Farming Magazine - August, 2013

WOODLOTS

New York State of Mind

NYFOA celebrates 50th anniversary, looks to the future
By Patrick White


At a recent event of the Capital District Chapter of NYFOA, forester Tony Lamberton led a woods walk in Buskirk, N.Y. Participants viewed a recent selective timber harvest and learned about techniques to manage deer overbrowsing. Lamberton also discussed the benefits of small clear-cuts to remove invasives and encourage the regeneration of desirable trees.
Photos courtesy of NYFOA.

To many people, the words "New York" conjure up images of skyscrapers. But according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the state is 63 percent forested. That's nearly 19 million acres of forestland, and of that total, 76 percent (14.4 million acres) is privately owned by about 687,000 landowners.

These facts make the point that there are a lot of woodlots in New York. If you own forested land in the Empire State, there's a group with the resources and expertise to help you learn about and implement sustainable management practices. According to its stated mission, the New York Forest Owners Association (NYFOA) is a nonprofit group of "people who care about New York state trees and forests and are interested in the thoughtful management of private forests for the benefit of current and future generations."

NYFOA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and president Jim Minor says the group is always looking to welcome new members. There is no requirement that new members own any forestland, though most do. Some own small woodlots, others more vast tracts. "About 25 percent of our members own zero to 50 acres, and we have about a dozen members who own over 1,000 acres. So it's a broad spread of people, and they come from all walks of life," says Minor. He adds that there is also great diversity in the forest management objectives of the membership.

One of the main things that draws woodlot owners to join NYFOA is the group's dedication to education. "Part of our mission is to promote good forest stewardship. We are not a conservation organization; we work with conservation organizations, but one aspect where we differ is our understanding of the respect for landowner rights," Minor explains. NYFOA encourages stewardship and can offer information and recommendations, "but ultimately it is the landowner who has to decide what is right for them and their situation," he adds.



In May, NYFOA held more than 30 woods walks across the state as part of its Restore New York Woodlands initiative. Tours of local woodlots provide an opportunity for firsthand education on the challenges in regenerating the Northeast's third-generation forests.

The NYFOA is broken into 10 regional chapters, each offering its own set of programs. "Those usually consist of woods walks and educational programs," says Minor. The woods walks present a great opportunity to visit different woodlots to meet and learn from fellow members, as well as experts. As just one example, Minor recounts a recent event of the Western Finger Lakes chapter he attended that included a trip to the Geneva experimental station. "They have several thousand apple trees and do seed selection and conduct woody biomass projects; there was a lot to learn," he says.

Another way valuable information is communicated to members is through NYFOA's bimonthly magazine, called New York Forest Owner magazine. In addition to the regional chapter events, an annual statewide gathering provides a chance for all NYFOA members to get together and learn from each other. Awards are also presented at that gathering to honor those who have made invaluable contributions to NYFOA, either as an expert researcher or dedicated volunteer. One award given at the annual meeting is the Heiberg Award, which honors the founder of NYFOA, forestry professor Svend Heiberg. "He felt that education on forestry should extend beyond just the students in forestry schools and foresters - that a lot of this information should be broadly available to landowners," explains Minor. This award, appropriately, goes to a forest researcher/expert who has been exemplary in sharing their knowledge with others. The other major award is an Outstanding Service Award, given to a NYFOA member whose volunteer efforts for the association have gone above and beyond.



NYFOA members staff booths at county fairs and other agricultural events in New York to spread the message of good forest stewardship to woodlot owners and the general public.

The association's website always showcases a member profile (at the time of this writing, it was a profile of Fox News host Stuart Varney, who owns 1,000 acres in New York) and past profiles are archived, making for an interesting look at the different woodlot owners who make up NYFOA.

Minor says that, no matter their forest management objectives, there are plenty of things for woodlot owners to learn through NYFOA. For example, Minor says, "While for many of our members timber is not a primary (or even secondary) reason for owning their property, oftentimes at some point they will participate in a timber sale. Without some guidance, an uninformed sale can be disastrous." One of the benefits of NYFOA membership is the opportunity to learn the right way, and the wrong way, to proceed with a timber harvest.



The NYFOA logo.

"Selling timber to someone who knocks on your door and offers you what seems like big bucks for your trees is somewhat akin to selling your home to someone who 'Buys Houses for Cash!'" he adds. "Hiring a reputable forester who works for you [not on consignment from a mill] is, in almost every case, well worth their fees. The forester will look at not only what is taken, but more importantly what is left for the future, oftentimes securing more money for the owner than what was originally offered."

One of NYFOA's current major initiatives is called "Restore New York Woodlands," a program to bring attention to forest health problems and find solutions. "We wanted to find a way to get more people out in the woods, more than just our own members, but also other forest owners and the general public," explains Minor. The initiative provides background information on the history of forests in New York. The state was nearly 100 percent forested prior to being settled, but dropped to less than 20 percent forested land in the late 1800s. When farms died off, the forest that returned - second generation - was relatively healthy, he explains. However, now that a third generation of forest is coming, there are problems appearing.

"This time, the mix is decidedly different than it was in the past, and that is primarily due to poor regeneration practices following harvests. And another primary problem is deer. Before settlers there were deer, but there were also cougars and wolves in the woods," says Minor. Without that natural population control, browsing deer are devastating the regeneration of many species, such as maple and oak. "Then, there are invasives, so the little seedlings are often struggling to come up through a heavy cover of invasive plants," he notes.

Through the Restore New York Woodlands initiative, NYFOA hopes to make people more aware of these challenges in regenerating the Northeast's third-generation forests and help forest owners address the situation in their own woodlots.

To help confront these types of challenges on a statewide scale, NYFOA is active on issues of policy and legislative affairs impacting woodlot landowners. Historically, there has been a committee within the association that tracks these issues, and NYFOA was a founding member of the Council of Forest Resource Organizations (CFRO), which organizes a forest awareness day in Albany each year. "We also have representatives on the New York State Invasive Species Council," adds Minor, and a NYFOA member is serving on a recently established NRCS Forest Council. What he would like to see is a more active role by NYFOA in promoting the interests and positions of the association on behalf of its members. "We have members across the state, so we can get the attention of legislators across the state. We can have a broad grassroots presence," Minor says. "I think we can be even more proactive."

Another current NYFOA objective is attracting a new generation of landowners to the group. "We are not some sort of clique; we welcome everyone," emphasizes Minor, while at the same time acknowledging that "it's a struggle" to bring younger members into NYFOA. "To attract more younger members we have recently done things like get a presence on Facebook, and [we] make sure our website is regularly updated and current," he explains. It's also now possible to join the association electronically through the NYFOA website, something woodlot owners of all ages in New York could benefit from doing. To learn more about the group and its activities, visit http://www.nyfoa.org.

Patrick White is a freelance writer based in Middlesex, Vt. Over the past 10 years, he has covered a wide range of agricultural operations around the Northeast. He is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories. Comment or question? Visit http://www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.