By Alan Caruba
Driving around my hometown and surrounding communities in New Jersey, a familiar sight has been tree stumps, the wreckage left behind by Hurricane Sandy. Having lived here with few breaks my entire life, it never occurred to me how many trees there are. From a lookout point in the Essex County South Mountain Reservation area one sees in the distance the city of New York.
As far as the eye can see, it is entirely forested.
In an interesting new book, “Nature Wars”, by Jim Sterba, a veteran journalist, takes the reader on a journey to America’s long ago past and brings him to the present. In the process, he removes a lot of mythology and replaces it with some extraordinary facts that are the background for the way our modern lifestyles put us in conflict with many species that are not only thriving, but some which faced virtual extinction from over-hunting, especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
“In the eastern United States over two and a half centuries,” Sterba notes, “European settlers cleared away more than 250 million acres of forest. By the 1950s, depending on the region, nearly half to more than two-thirds of the landscape was reforested, and in the last half-century, states in the Northeast and Midwest have added more than 11 million acres of forest. These new forests grew back right under the noses of several generations of Americans.”
The storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, the waters that flooded the coastal areas of New Jersey, Manhattan and Staten Island did a lot of damage, but the loss of electricity was largely the result of countless fallen trees disrupting the huge network of electrical wires that our way of life depends upon. We live in a forest. Indeed, much of the U.S. population lives in a forest.
What I found interesting about “Nature Wars” was the way Sterba revealed that, despite what the growing population of the Northeast did to alter the landscape, particularly as regards the clearing of land for the agriculture they depended upon, in addition to hunting its wildlife for meat and fish, Nature quite simply reclaimed the land as the farmers abandoned the rock-filled lands of Massachusetts and other early colonies. In the wake of Independence are more people arrived, Americans pushed westward……..