Young Forest Initiative Project

Young Forest Initiative Project

Myranda Davis

Mayhood's Sporting Goods

CHENANGO COUNTY – Diverse habitats directly relate to the establishment of diverse species. This is the goal of the Young Forest Initiative Project developed by various partners including organizations such as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Audubon New York, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Ruffed Grouse Society and more.

Young forests are 0-10 years old and are characterized by dense undergrowth and early successional species. In the past young forests were naturally created through fires, logging, landscape changes, flooding, and more. These natural occurrences are not happening at a frequency great enough to create a lot of young forest habitat any more. Therefore, many groups and agencies are stepping in to create forest management plans that will establish more of this habitat.

Currently about 63% of the New York landscape is forested according to the NYSDEC. The NYSDEC has set a goal to increase young forest habitat within Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). They plan to make 10% of forested habitat in WMAs young forests. This will result in the creation of approximately 12,000 acres of young forest habitat statewide out of the 120,000-forested acres within WMAs. The creation of young forests will be accomplished primarily through timber cuts.

There are plans underway to monitor the response of various species to the forest management practices. The focus would be on species that are at risk due to the decline of this habitat as well as popular game species.

Vegetation surveys will be conducted as well to monitor the growth of various species and to watch for the growth of any invasive species as well. Species that would benefit from young forest habitat include ruffed grouse, the American woodcock, New England Cottontail, Golden-Winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Wild Turkey, Eastern box turtle, smooth green snake, and more.

I have witnessed first hand the biodiversity that is generated by the establishment of forests in different stages of growth. I spent a summer working on the Missouri Forest Ecosystem Project where they were monitoring the effects of different timber cuts on various species. They had several crews monitoring plants, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, and birds. I was on the crew monitoring neotropical migrants (song birds that migrate to the tropics during winter months).

Every morning at 4 a.m., I would be out of the truck with my boots on the ground, already hard at work. Each bird species has it’s own specific song that it produces. Therefore, it is possible to identify bird species that are present simply by listening. This is the easiest method especially for small songbirds that can be difficult to spot in dense undergrowth and in the canopies.

Birds use their song to establish a territory and of course to attract a mate. I would cover as much of a designated area as possible each morning and record the various species present along with their location. We also searched for nests and monitored them to see if they were successful. On occasion we trapped birds in mist nets to collect more specific data and marked the birds with a unique leg band in the event that they might be recaptured at another location or even the following year.

During the many hours that I spent bush whacking to conduct surveys there was an obvious difference in the songbird species that were present within young forests versus mature forests. Young forests had an abundance of species such as Yellow-Breasted Chats, Eastern Towhees, Indigo buntings, Prairie Warblers, Hooded warblers, and White-eyed Vireos. Mature forests on the other hand had very different species present. These include the Pileated Woodpecker, Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Acadian Flycatcher.

While I did not study the plant species that were present in each area like the botany crews, I did observe obvious differences. In sections that were clear-cut 1-3 years prior, the vegetation was extremely dense. Bush whacking through these areas was a bear. There were vines, a wide variety of herbaceous plants (many with thorns), and some areas had dense stands of small early-growth trees that you had to push your way through. It was very obvious to me why some species would prefer such habitats as it provided excellent cover.

Mature forests however, had large old growth trees with very little undergrowth. Bush whacking through these areas was a walk in the park after spending a day in the early growth stands. After spending hundreds of hours on this project the need for various stages of forest habitats was very clear.

If you would like to check out an area that has been managed by the DEC as part of the Young Forest Initiative, go to the Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area. A portion of this area has been managed to establish young forest habitat. This Wildlife Management Area consists of over 4,169 acres. It is located about 10 miles Southeast of Sherburne. This initiative that is being undertaken by several organizations is sure to increase the biodiversity of species present within our state.


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