The woods behind my boyhood home in Windsor stretched five miles north before hitting a public gravel road, big woods by Maine standards, complete with remote valleys, ridge tops, wetlands, ponds and streams.

In my early 20s, a utility company built a power line that passed behind my house, an ugly swath that spoiled the illusion of wilderness. It surely removed a big part of the mystery that these forests once held.

…Beginning with a depressing observation. When I stood on a high, ledge-topped ridge on this right of way between Lovejoy Stream to the east and Bull Brook to the southwest, they looked remarkably close together.

Before the power line made the walk so easy, the distance between the two seemed plenty far because it required climbing steep, tangled ridges, worming through dense thickets and slogging though swamps.

In short, the woods felt smaller and provided access to folks who lacked confidence to penetrate deep woods without well-defined paths.

The second year after the utility company built the power line, myriad deer tracks caught my eye on a springy side hill where deer foraged heavily on forbs. My very first late afternoon sitting there, I killed a deer just like nothing after it had sneaked onto the right of way, an easy shot of 70 yards.

Two falls later, while walking along the tote road that accessed these woods, I crossed the power line and glanced east toward Lovejoy Stream. A 5-point buck stood on a knoll 220 yards away, looking the other way.

The slightly higher granite outcropping between the deer and me hid my body but not my head, so I instinctively dropped to my knees and crawled to the ledge top. After laying my bolt-action .30-’06 on a folded hunting coat for a rest, I slipped off the safety, took my time and shot the deer — the second one in three years on the newly built right of way.

Through the years, this dreaded, hated power line provided winter meat for my relatives, friends and me, but I had never learned to appreciate it. People in my age group grew up, worshipping folks like Edward Abbey, David Brower and Ted Williams, the environmental writer. Because of that experience, power lines struck me as the personification of evil.

And it didn’t help that the utility company sprayed herbicides onto the corridor, killing forbs, spicy-smelling sweet fern, juniper and raspberries.

Recently, though, in the current issue of “Northern Woodlands,” a quasi-scientific magazine with the subtitle “A New Way of Looking at the Forest,” an article by Madelin Bodin provided me with an enlightened view.

In the piece, Bodin asked, “From an ecological perspective, is a power line good or bad?”

She answered, “It depends.”

A poorly planned power line creates an eroded scar with a monoculture of invasive, pioneer plants growing where tall pines or oaks once stood, alders and leatherleaf filled wetlands or mature hemlocks or cedar offered winter cover for deer.

On the other hand, power lines create that all-important edge habitat that generates forage if the utility company doesn’t spray toxins onto the herbaceous plants. With a properly designed strategy, power companies can produce diverse habitat that benefits deer, wild canines, grouse, rodents and birds from spring through autumn.

Even varying hare use power lines, surprising to me but true. One evening, while I sat on the power line behind my boyhood home, a large hawk swooped down on a hare in a rubus tangle and caught it for a meal.

Utility companies once hand-cut bushes, mowed or sprayed to keep right of ways cleared, but these expensive, labor-intensive practices cost big money — not good for a corporation’s bottom line.

Utility companies now lean toward creating permanent shrubbery, woodland grasses, herbaceous plants, rubus bushes, blueberries and ferns that don’t need constant care every year or three. Money talks.

It’s a continuing story in a centuries-old conflict. We need energy for economic survival, so wider, more numerous right of ways for power and gas lines continue increasing through forests and grasslands. We cannot get away from the need and can only slow it down with more efficient ways of saving energy.

However, if businesses and environmentalists strive to compromise and at the same time increase habitat for fauna and flora, we all win.

When either side adopts a dictatorial stance, we all lose.

 

Ken Allen, an editor, writer and photographer, can be reached at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.