As I make the drive from my suburban home to my country property – a 75-acre woodlot in the northern part of Allegany County, New York – I reflect on that piece of land with great pride. It had been mismanaged for years before I purchased it in 1985. The property was abandoned as farmland in the 1950s, except for a 15-acre parcel kept in production until the 1970s. That area saw its final plowing in 1971 and was then mechanically planted with 15,000 conifers (pine, spruce, and fir). At that time, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was recommending such plantings to stabilize soil and improve wildlife habitat. In retrospect, we know that this was not a good policy. Today, the stand is a sterile monoculture with little economic or ecological value. The remainder of the property was left to natural succession and, thanks to recent management work, it is now a beautiful northeastern deciduous forest.
I purchased this property solely as a hunting camp. I really didn’t know much about trees or what timber management was until state forester Paul Kretser evaluated my property around 1990. He explained that by taking an active stewardship role I could improve the deer habitat (and by extension the deer hunting) while also building an investment in timber. That concept changed my world. He drew up a 10-year management plan and I went to work.
I started by improving access to the property by building a series of trails and roads. Then I started wildlife habitat improvements. I clearcut approximately five acres to create early successional habitat and released roughly 50 apple trees. I initially decided to put two of those clearcut acres into a small Christmas tree plantation. Big mistake! After eight years trimming and nurturing those 300 trees (most of which I gave away), I converted the area into a wildlife food plot consisting of clover, chicory, and brassica. Now I till that plot on a two-year cycle and often enjoy visits by wildlife.
Elsewhere, I have completed a number of timber stand improvement projects. This work was largely facilitated by federal cost share programs administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. State foresters marked the cull trees. My friends and I put them on the ground and turned them into firewood. The improvement was remarkable. Now I see tall, clear crop trees with good spacing and open crowns. I also began controlling woody invasives like multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and grapevines through cut stump and basal bark herbicide treatments. This involves applying an herbicide (I use triclopyr or glyphosate) on the cambium of a cut stump or on the bottom six inches of trees with a diameter of eight inches or less. I reduced American beech regeneration with the same methods.
In addition to this work, I conducted two “worst first” harvests to release high-value crop trees. I tackled these jobs on my own – cutting, skidding, and bidding out the sales. It was a valuable learning experience, but not a wise decision. In this case, selling logs on the landing was no more profitable than selling trees on the stump.
This year I am having a major timber harvest. Now that I am wiser, I have hired a consulting forester to bid out my veneer-grade black cherry, sugar maple, and red oak. He will conduct the sale from start to finish with a performance bond held in escrow. A stumpage sale is safer and a lot less work for me. My main concern is the presence of heavy logging equipment on the property. My sons and I have built and maintain miles of recreational trails, and I hope these will be intact after the logging operation is complete. The remaining slash will pose no problem, as I will leave most of the tops in place to shelter the regenerating tree seedlings. The forest should be ready for another selective harvest in about 15 years.
My efforts have produced some prime timber, excellent wildlife habitat, and better access. I am grateful to the forestry experts from the Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York Forest Owners Association, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension. With their assistance and instruction, I learned proper timber management. In kind, I have demonstrated these management practices to others through my volunteer work as a Master Forest Owner with the Cornell Cooperative Extension and through woodswalks on my land. My greatest satisfaction is that my two sons, a few friends, and I have carried out this work ourselves. This stewardship will provide benefits for years to come – even after I am gone. This forest is my pride and my legacy.
This series is underwritten by the Plum Creek Foundation, in keeping with the foundation’s focus on promoting environmental stewardship and place-based education in the communities it serves.