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Thoreau would approve of New England’s reforestation

The green revolution under way in New England would have quickened the pen of Henry David Thoreau. In the 19th century, hunting and the unbridled cutting of forests for farms, timber, and settlements troubled Thoreau, who lamented the decimation of bear, moose, deer, beaver, turkey, and other animals. He declared New England an “emasculated country,” likening the remaining woods to “a tribe of Indians that had lost all its warriors.” Back then, only about 30 to 40 percent of the region was covered with forest; Massachusetts was down to 28 percent.

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Today, according to researchers at the Harvard Forest, New England is back to 80 percent forest, and many of those lost warriors have returned. Beyond the wild turkeys attacking the denizens of Brookline, moose and bear are now frequent sights in the suburbs. Hawks attack squirrels on college greens in the Fenway. The Woody Woodpecker cartoon call of the pileated woodpecker, formerly confined to the Berkshires, can be heard in Greater Boston. After a century in which New Englanders moved to cities, smokestack industries declined, and conservation improved, the region has a second chance at literally being green — a gift from a Mother Nature able to forgive the brutal wielding of ax, saw, and shotgun by earlier generations eking out an existence in a young country. Thoreau wrote in his lament, “I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth.” New England is not the entire earth, but he surely would have celebrated a forest that has regenerated almost in its entirety.

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