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Toppled tree causes some subtle changes TOM VENESKY OUTDOORS

It would be fitting to write a year-ending column about all the changes that have taken place in the outdoors during 2008, but I’m not going to do it.

We already know about the new regulations, seasons, rules and limits that guide our time spent hunting and fishing.

When it comes to man-made changes I could produce a long list for 2008. Things such as non-native zebra mussels being found in the Susquehanna River while the Delaware River runs dry.

Our state lands being opened to natural gas drilling.

Illegal dump sites popping up in new areas.

More of our open areas lost to development.

When looking back on 2008, I’d rather think about the changes that nature, not man, had a part in.

The changes that seem subtle and insignificant until you take a closer look.

Like the large black cherry tree I encountered while on a February hike. The tree used to stand with all the others along the base of a hill bordering Wapwallopen Creek. A winter windstorm toppled the tree, uprooted it from the frozen earth.

Dirt and rocks still clung to the exposed mass of roots, and a bowl-like depression about three feet deep formed where the tree once stood.

Sure it was only one tree out a forest of thousands, but this single change would prove to be significant in several ways.

When the black cherry came down, it took several smaller trees with it, bending them over and pinning their tops to the ground. The downed tree tops contained thousands of succulent buds that were now within reach, and the deer wasted no time in consuming the vital late-winter browse.

A week later I returned to the tree and kicked out a grouse that was using the tangle of branches as a new home. While the tree tops provided a home for a grouse, something else had taken up residence in the other end of the black cherry. Deer mice had already begun burrowing into the dirt that clung to the exposed roots, creating a patchwork of tunnels affording protection from predators.

By March, the buds were all consumed and tracks in the snow revealed the grouse had returned to the tangle, but there was another benefit that this change in the forest had yet to bring.

As the days warmed and the ground began to thaw, the depression left when the cherry tree uprooted filled with water, creating a vernal pool. By April, the pool – like the tree tops and the root mass, had inhabitants as well.

Spring peepers with their loud nighttime chorus claimed the new pool as their own. The clear pool was about two feet deep complete with a submerged tangle of roots that gave the diminutive frogs something to cling to while they sang throughout the night.

While I knelt at the edge of the pool hoping to catch a glimpse of the peepers, tracks in the mud indicated I wasn’t the only one aware of the new inhabitants.

A faint set of mink tracks outlined the edge of the water, evidence that the furbearer was using the new vernal pool as a new hunting ground.

The benefits from this subtle change in the forest will continue for years to come. This spring saplings should begin to poke through the tangled tree tops as they reach for the new sunlight created by the forest opening. The tree tops will act as a barrier to protect the delicate saplings from deer and anything else that has a tendency to gnaw or browse.

And, as the seasons pass, the trunk of the large cherry tree will start to decay, offering a buffet of grubs and insects for any black bear that meanders through.

No doubt there were changes much more important than a fallen cherry tree that affected the outdoors in 2008. We have to pay attention to them, but we can’t overlook the small things either. After all, in the outdoors any type of change, no matter how big or small, has an impact.

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