By Gwendolyn Craig
New Yorkers have a once-in-a-decade shot to provide opinions about managing forestlands as an action plan is set for an update this summer.
The plan is required for all states under the federal Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, and is intended to address conservation, enhancement and values of the state’s public and private forests.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft this month. It shows a heavy reliance on New York’s trees to help fight climate change, especially in light of the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The act, passed last year, aims to reduce the state’s fossil fuel emissions by 85% by 2050. But it also addresses the economic opportunity that forests provide in their timber.
While the document is largely an assessment of New York forests, it also identifies goals that include: keeping forests as forests; keeping forests healthy; and ensuring that forests benefit humans and wildlife. Some suggested strategies include restoring forest connectivity in areas that are fragmented; managing recreational impacts; and working with private landowners to manage their forests.
Leaving trees or harvesting them has always been a balancing act in New York, and that continues with this draft. Some groups are advocating for the state to provide incentives to private forestland owners. Some want the incentives for keeping trees — and storing carbon in them — while others want them for sustainable harvesting.
“The future of our forests affects every one of us, and I encourage New Yorkers to review the plan and provide feedback to ensure all voices are heard in this process,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a news release.
DEC will accept public comments through April 3. It will also hold a public hearing on the draft later this month.
Submit plan comments and attend or call in to a Feb. 26 public meeting in Albany.
A number of groups are part of drafting this 10-year plan, including the New York Society of American Foresters. David Newman, chair of the organization and interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said the foresters are pleased with the draft overall.
“They dealt with a lot of the forest-landowner issues and management issues that we’re dealing with, as important concerns for the state,” Newman said of the plan’s writers. “It all comes down to implementation, but that’s not the action plan.”
Newman said the state, in general, is growing more timber than it is harvesting.
He found it interesting, he said, when the draft mentions landowners’ expectations for owning forestland, and “not very high on the list is commercial timber.”
According to the draft report, about 74% of New York’s forests are privately owned, and about 83% of New York’s forests are considered timberland—that is, capable of being harvested.
Financial incentives, Newman suggested, could nudge private landowners to sustainably harvest their property, providing more jobs and economic growth. While there are some programs out there, there are acreage restraints that may be keeping owners of smaller parcels from participating.
John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, had a different take.
“Not all private forests are managed for timber production,” Sheehan said, in an email. “It is clear that these lands have value in terms of curbing climate change. Currently, the state lacks a mechanism to reward carbon sequestration by private land owners who don’t harvest their trees.”
That’s something the Council would like to see, “given the state’s aggressive timetable for carbon reductions.”
The plan also addresses invasive species affecting trees, including hemlock woolly adelgid, emerald ash borer and spotted lanternfly. Deer are also a highlight of the report, as their populations increase and their grazing and browsing of vegetation can stall regeneration of forests.
A section on the Adirondack Park states that it is the “largest reserve of natural communities of plant and animal life in the eastern United States” and also “the largest percentage of both industry-owned and publicly-owned forest land in New York state.” Over the past 20 years, between 50,000 and 60,000 parcels were newly subdivided in the park, which the draft report says was because “second home buyers/builders scrambled for lots adjacent to or near forever-wild Forest Preserve land.”
“Homes, condominiums, lawns, septic systems and boat ramps are degrading or destroying water quality, habitat, and the scenic landscape,” the report reads. “Public access to rivers and lakeshores is completely severed in some areas.”