Letter to the Editor: The politics of trees


I live in Newfield but would like to share my concerns about the “Old Growth” effort. I’m particularly concerned about how the legislators politicized the issue with an emotional appeal rather than informing people of the processes of forest ecology.

I am not a forester by profession, I’m a tree person who is engaged in learning the processes of forest ecology and management. I do manage a small woodlot and have noted significant changes since 1985 when we purchased this land. The last eight years or so I have been active on the steering committee of the local chapter Southern Finger Lakes of New York Forest Owners Assoc. In 2010 I was trained as a Master Forest Owner Volunteer and have assisted other landowners in learning what resources are available for them so that they could begin to make informed decisions about the woodlot/forest management.

These forested lands in Newfield and Caroline were highly degraded by poor agricultural practices from the original soils. The soils are classed as fair to poor for tree growth. The current stands are poor quality trees that for the most part can’t be nursed back to an old growth status. While the red pine was planted on the land were native to the Cayuga Basin, when the Cayuga Flora was published (1926) it was an infrequent tree, growing on the slightly heavier soils on dry hills and ravines in sandy or stony sterile soils. The idea of creating an old growth forest by letting nature take its course through no or little management is seemingly appealing.

It is generally agreed that our forests are in a fair to poor condition. New threats to the natural development of our forests include: overpopulation of deer, diseases, insects and invasive plants. While deer damage wasn’t a major problem in 2007 when the management survey was done. The populations of deer have since increased. New studies have created methods to measure the understory (wildflower, tree seedlings, and invasive plants) and create a metric to guide management decisions.

There are currently 46 acres managed for old growth characteristics in the current plan. The managers are also investigating what sites could be managed for old growth characteristics, rather than legislating inappropriate forest management practices. Any major change in management purposes would require a change in the county law as noted in the Forest Plan: “Restrictions on Ownership: County Law, Article 5, Section 219, entitled “Reforested Lands”, states that lands acquired for purposes of reforestation shall be forever devoted to the purposes of watershed protection, development of oil and gas retrieval, the production of timber and forest products, and recreation and kindred purposes. However, if it wishes, the County may convey the land to the State of New York without charge.”

While carbon sequestration is an important issue the forest would be better served by managing for better health and resiliency, rapidly growing healthy trees would better serve carbon absorption and sequestration than poorly grown trees and understories with deer browsed seedlings and invasive species. The treetops and trees with poor form - poor genetics, can be felled and left on site to provide wildlife habitat and eventually serve to feed the next forest.

There is a unique opportunity to manage our woodlands, but let us do it with an understanding of the science of forest ecology. Perhaps some of the money from the logging could support research projects and/or demonstration projects such as: deer exclosures or exploration of management strategies.

Lewis Ward


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