Category Archives: wind turbines

John Davis visits Plummer’s Hollow as part of TrekEast

John Davis' campsite in Plummer's Hollow

John Davis' campsite in Plummer's Hollow

UPDATE (6/22): Listen to Emily Reddy’s interview with John in Plummer’s Hollow for a news story on our local NPR station, WPSU.

We’ve been honored to host John Davis from the Wildlands Network for two nights in Plummer’s Hollow as part of his epic, 6,000-mile journey to raise awareness of wildlands connectivity — “no protection without connection” — in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. He started in Key Largo in February and hopes to make it to the Gaspe Peninsula by October, traveling by boat, hiking, and biking, visiting as many wildlands in the East as possible. You can follow along via the TrekEast blog on the Wildlands Network website, and/or follow @TrekEast on Twitter for more up-to-the-minute photos and brief audio blogposts.

John pitched camp in the woods up beyond the garage, and uploaded three different audio posts last night and this morning, before getting underway around 7:00. Here are those three posts in the order he uploaded them: Energy Assault (3:04); Woodrat (2:48); Nature and Energy (3:21).

John Davis photographing downy rattlesnake plantain in our 3-acre deer exclosure

John photographing downy rattlesnake plantain in our 3-acre deer exclosure

John was one of the founders of Wild Earth magazine and the Wildlands Project, as it was then called, which together played a pivotal role in shaping our own thinking as eco-centric forest stewards, helping us see how our property fit into the larger conservation picture, and making us strong advocates for ecosystem recovery and large carnivore restoration, among other things. So we were pleased to be able to meet John and show him around the property, and compare notes about the environmental movement over the past 25 years. Also, as a long-time blogger and multimedia guy, I must say I’m very impressed by the electronic communications system John and his support staff have set up. He’s an excellent extemporaneous speaker, as the audio posts demonstrate, and also a gifted listener, so if you get a chance to go see him as TrekEast continues, don’t miss it. (His next appearance is this very evening in State College — see the Centre Daily Times for details.)

John Davis - heading out

John heading out on the next part of his TrekEast journey this morning before it got too hot

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Lumber company that trashed Plummer’s Hollow declares bankruptcy

A Helsel skidder hauling logs out of Plummer's Hollow, 1991

A Helsel skidder hauling logs out of Plummer's Hollow, 1991

We were interested to read in the local paper that the Blair County-based Helsel Lumber Mill has fallen on hard times. Ralph Helsel was the lumberman described in Marcia’s book Appalachian Autumn, who believed that it was his divinely ordained mission to harvest “overmature” trees, which in any case “wanted to be cut,” and who put his beliefs in practice on the 120-acre McHugh tract in Plummer’s Hollow. (We subsequently purchased the tract from a third party, after it had been mostly clearcut.) It seems that overmature companies may be subject to a similar fate.

A Blue Knob lumber mill that has been operating for 81 years and most recently doing business with China may soon be filing for reorganization under bankruptcy laws because of the downturn in the economy, according to its president, Charles Salyards Jr.

At one time, Helsel Lumber Mill of 3446 Johnstown Road [Route 164] did $6 million to $8 million in business annually and had 85 employees, Salyards said.

The demand for wood products, however, dropped dramatically in the past 18 months because of the lack of new housing construction and rehabilitation on the domestic side and the high cost of fuel, which affected the international market.

Business dropped to one-third of peak levels in 2008, Salyards said. As of late last year, the mill has been shut down.

“Every tree we cut, we were losing money,” Salyards said.

While we feel for the employees who have lost their jobs, we can’t help noting that the lumber company’s past decision to export much of its lumber to China contributed to the loss of many more state and regional jobs in the value-added hardwood products industry.

Mills like Helsel Lumber provide the wood to furniture makers. While once many furniture makers were in North Carolina, in recent years, the business shifted to China.

The wood producers followed the manufacturers, but the overseas business suffered when the bottom fell out of the housing market worldwide, Craig said.

Production of wood products in the state is down 40 percent, he said.

And it almost goes without saying that Helsel never could have afforded to ship logs from Pennsylvania all the way to China for the production of furniture designed for export back to the United States, if they weren’t able to take advantage of an economic system in which environmental costs — such as the generation of carbon dioxide via logging and global transport — can be excluded from the balance sheets.

As luck would have it, the other major culprit in the 1991 trashing of Plummer’s Hollow has also been active in selling out our natural heritage to foreign corporations. One of consulting forester Michael Barton’s main clients now is the Spanish energy giant Gamesa, which has been bullying township supervisors and battling grassroots environmental groups all over central and western Pennsylvania for the right to erect industrial wind plants on our ridgetops, reaping huge windfalls from U.S. taxpayers in the process. Mr. Barton’s talent for putting lipstick on pigs, which we first encountered in 1991, has been put to good use in newspaper op-eds defending Gamesa. He has even proposed the construction of a nonprofit wind education center to encourage wind tubine-centered tourism. If you’re the sort of person who imagines picnic tables and swingsets when you see a sign for an industrial park, then you’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.

Eroded tracks left by the Helseling of Plummer's Hollow, winter of 1991-92

Eroded tracks left by the Helseling of Plummer's Hollow, winter of 1991-92

Two Plummer’s Hollow breeding birds included in Watchlist 2007

Watchlist 2007, a listing of U.S. bird species considered at greatest need of immediate conservation attention, “builds on the species assessments conducted for many years by Partners in Flight (PIF) on landbirds, using those same PIF standards, but expanded to cover species of all taxa. The list is based on the latest available research and assessments from the bird conservation community, along with data from the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey.” The list contains 217 species in all, and is divided into “red” and “yellow” — kind of like a two-tiered version of the Department of Homeland Security’s terrorism alert levels. Two species in the less severely threatened “yellow” category regularly breed in Plummer’s Hollow in sizable numbers, according to data we have gathered for the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas and in annual point counts for the Bald Eagle Ridge Important Bird Area, which includes this property: the cerulean warbler and the wood thrush. These are two of six Watchlist species found in Pennsylvania, according to an article in the PA Environment Digest.

Wood Thrush: Wood thrushes rely on large interior forests and are threatened by habitat fragmentation, deforestation, and nest parasitism. Each year wood thrushes, down 62 percent in Pennsylvania over the past 40 years, migrate from Central America to the U.S., where Pennsylvania houses 8.5 percent of the world’s breeding population. Audubon Pennsylvania is actively engaging landowners and helping them improve their deer management practices as well as advocating statewide improvement to deer management. A deer herd out of balance with Penn’s Woods hinders healthy forest regeneration and serves as a contributing factor to habitat loss for forest-dwelling species, like the wood thrush, and other wildlife.

Cerulean Warbler: The cerulean warbler is found in the forests of riparian valleys and ridge top habitats in the eastern United States. Over the past half century it has steadily declined in numbers primarily due habitat loss directly associated with numerous types of human activities on both breeding and wintering grounds. In more recent years large areas of both types of breeding habitat have been destroyed through a practice of coal extraction known as mountaintop removal mining. Audubon Pennsylvania supports alternate placement of wind power turbines, many of which are currently sited along ridge tops. Such placement further promotes fragmentation of ridge top habitats utilized by cerulean warblers.

The presence of such interior-forest species, as well as the ridge’s importance as a migratory corridor for raptors (especially golden eagles), were the main reasons for its designation as an Important Bird Area by the Ornithological Technical Committee of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey. Wind turbine installations proposed for Bald Eagle Ridge and many other forested ridges in central and western Pennsylvania would further endanger these already declining species. We have of course refused offers from wind companies to build on our own portion of the ridge, but are just paranoid enough to fear that someday we might face the imposition of eminent domain.