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Readers' response to columns is enlightening

One of the perks of writing a column like this is the contact it gives me with so many readers. Over the years, my mail has increased steadily.

The columns that bring the most response are those that raise issues. Chief among them was my argument against spending money to modify a fence around a Williamsville cemetery to protect deer from being impaled. While a number of writers decried my inhumanity toward deer, I am pleased to note that they ran 4-to-1 in agreement with my position.

Many wrote about the damage being done to their property by deer, others about more general concerns. Lewis Crowell argued, "Go to any forest in northern Pennsylvania. Instead of a rich variety of undergrowth, we usually find a monotonous sea of hay-scented fern -- or no undergrowth at all. Where would the many warbler species that require undergrowth have a chance to nest in this biological desert?"

But even those who opposed me offered views with which I agree. Margaret Spittler and Diedre Wilczak suggest that we shouldn't be killing coyotes, animals that provide natural deer control.

My column about the Pat McGee Trail was also controversial. I recommended development of a trail following the abandoned railroad tracks from Hamburg to Springville. Here again I received general support, but a number of the letters came from two groups: those living near an opened trail section and those living near a proposed trail section. The first group spoke unanimously about its favorable experiences with the trail despite initial misgivings, all of which never came to fruition; the second group detailed only those same concerns.

Norma Stevenson wrote in early 2011 about the possible reversal of global warming last winter: "I have been wondering about the long, severe winter that we had all over the world. Has that severe weather affected the Arctic regions also? Has the ice cap regained any of its former coverage, giving some relief to the threatened polar bears and other cold weather animals?"

Her letter is, of course, placed in perspective by our more recent experience, but the answer was the same even last year. Ice loss has continued and the lasting effects of long-term climate change are not ameliorated even by widespread weather extremes.

My favorite responses were those to two of my columns: the first about the decline in firefly populations. Readers set me straight. Last summer, it seems, was the best for regional fireflies in many years. The second was about the rarity of red-headed woodpeckers. Some readers even have them coming to their feeders. I am, of course, delighted.

I mentioned in one column wanting to retrace Joseph Ellicott's hike around the Holland Land Purchase in 1797. A number of readers expressed interest in this endeavor but, despite considerable effort, I have been unable to find any record of this trip.

Several readers commented on the number of turkey vultures around, and indeed this year more than 12,000 were counted during migration at the Hamburg Hawk Watch.

Others simply shared their personal feelings about nature. One of my favorites was from Roberta Bluestein: "I personally find it not only physically invigorating, but also an emotional tonic to spend time outdoors, not looking for anything in particular but enjoying everything in general. I have passed some of that on to my older children, and now am trying to teach the little ones."

I thank each of you for your interest. Please continue to send me your thoughts and your photos in 2012.