, official access point (below) to the Alder Stream Wilderness Preserve in Atkinson, ME. In partnership with NRCS and local contractors, we removed culverts from former logging roads in the Preserve to restore waterways and jump-start the rewilding process. We will soon be launching a fundraising campaign to purchase 3,000+ acres in Western Maine…stay tuned!
Southern New England
On the Muddy Pond Wilderness Preserve in Kingston, MA, more than 75 students have connected with the globally rare Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens ecosystem this year. They visit Muddy Pond to hike and reconnect with nature, and learn science, history, and wilderness values in a real-world setting. Biology students and local ecologist Tim Simmons are monitoring rare and endangered plants, while dozens of volunteers have helped haul out litter, close down ATV trails, and create a beautiful new parking area.
In Connecticut, we’re excited to be exploring new conservation opportunities in the northwest corner of the state, and will be presenting at the Connecticut Land Conservation Conference this March (see upcoming events below). UnTrammeled: The Case for Wild Nature, our popular presentation, will make its Connecticut debut at the Norfolk Public Library on May 21…save the date!
In partnership with The Nature Conservancy in Vermont, we now hold forever-wild protections on Burnt Mountain. Spanning 5,000 acres across the northern spine of the Green Mountains, this rugged terrain is home to black bear, brook trout, and a rich diversity of breeding songbirds. We continue to raise money to protect the Bridgewater Hollow Bramhall Wilderness Preserve, and hosted a BioBlitz on the land this summer.
Curious what the next five years will bring? Check out our 2020-25 Strategic Plan to see how the Northeast Wilderness Trust will accelerate and expand the protection of wild places. You can help make the Northeast a wilder place by making a tax-deductible donation. Your support gives the Northeast Wilderness Trust the standing to conserve more land at a greater pace. Thank you.
The Forever-Wild Circle of sustaining donors provide Northeast Wilderness Trust with reliable support. The steady regularity of monthly gifts creates a base that the Wilderness Trust can count on. Not only does this allow us to focus more on what we do best–protecting wild landscapes for nature and people–it also means that we can take the long view and focus on the future.
This year, we’ve created custom bandannas to thank our sustaining donors. New Forever-Wild Circle members will also receive a 2020 bandanna as a welcome gift. Join the Forever-Wild Circle today and we’ll send you this gift as a token of our gratitude!
Printed on a hemp and organic cotton-blend, they feature the artwork of Vermont artist Patricia Leahey Meriam. Her oil painting “Flight: Blue Heron” was chosen as the winning design in the Northeast Wilderness Trust’s art contest this past fall.
Once printed, local dye farmer Karen Cornish generously volunteered to hand-dye the bandannas with homegrown indigo. Karen grows and processes dye plants and leads dying workshops through her farm and business, Honey Hill Studios. The result is a beautiful display of this wild bird taking off across a landscape of dark and light blues, marked as the Forever-Wild Circle 2020 bandanna.