If a tree falls in Yale Myers Forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Yale administrators are fighting to protect seven New England forest properties, including Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut, in order to provide land for research and sustainable agricultural practices. But apart from those conducting research, officials said most Yale students do not take advantage of the University’s efforts to maintain the 10,880 acres of forest in the region.
At 7,840 acres and located 75 miles from Yale’s central campus, Myers forest is currently the University’s largest land holding and plays host to over 40 different research projects throughout the year, forest manager Richard Campbell said. In addition to research, the forest is also used for educational field trips, training programs and seminars, he said.
Myers forest was donated to Yale in 1930 by George Myers 1898 GRD 1902, a graduate of the first class of the School of Forestry. Before Myers’ time, the land consisted of privately owned agricultural plots abandoned in the 1870s. Since then, the University has increased the variability of the forest habitat and encouraged the return of wildlife — such as the moose and the black bear — through sustainable timber harvesting, Campbell said.
“The goal is that the forest will sustain itself financially,” Assistant Manager Tom Hodgman GRD ’09 said. “Timber harvesting can be very beneficial for many types of habitats. We cut less than we could.”
But Yale did not always view the forest as an indispensable environmental haven.
In the early 1970s, under former University President Kingman Brewster, Jr., Yale considered moving the campus into Myers Forest in response to the increasing social and economic problems in New Haven, but the administration eventually decided against it.
Now, decades later, outside developers are looking to change Myers Forest from an exclusively educational forest to one featuring residential and business development sites as well.
The Cheshire County Board of Commissioners threatened to use eminent domain to seize 25 acres of Yale Tourney Forest in 2006 for the construction of a new county jail.
By law, the government can appropriate private property to use it for the benefit of the larger community, but after a series of demonstrations against encroachment last year, Yale officials said they are not worried about losing Myers Forest anytime in the near future.
“The Yale Forests are under continued commercial threat, but unless the Yale administration decides to sell the land, it’s safe,” forest historian Philip Marshall GRD ’08 said. “The forests are entirely dependent on what Yale chooses to do with them.”
Despite the continued efforts toward preservation, however, Marshall said few students from Yale College or schools outside of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies use the forest for research or leisure.
Still, the University’s main priority in maintaining the land is providing ground for research and timber harvesting, not necessarily creating another park for students, Hodgman said.
“We don’t advertise the forest because we have research and timber harvesting going on,” he said. “We don’t put up signs saying, “Go hiking on these trails!’ ”
Yale forests are always open to students who come to the forest for educational purposes, but Assistant Director Ann Camp said officials actively discourage students or residents from using the forest for non-educational reasons.
Yale Forests charge $250 per day to rent out their facilities, and they require a Yale Forest employee to be present at all times during the rental.
But one official said it is regrettable that students find it difficult to take advantage of the University’s abundant environmental resources because of the restrictions and rules in place at the forests.
“The forest could be better utilized by the University,” Hodgman said. “It’s a bureaucracy — you have to jump through all the hoops to use the facility.”
Recent years have brought some of Yale’s annual Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips to the Blue Trail in Myers Forest.
“It’s a beautiful forest,” said Daniel Newman ’11, who participated in a four-day Blue Trail FOOT trip. “They were doing a lot of experiments, and we weren’t supposed to touch a lot of things in the woods, but there was an abundance of wildlife.”
In addition to FOOT trips, a film production company and a Yale secret society have also expressed interest in using Myers Forest in the past, Hodgman said.