A conservation goal: Keeping the land ‘whole’

My latest newspaper column:

In fish and wildlife conservation lingo, the concept of “wholeness” is everything.

Wholeness means a whole habitat, one whose ecological values are intact, not chopped up (what conservationists refer to as “fragmented”) into smaller chunks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a fact sheet for the 2002 observance of International Migratory Bird Day, states: “Habitat is defined as an area that provides the food, water, cover and space

that a living thing needs to survive and reproduce. The quality and quantity of a particular type of habitat determines the

number and variety of its inhabitants.


“Unfortunately, in altering or creating habitat for human uses, people often cause the loss or damage of habitat needed by birds and other wildlife. This loss and degradation of habitat has resulted in widespread declines and extinctions of many species.


“It is not possible for people to live and prosper without affecting their surroundings. However, people do have the ability to consider the needs of other species and can choose to modify their activities to decrease the negative effects they have on wildlife habitat.”


This means that the little five-acre woodlot down the street (the one with the real estate agency’s sign on it, declaring the land as “available”) has much less ecological value to native flora and fauna than the 5,000-acre (or larger) forest that grows on yonder ridge.


Conservationists, whether toiling in Utah or New England or Pennsylvania (or any other place) know this to be the case. That’s why proposals to build mammoth land-devouring things like airports and highways and such generate lots of opposition. People who value, cherish and fight to protect Pennsylvania’s natural heritage really should be (excuse the cliché) “up in arms” over the still-alive chance that a cargo airport (isn’t “freight” airport a more accurate term?) will be constructed on terrain near Hazleton.


Before “authorities” allow bulldozers to be cranked to life and their land-eating blades lowered, let’s take a gander at the fate today of closed, former Air Force bases. I served at two such places that are within a one-day drive of Hazleton.

Both Griffiss AFB, near Utica, N.Y., and Plattsburgh AFB (four hours due north of Albany, N.Y.) were Strategic Air Command bomber bases. Aircrews at these, and many other SAC installations pulled what everyone referred to as “alert duty,” living together in secure dorm-style buildings referred to (no joke) as “alert facilities.” The base at Plattsburgh, not too long after the Air Force pulled out) became Plattsburgh International Airport. (In this case, unlike the Avoca airfield which still bills itself as an “international” port, the label is true as suburban Montreal, Quebec, is only an hour due north). Plattsburgh already had a 13,000-foot runway, loads of adjacent tarmac, and office space and aircraft hangars. Learn more at http://www.flyplattsburgh.com/opportunities/facilities.asp


Griffiss was home to a B-52 bomb wing (Plattsburgh had a fleet of the smaller FB-111 bomber). Visit http://ocgov.net/airport/tenants to learn about the civilian tenants that now operate at Griffiss International Airport. And by visiting http://ocgov.net/airport you get to see a nice aerial photograph of Griffiss. A brief look is all that’s needed to realize just how much land the place covers. Then, consider how a “cargo” airport in northern Schuylkill County would look from the air.


People who know the real “value” of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage (a value that covers a lot more territory than just dollars) ought to be nice, yet vocal in battling the very notion of putting a new airport near Hazleton. And think how you would reply to this question: If there’s such a grand need for a new “cargo” airfield, here or anywhere else in the Northeast or mid-Atlantic, how come the many ex-military airfields that dot a map have not already been pressed into service for such a mission?


Oddly, this ongoing discussion and debate brings to mind a late-afternoon chat I had with a pickup truck driver on a road splitting apart a Pennsylvania Game Commission holding in the Lehigh River watershed. The motorist (also a hunter, as evidenced by the .30-.06 rifle in the window rack behind his head), lamented that he didn’t see one white-tail, not even one, while driving down the road.


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