Mason-Dixon Council News
Musings from an old(er) Scout:
It’s been an interesting 23 years working for the Boy Scouts of America, particularly the last three. As an organization, we’ve had challenges and changes, controversy and condemnation, and have been thrust unwillingly into the national spotlight again and again due to issues not of our choosing. It’s easy in times like these to become nostalgic and want to return to the “good old days” of Scouting, when life was simpler and Scouting was just like it’s portrayed in all of our favorite Norman Rockwell paintings.
I was a history teacher before I went to work for BSA, and a hazard of that training is that, when nostalgia begins to kick in, for historians it’s time to cut through the foggy haze of memory and re-examine the reality of those days we’ve begun to pine for and see if things, were, really, so much better then than they are now.
I joined Cub Scouts in 1968. As a Cub Scout, I remember well riding my bike to my Den Mother’s house for weekly meetings, often being the first to arrive and helping set up for the activities of the day. We had a great time as I recall, doing games and crafts, having a set time to play outside, seeing our achievements recorded on the chart, doing opening and closing ceremonies, etc. Monthly pack meetings were always a highlight, as all the Cub Scout dens came together to sing songs, do skits, and receive awards. Pinewood Derbies were AWESOME and Cub Camp days were a summer highlight. And yes, I remember taking macaroni pictures home to my Mom, who proudly displayed them on the refrigerator door until the macaroni started falling off. Somewhere along the line, I was elected Assistant Denner and then Denner, and eventually earned my Arrow of Light. I remember the pride of those achievements to this day. I remember the FUN of Scouting! What I don’t remember is actually receiving all the character and leadership training and development I was getting as a Cub Scout.
I joined Boy Scouts and went to my first summer camp in 1972. My first troop was a large one, and being a “large” kid, I had a hard time fitting in with the older boys in that troop. I changed troops and joined Troop 72 at Avalon UMC, where one of my Dad’s friends, Jim Forsyth, was Scoutmaster. It was a totally different experience, and I loved it. I started as a Bugler, and was soon elected Assistant Patrol Leader, then Patrol Leader. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I got those jobs due to my less-than-formidable Bugling skills. Within two years, I was elected Senior Patrol Leader, a job I was re-elected to twice, as I recall (they REALLY didn’t want me playing the bugle anymore!). I remember one of the “perks” that came with being SPL was that, on campouts, I got to stay in the big cabin tent with the adult leaders and the ASPL. I had a great Scouting experience, that got interrupted when my family moved away and I went to a boarding school for a year. I didn’t like any of the troops I visited after we moved, because they weren’t MY troop, and my youth Scouting career came to an end at 15. Again, I remember all the adventures, experiences and FUN of being a Boy Scout. What I don’t remember is actually receiving all the character, citizenship and leadership training I was getting as a Boy Scout.
So what does that have to do with today? Simple. When I look back on my youth Scouting experience, I think about all the good, fun things I did, including camping in the rain, summer camp, etc. It’s easy to look back and think about how much simpler life was then. As an adult, I look back at those “simpler” times in a different way. I was a Scout in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a time of great social unrest in our country. Remember, this was the time of protests against the Vietnam War, “Flower Power” (the hippie counter-culture movement), the civil rights movement, marches on Washington, Watergate, and later the “anything goes” Disco drug culture of the mid-70’s. I was a Scout when Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, when President Nixon resigned, when every night on the television included footage of anti-war demonstrations and flag-burnings, draft-card and bra burning, fire hoses and riots, as well as casualty counts. My uncle served in Vietnam, so I definitely remember the casualty counts. So, as an adult looking back at my youth Scouting experience, maybe it wasn’t simpler, easier times after all. Or was it?
While our country was in the middle of vast social and political unrest and change, I was a Scout.
While others my age were doing the “cool” things, like experimenting with drugs and burning flags, I was learning the difference between right and wrong and being taught that I should always do what is right (that whole “morally straight” thing). I was learning how to fold and care for flags, and how to respect my country and be a good citizen. I was a Scout.
I never bought into any of the “cool” stuff some of my friends were into. I do admit to owning at least one pair of bell bottoms and there is photographic evidence of big hair, a silk shirt and a leisure suit, but the rest wasn’t for me. I was a Scout.
Today, I look back and thank God for my parents and for my Scout leaders. They provided me with great, God-fearing role models who taught me what is right and wrong, as well as instilling the desire to always do right, and to do my best always to live the Scout Oath and Law. They taught me about Duty to God and Country and Family. They taught me that there is no room for bigotry and hatred in this world and that the only colors that mattered were Red, White, Blue and Boy Scout Green. There are times when I slipped, but those teachings and lessons learned as a youth stay with me and guide me to this day. I am a Scout.
Today, I look back and thank God that my Scout leaders were good men and women of character, patriots who wanted me and my fellow Scouts to grow to be good people, citizens and leaders. I thank God that at a time when Scouts and leaders could share a tent or spend time together alone, when showers at camp were a concrete pad with multiple showerheads and bathrooms were designed for 10-20 people at a time with no dividers, when it wasn’t unusual to go skinny-dipping on a hot day, when troop discipline included rites and punishments that are defined as “hazing” today, that my Scout leaders were good, Christian men with high morals who had a genuine interest in young people like me, and who never let things get out of hand or abused their authority. I thank God that they let me make my own mistakes and take my own chances, but were always close by to keep me from true harm and keep me and my fellow Scouts safe.
So, do I look at the issues confronting Scouting today and wish for a return to the “good old days?” No. The simple fact is that our country has changed, our society has changed, our parents and families and kids have changed, and if we as an organization wish to remain relevant and continue our mission, we have to adapt. Too many young people fell victim to predators in the days when “you just didn’t talk about things like that”. Too many young people failed to be given a safe Scouting experience provided by carefully selected and trained leaders and role models. Too many young people have not gotten the support and guidance and attention they needed to survive today’s world.
Scouting and Scouting’s leadership at all levels have done their best and will continue to do their best to be able to provide a quality Scouting experience to every young person and family they can. Change is inevitable and will happen whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not. What hasn’t changed is what makes the Boy Scouts of America the greatest youth organization in the world, and that’s our mission: “The Boy Scouts of America prepares young people to make moral and ethical decisions over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”
Each of you has the right to choose how to use your time, talents and energy. If the Boy Scouts of America no longer fits into your plan, that’s fine. You have the right to pursue other paths. As for me, I believe Scouting is needed now more than ever before. In this time of social and political unrest and change, we will keep doing what we do, fulfilling Scouting’s mission and offering every young person the opportunity to have positive, caring role models who are teaching them how to live the Scout Oath and Law and providing experiences and growth opportunities they might not be able to get anywhere else. One of my dear Scouting friends and mentors who has long since passed away said “Scouting helps make old man memories”. 49 years ago, I wouldn’t have understood what he meant. Today, I do. I’m hoping that, 25 years from now, my Eagle Scout son understands that better, too.
Life to Eagle Presentation
Newest Eagle Scouts
We are looking for a Venturing Activity Chair. If interested please contact Nate Bacon.
Adult...Venture Leader Specific Training (VLST)
- Feb 26th 2:00 - 5:00 contact Nate Bacon for details on location
- April 25th 6:00-10:00 at Council Office
Crew Members...Intro to Leadership Skills for Crews & Officer Roles
- April 7 starts at 6:00 thru April 8 approx noon, at Council Office
The Conservation Committee need volunteers, and is also looking for two units to help develop two educational trails at Sinoquipe Scout Reservation.
Info & questions: Nate Bacon - Conservation Comm Chair, 717-762-0964 or Email.
Skate Club 2017
Derby Days 2017
The Farmer and His Prize Bull: A High- Grading Analogy
Many landowners allow the woods, which they love so much, to be “select cut,” as some call it. In reality, they are confusing what they think is a good practice with one that is actually negatively impacting the health of their woods.
An example of a mixed species, even-aged forest. What happens to the species and trees when a high grade is imposed on it?
No, this is not a farming story. We don’t have the answers to improving lines of beef or milk cattle. Someone may, but not here. Sorry. This is a story about forests, about the trees, about forest history, and about the actions we take in the woods.
As a forester and an educator, I get to talk with many passionate people--people who care so deeply about their woods that they work at it beyond rational economic decisions and into their love. These aren’t all longtime woods-owners; they are also people who just inherited or just bought woodland because they love it. Very often they have woodlands because they want to care for it in a way that makes it better. Yet whether long-tenured or short-, many landowners allow the woods, which they love so much, to be “select cut,” as some call it. In reality, they are confusing what they think is a good practice with what is actually negatively impacting the health of their woods. What is often incorrectly described as a “select cut” is known to foresters as high grading or diameter limit cutting – different names for the same practice. Unfortunately, the misconception that select cuts are a good thing persists.
So what is high grading, select cutting, or diameter-limit cutting? The quick and dirty answer is, “It’s taking the best and leaving the rest.” High grades remove the biggest trees (assumed to be the “oldest” or “most mature”), or trees above a certain diameter (hence, diameter limit). Landowners often think they are doing the right thing, in efforts to thin a stand, make a little income, or “give the little trees a chance to grow up and become big trees…”
It would be so easy if it worked this way. Unfortunately our past history doesn’t make Pennsylvania forests good candidates for this type of harvesting activity. Around the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th, most of Pennsylvania was clearcut. Discoveries of iron ore led to iron furnaces being built to fuel the industrial revolution, and those iron furnaces needed fuel to melt the ore to make pig iron to ship to urban industrial centers. That fuel came in the form of charcoal, made from trees. Colliers (charcoal-makers) cut down huge swaths of the woods to create the charcoal and feed the furnaces. In addition to charcoal production, lumber was a high value commodity, and the leather industry used hemlock for the tannic acid in the bark to tan hides. There was tremendous draw on the forest resource, such that much of the state was essentially cleared of trees in a relatively short window of 30 to 50 years.
How does that past affect our present forests? Many of Pennsylvania’s trees, especially the oaks, grew from stump sprouts, on those same stumps cut for products. Others, early successional species that like a lot of light and bare mineral soil, have seeds that blow around and can take advantage of clear sites. Blue jays and other nut hoarders moved acorns and other hard mast around, spreading the oaks, hickories, and chestnuts. However, this history of regrowth from one earlier time period means that the majority of trees in Pennsylvania’s forests are approximately the same age, the little ones and the big ones.
There are two things to know about how trees grow that play into this story: first, different tree species can tolerate different light conditions and grow at different rates. Second, even within the same species of the same age, there are winners and losers in the race to grow tall and have wide crowns.
Take a look at the image accompanying this piece. This sketch represents a mixed species, evenaged stand or group of trees in a forest, grown out for, say, one hundred years. In it, on the right hand curve we see the trees that are fast growers and who like a lot of sun (early successional species, in this example black cherry), which got established quickly and grew. We don’t see a lot of little black cherries in this forest, because they need a lot of sunlight to get started and, with the other species in the mix, we can tell that there’s not a lot of sunlight reaching the forest floor. The middle curve is the mid-successional species (in this example white ash) that are a little more tolerant of shade. In this curve there are some big ones that had great growing sites, or were of better breeding stock, and some smaller ones that are falling behind. The left hand curve represents the late successional species, sugar maple here, that can germinate and grow in not much light. There are a lot of little ones because they can hang on in the understory of the forest for many years. In this stand we have three different species, of about the same age, with different growing rates based both on the potential of the site, competition, and the differences in the trees’ preferred growing spaces.
Now impose a diameter limit cut on this stand (represented by the vertical dotted line) and what happens? Depending on where you impose it, what limit or size tree is cut? The best and biggest trees are often taken, and sometimes whole species are lost.
Look at the dotted line. What happened to our stand of trees? We just lost almost all of the early successional species, the black cherry. We lost the better half (and biggest) of the white ash, and the very best of the sugar maple. Black cherry is a forest food for wildlife. What did we just do to that food source in these woods? Oak is an intermediate shade tolerant species – it likes a little sun, but can tolerate a little bit of shade. What if oak were the middle curve and wildlife was an important landowner goal in the woods? What would happen to your favorite wildlife food producer? What happens when we implement the next high grade on the stand? What is going to be left?
Recently I read an article by a very smart forest landowner who was paying attention to the forest history on his hunting camp – an area repeatedly high graded. He came up with a great analogy which then got further modified by a conversation with another smart person about this topic. Imagine the trees are your herd of cattle. Does it make sense to cull your best breeding stock and expect to get the strongest lines from those left? No one faults the farmer for harboring his prize bull. Why do we not offer the same consideration to our trees?
What should be done instead? If the interest is in opening up a stand to allow for growth on the remaining trees (space, light, water, and nutrients for tree growth are limiting resources), consider taking the worst first and freeing those best ones to grow a little bigger. If it’s time to start the forest cycle over with a new, young forest, do preliminary work to ensure that you have regeneration from those best trees on the ground before you remove them – this may mean opening up the canopy to allow a little more light for seedlings to get established, paying a great deal of attention to potential threats from invasive or competitive plants, and then in a few years you can remove the big trees. It may mean erecting a fence to protect some seedlings so they aren’t all removed or damaged by deer so they have a chance to grow tall.
Trees are a renewable resource. Eventually the better trees can be cut, but it takes experience, practice, and much consideration to decide when to make this next harvest and to do it well. We are lucky trees grow well here in Pennsylvania. If we continue to make decisions about harvesting our woods that remove the best trees, that remove whole species of trees, we lose options for the future forest. We lose forest health and forest diversity, which trickle down to the wildlife and to us. Let’s stop high grading our woods and keep those “prize bulls” around, until they’ve proven their breeding potential in creating the next forest.