Thursday, November 4, 2010


Donald A. Windsor,   Norwich NY

Fracking for natural gas is going to occur, whether anyone likes it or not.  The economic forces are too enticing to resist.  I do not like it.  But, because it will happen, we have to consider the consequences and figure out how to contend with them. 

My biggest concern is ecological damage.  In this blog I am not addressing other environmental impacts of gas drilling, production, and transportation.  The most recognizable ecological impact of fracking will be the removal of woody plants, both trees and bushes.  Many of the drilling and pipeline sites will have to be clearcut.

Rather than letting these cleared areas be turned into neatly mowed lawns, which have minimal ecological value, I propose that they be turned into wild grasslands.  The difference is significant.  A lawn is frequently mowed throughout the growing season, rendering it unsuitable for most wildlife.  Grasslands, by sharp contrast, are mowed once a year, in August or later, to keep out woody vegetation.  Grasslands are the natural habitat of many species of wildlife.

We have plenty of trees in Chenango County, but few wild grasslands.  Hayfields are mowed during the breeding season of many ground-nesting birds, such as, bobolink, meadowlark, and these sparrows:  grasshopper, Henslow's, savannah, and vesper.  Mowing in May, June, and July massacres these birds.
When drilling sites are converted to producing wells, any land no longer needed can be turned into grasslands.  When pipelines are installed and buried, the land above them can also be turned into grasslands.  The best way to accomplish this landscaping is to plow, or at least rough up the ground, and then sow grass seed.  The exact kind is currently being determined.

Another option is to merely allow the land to sprout whatever species of vegetation it does, and then mowing it once a year in August.  Still another option is to let the land revert to forest, but only on drilling sites.  Pipelines must be kept free of woody vegetation.  Scruffy, bushy land supports a great many species of wildlife.  The most notable birds are:  catbird, brown thrasher, mockingbird, robin, cedar waxwing, song sparrow, yellowthroat, yellow warbler, mourning warbler, several flycatchers, cardinal, and goldfinch.  Forest edge adjacent to brush supports:  rose-breasted grosbeak, chestnut sided warbler, purple finch, indigo bunting, warbling vireo, and oriole.  As the brushland begins succeeding into forest, other species of birds move in, such as: grouse, turkey, veery, wood thrush, downy and hairy woodpeckers, sapsuckers, red-eyed vireo, and junco.

Disturbance encourages biodiversity, which is the number of species of all organisms at a given area.  Disturbance creates new habitats, which provide more niches for different species.

Fracking for gas will make a mess of many places in Chenango County, but it only has to be temporary.  If the messed up land is treated properly, nature can not only be restored; it can also be enhanced.