NY Young Forest Initiative Benefits Future of Forests

Commentary in the Albany Times Union by Kathy Moser, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Natural Resources, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, in response to NY's Young Forest Initiative: Nice Name, Bad Idea, by Moishe K. Blechman, a member of the Climate Crisis Committee, Atlantic Chapter, Sierra Club.

Given questions regarding the Department of Environmental Conservation's young forest initiative, we thought it important to set the record straight on our science-based initiative to advance forest management in Wildlife Management Areas across New York to enhance habitat and improve forest health.

The young forest initiative provides multiple benefits, from restoring populations of declining species to sustaining forests for future generations. Launched to help declining species such as American woodcock and eastern box turtle, New York's young forest initiative is part of a collaborative, 18-state effort to create young forest habitat to benefit more than 50 at-risk species.

Learn about an exciting project to create young forest for a beleaguered local population of New England cottontails at Cranberry Mountain WMA at the juncture of New York's Putnam and Dutchess counties.

The initiative applies forest management principles to wildlife conservation with the goal of managing at least 10 percent of forested habitat as "young forest," with trees and shrubs less than 10 to 20 years old. Most forested habitat on WMAs (about 120,000 acres total) is mature — with trees ranging from 50 to 140 years old — and not all species can survive in these conditions.

Diversity in forest age, composition and structure is key to wildlife conservation and fostering resilient, healthy forests. While naysayers assert that clear-cutting disrupts forest ecology, DEC's strategic disturbances create diversity and are integral to forest dynamics on a landscape scale.

young forest at Cranberry Mountain WMA

Important young forest habitat created on Cranberry Mountain WMA in New York's Hudson River Valley, to benefit a beleaguered population of New England cottontails./Amanda Cheeseman

In fact, DEC's management decisions are carefully designed to mimic natural disturbances that benefit target wildlife species, while avoiding impacts to soil and water resources. These cuts are not deforestation; they regenerate our forests and create an ecologically sound mosaic of forest ages and habitats with huge benefits to wildlife.

For example, at the Doodletown WMA, the state acquired the area to conserve the New England cottontail, an at-risk species. A management plan will guide creation of cottontail habitat using best practices for forest and shrubland management with the desired outcome of a dense thicket of young tree seedlings, saplings, shrubs and herbaceous plants, appropriately overtopped by mature trees.

In addition, when strategically planned and implemented, forest management can be carbon-neutral or result in even greater carbon sequestration, as younger trees more quickly sequester carbon. New York is a leader in the fight to mitigate climate change, and the young forest initiative is an important complement.

New York's forests face many challenges. Trees that sprouted in the early 1900s are approaching the end of their life span. Forest pests and invasive species abound. The Young Forest Initiative is helping our forests grow into the future.