October 30, 2003

C.U. Promotes Sustainable Land Stewardship

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For anyone who has ever climbed a tree, built a tree fort or happily wandered through sun-dappled woods on a summer day, Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources is working to preserve New York State’s forests by promoting sustainable land stewardship.

New York’s trees send their roots down into about 18.6 million acres of land, holding aloft branches across 62 percent of the state. Cornell’s natural resources department has received a $179,204 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to educate the small forest owners who own 85 percent of New York’s woodlands.

“Sustainable land stewardship is being able to use wisely the resources that come from the forest — wildlife, timber, water — in a way that you don’t degrade the ability of the land to reproduce these resources,” said Peter Smallidge, project leader and state extension forester in the natural resources department. “It means that you can cut trees, but you need to make sure you continue to grow a healthy forest. It means you can put in roads or trails for recreation or logging, but you need to do it without polluting the streams and rivers.”

The grant is a part of the Forest Land Enhancement Program created in 2002 with the federal Farm Bill. FLEP includes three strategies for promoting sustainable forestry among small forest owners: financial assistance, technical assistance and education. Cornell is involved in the educational and technical aspects of the program.

Small forest owners are people who own private wooded land and do not use it for industrial purposes. According to Smallidge, there are about 500,000 small forest owners in New York.

“A majority of the forest land in New York State is owned by private landowners, so reaching these people with information about good sustainable forest management is critical to the health of our forests statewide,” said Kristi Sullivan, education program coordinator and extension associate for the natural resources department.

FLEP’s first-year plan is to educate small landowners “about the value of sustainable forestry, the existence of the program and how they can use it,” Smallidge said.

One aspect of this educational campaign is the Master Forest Owner program, which provides small forest owners with information and resources to manage their land wisely. Master Forest Owners are volunteers who go through a four-day training program to learn to assist their neighbors.

“About eight years ago a friend of mine … told me he thought I would enjoy it,” said Jerry Michael, ’59, Master Forest Owner and board member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Broome County. “I had recently retired so I signed up for the class. I enjoyed it very much and I think that the program has been one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of my retirement since then.”

Michael, who owns 40 acres of woods in Whitney Point, is one of 150 Master Forest Owners who meet with small forest owners and answer questions about their woodlots.

“They’re always an interested audience,” Michael said. “They pay rapt attention and are always very thankful for the information. I’ve had people videotape the visit so they don’t miss a word. They get a lot out of it, but I enjoy it too. I enjoy meeting new people, talking about a subject I am personally interested in and making a contribution. I don’t get paid, but people give me pies and cookies and even potted plants.”

Other educational efforts include articles, workshops, a website, direct mailings and a brochure about sustainable forestry.

Often woodlot owners considering harvesting timber seek information from Master Forest Owners and the Cooperative Extension. According to Sullivan, because New York’s forests are maturing there are more opportunities to harvest timber for profit, which can help landowners who struggle financially to keep their property.

“If not conducted properly, [forest management] can result in negative consequences, but if conducted in a sound way, it can benefit both the landowner and the health of the forest and wildlife,” Sullivan said.

Smallidge and the natural resources department will also be involved in hiring two foresters, based in Allegany and St. Lawrence counties, as a part of the technical aspect of the program. These foresters will work with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation foresters to counsel landowners.

The overall message of the program is the importance of sustainable forest management, and the main goal is to educate the public on this issue.

“Forests are an incredible resource for the state, not just the people who own them,” Smallidge said. “It’s critical that private forest land is managed in a sustainable way. If it’s exploited, we could really alter the landscape of New York State.”

Archived article by Katy Bishop