Managing New?York’s forests

Did you know that there is more forest land in New York state than in any other state in the Northeast? It’s a fact! New York is comprised of roughly 30 million acres of land, of which almost 19 million acres, or 63 percent of the state’s total landmass, is forest.

Our forests provide serenity and remarkable scenic beauty. They bolster our quality of life, offering wilderness and natural settings for outdoor leisure and recreation experiences. 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 contributions to state and local economies; both in terms of employment and as a driver of economic activity. According to Cornell University information, 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 says the number of New Yorkers employed in direct, indirect, and induced jobs from forest products manufacturing is actually 67,456, with a total payroll of just over $2.5 billion, and that the industry contributes $8.8 billion to the state gross product. According to the US Census Bureau, the economic contribution of forest products-related manufacturing and services in New York State is $14 billion. Any way you cut it, that makes New York one of the nation’s leading producers of paper, furniture, lumber and other wood and wood-related products.

Forest-related tourism, travel, and recreation contribute substantially, as well. In fact, the state Department of Environmental Conservation credits forest-related tourism with pumping $1.9 billion a year into local economies.Our forests, both public and private, draw tourists and 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 New York State forest, including the 2.6 million-acre Adirondack Park and the 287,500-acre Catskill Forest Preserve. The rest of our state’s forestland, roughly 75 percent, is in the hands of private landowners. Those who have properly managed their private 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 themselves and the community at large.

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 and/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. Take the best. Leave the rest. While this results in immediate, substantial financial gain for both the owner and the woodcutter, it sacrifices the long term quality of the forest. 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. As a result, only poor quality trees remain available and the value of subsequent harvests is significantly reduced.

Well planned timber harvesting, on the other hand, 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 den trees for wildlife. This requires more effort by both the forester and the logger and results in less profit now, but depending on your objectives, the long term benefits can include a healthier, more vigorous and productive stand that is much more aesthetically pleasing, a steady supply of firewood, improved habitat for both game and non-game species, and greater overall sustainable profitability, producing revenue at regular intervals?-?every five years, 10 years, 15 years -?forever.

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

Whatever your goals, everyone involved should participate, and a written set of goals that can be realized, using responsible forest management practices, should be developed. Once that is completed, achieving those goals should be relatively easy.

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 (

Take good care of your forest and your forest will take good care of you.