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Periscope Tipping point


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Tipping point


How much is too much? Policymakers at Skidmore have determined that the college’s North Woods are teetering on the brink of too much, so they’re launching some protection and stewardship programs. At this stage of crisis, can the new restrictions succeed in saving the woods? And can I bring myself to obey them?

As chair of Skidmore’s Campus Environment Committee for five years, I lobbied hard for North Woods protections—gate repairs, a biking ban, education and PR, specified use zones. I led Reunion nature walks, I negotiated with a local biking club, I fattened countless mosquitoes while posting trail signs. Still the birdsong grew thinner, research equipment got trashed, displaced foxes and porcupines stayed away, non-native plants invaded faster, and the rutted side-trails multiplied and widened and deepened. One good thing is that cycling in the woods has dwindled. But that’s been almost offset by a huge increase in dog walking.

It’s the dog factor that has me skewered on the horns of a dilemma. When I started running my dog at liberty in the North Woods, some twelve years ago, it was rare to see another dog or person on the trails but common to see oodles of red efts (jewel-like and adorable young newts that were always the woods’ signature species). Now it’s the reverse: the efts are few, the dogs many. So many, in fact, that the new stewardship plan insists they all be leashed all the time. Enforcing a leash law would deliver a punishing culture shock to many woods users like me. Yet maybe we really have reached the point where enough is enough. You might say it’s
a midlife crisis for the woods and me both: accumulated human impacts have made the land slow to heal from injuries such as canine irrational exuberance (not to mention human dereliction of pooper-scooping duty); at the same time, for me, stiffening in both skeleton and schedule makes it harder to exercise my dogs sufficiently if they’re stuck on a leash.

It pains me to think of going cold-turkey on my long-loved dog outings in the sweet, lush North Woods. But it also pains me to see the environmental damage caused by the heavy traffic. I once barred a student Thoreau-wannabe from overnight camping because the woods are so fragmented and stressed. I gasped with admiration when a student cyclist declared that his conscience would no longer let him bike there. And I recently paid my dues as a charter member of the Friends of the North Woods group. I want to be a good citizen, honest I do. Despite the glacial pace of trying to effect change through an advisory committee, I value the community engagement of students, faculty, administrators, and locals sharing arguments and compromises. I respect the North Woods’ stewardship plan—even the leash provision that I’d managed to skirt when I was helping to draft the early versions.

I’m 95 percent committed to complying. It’s just that when my big leggy poodle gets wind of a squirrel, and I can fairly hear her blood sing with primal doggy delight, and I know (but she doesn’t) that she’s far too galumphing ever to catch the thing, my altruistic heart dictates that I assist evolution and selflessly contribute to the betterment of squirreldom by providing a sharp chase on which it can hone its rusty predator-escape skills. I suppose petitioning the North Woods stewards for a special rodent-hunting dispensation would be…too much? —SR