July 14, 2013

Managing New York's forests

Richard Gast, Cornell Ag Connection

— Did you know there’s more forest land in New York State than in any other state in the Northeast? New York is comprised of roughly 30 million acres of land, of which almost 19 million acres, or 63 percent, is forest.

Our forests provide serenity and scenic beauty. They bolster our quality of life, offering wilderness and natural settings for leisure and recreation. They are home to an incredible diversity of tree, plant and wildlife species and are a source of much of the state’s clean drinking water.

New York’s forests also provide significant economic contributions, both in terms of employment and as a driver of economic activity. According to Cornell University, New York’s forest industry employs more than 60,000 people and contributes roughly $4.6 billion, more than 7 percent, of the state’s total manufacturing productivity to our gross economic output.

The Empire State Forest Products Association (ESFPA) says the number of New Yorkers employed in direct, indirect and induced jobs from forest-products manufacturing is 67,456 with a total payroll of just over $2.5 billion, and the industry contributes $8.8 billion to the state gross product.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the economic contribution of forest-products-related manufacturing and services in New York is $14 billion. That makes New York one of the nation’s leading producers of paper, furniture, lumber and other wood-related products.

Forest-related tourism, travel and recreation contribute as well. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) credits forest-related tourism with pumping $1.9 billion a year into local economies. Our forests draw travelers from all over the world. They come to sit beside mountain streams, picnic on lakeshores, hike, fish, hunt, camp, ride mountain bikes, kayak, canoe, stargaze, leaf peep; you name it.

DEC manages about 4.7 million acres of publicly owned forest, including 2.6 million acres in the Adirondack Park and the 287,500-acre Catskill Forest Preserve. Roughly 75 percent of forest is in the hands of private landowners. Those who have properly managed their woodland resources own some of the most productive forestland in the country and are benefiting from significant financial return, rich wildlife habitat and a wealth of recreational opportunities that serve both the landowners and the community.

Unfortunately, many forest owners never even take the first step in managing their property. No doubt a lot of them would like to protect and enhance their forest resources, but hesitate to do so due to a lack of time or knowledge.

Others high-grade or clear cut their forests for fast cash. High-grading is the practice of removing the trees with the highest market value. While this results in immediate financial gain, it sacrifices long-term quality. The remaining trees, which represent the seed source for future forests, are often malformed or diseased, slow-growing, small, less desirable species and/or less suited to the site. Only poor-quality trees remain and the value of subsequent harvests is reduced.

Well planned timber harvesting employs removal of both high-and low-value trees. Trees that are poorly formed or lacking vigor are taken out, although some hollow or large crooked trees may be left behind as dens for wildlife. This requires more effort and results in less profit now, but the long-term benefits can include a healthier, more productive stand that is much more aesthetically pleasing and offers a steady supply of firewood, improved wildlife habitat and greater sustainable profitability, producing revenue at regular intervals — every five, 10 years, 15 years — forever.

When creating a management plan, the goals should be clear, direct and realistic. Let’s say improving habitat and recreation are among them. For a hunter, that might mean creating and managing food plots in clearings and cutting to create browse and/or sightlines for deer stands. For a birdwatcher, it may mean leaving old-growth forest, favoring trees that will attract desired species and creating clearings with dead trees to attract cavity nesters. For a hiker, it could mean creating walking trails.

To find out more about creating a forest management plan, contact your local DEC or Cornell Cooperative Extension office and consider becoming a member of the New York Forest Owners Association (

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy; agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email