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2013 Forestry Roundtable Summary Proceedings by Sarah J. Hart

On October 15, 2013, a characteristically beautiful fall day, the woods still flush with color, seventy-five people – including landowners, scientists, state representatives, members of conservation groups, and those with business interests – gathered in the Adirondack Room of the Joan Weill Library on the campus of Paul Smith’s College for a round-table conference on forest management on private land in the Adirondack Park. A little more than 50 percent of land within the Blue Line – about three million acres – is in private ownership, so forestry practices on private land is a powerful force shaping the character of the Park. All attending the conference had in common what Daniel Spada, President of the Adirondack Research Consortium, pointed out in his welcome address: they were all tree huggers, in that each one valued trees and spent a great deal of time thinking about them, though their respective reasons for doing so and the context that they do so in varied. Every panelist scheduled to speak had vested interest in sustainable, healthy forests in the Adirondacks, and in the silvicultural practices that would maintain them. The goal of the conference was to share relevant data and information, identify differences in interpretation, and find shared ground on both the challenges and the opportunities for best practices in forest management.

After welcome remarks by Richard Nelson, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Paul Smith’s College, and Dan Spada, Ross Whaley, Adirondack Landowners Association, presented a summary of the 1980 proceedings of the “Timber Harvest in Private Adirondack Forests, Joint Government-Industry Conference.” That was the last time a similarly diverse group had gathered to discuss forest management practices on private land in the Adirondacks. At the time, an increase in clear-cut within the Park was anticipated. The discussion was shaped by this possibility, as well as concern over the increasing mechanization of lumber extraction. Whaley asked current conference attendees to consider the questions and topics raised in 1980 in light of what has or has not changed. Specifically, have forest conditions changed? Have ownership conditions and perhaps reasons for ownership changed? In 1980, conference attendees questioned what impact clear-cutting would have on the quality of forest as habitat as well as for industry, on forest soil and water health, and on the perception of forestry by the public. Was that, Whaley asked, still a pertinent question? In 1980 there had been a call for more research in order to quantify the impact of clear-cutting. Now, was there still this need? In 1980 conference attendees had been concerned that forestry practices were reducing the resilience of forests. What was the situation now? In 1980 concerns about forest management practices had centered on small-scale owners, not larger-scale ones. There had been concern about the access small-scale owners had to education about good forestry practices, as well as concern about the market incentives they faced. Were these concerns still relevant? There had been a plea, then, for better education to be made available to small-scale land owners. What is the state of information available now? Is information available to make compliance with regulations easy? Thirty years ago proposals for change in regulation had been met with a call for more research and data, Whaley said. Had there been a change of opinion over the past thirty years? Was there a sense now that there was enough data to make changes in policy?

Rob Davies, Director of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Division of Lands and Forests, spoke next, and offered some answers to the questions Whaley had posed. Since 1980 there had indeed been some significant changes in trends in land ownership. Specifically, many large-scale landowners with direct ties to pulp and paper mills in the region had divested their land base. There were new owners “on the block,” and therefore a variety of new silvicultural practices. This, he said, has led to concern in local communities and interest in seeing what private landowners are doing with their forests. There has been an increase in outreach to local landowners, organized field trips to see their forests and, subsequently, challenges and concerns voiced. This conference was, Davies said, timely.

In general, Davies said, forestry is more accepted by communities in the Park than by those outside. There are more certified forests, more large-family ownerships, and more large-scale foresters operating. However, there is still a lot of non-deliberate harvesting, harvesting without professional foresters, and very little participation in ‘green certification’ on the part of the family forest owners. This is evident despite the fact that obtaining reliable and concrete data about what actually is happening on private lands is challenging. New York State does not have mandated tracking and it’s actually difficult for the DEC to accurately answer such questions as: how much clear-cutting is there on private lands? How much forestry? What kind of harvesting is actually occurring and what is the nature of the residual forest after harvesting? This is all crucial information for the state to answer the overarching question: are Adirondack forests being “high graded?” (“High grading” refers to the removal of the most profitable trees at the expense of the overall forest.)

Davies concluded with the proposal that, given the current circumstances and trends in land ownership and forest management, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) should consider changing its clear-cutting policy. In terms of the modern day forest, the policy is inadequate. There are no stipulations for forests left standing, and the permitting process is too cumbersome. He hoped that the outcome of this meeting would be follow-through in areas of policy change.

Sloane Crawford, Program Leader of the Forest Utilization Program in the DEC, then gave an overview of the state of the forests as measured by data from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA). This program provides statewide forest inventory data for all states, based on permanent sample plots. There are approximately 3,000 of these plots established in New York.

Crawford presented data gathered on private, non-reserved forests primarily between the years of 1980 and 2012. The new data, collected between 2007 and 2012, is not yet available in hard copy but is on FIA’s online database, ELVALIDATOR.

Over the past three decades there has been an overall increase in hardwood forest type. Hardwood forest now accounts for 61 percent of the forested land in the 12-county North Country region. Crawford suggested that one explanation for this is that softwood plantations had been planted on hardwood sites and those sites were now reverting back to hardwoods.

One radical change revealed by the FIA data was that the acreage classified as seedling/sapling has dropped by half in the in the North Country, while there has been an increase in acres bearing pole- and saw-timber sized trees. The importance of that change, Crawford said, is what it indicates with respect to wildlife habitat and forest dynamics. In the North Country forest, private land has gone from being characterized by young forest to more mature forest. “We can’t rely on there being a natural return to increased seedling and sapling forests, Crawford said, unless we practice forestry that expressly encourages that.”

Since 1980 the net volume of forests – that is, the overall amount of standing wood fiber – has gone up. Crawford cautioned that when considering this data it was important to remember that the numbers said nothing about quality of wood, or about distribution. They provided simply a broad stroke measurement of bulk. The data also suggests that there are more Grade 1 trees in the North Country than there were in 1993. However, it is not possible to tell whether or not the increase in Grade 1 is due to trees meeting a certain size threshold, or from an increase in quality due to forest management activities. Tree quality data is clear in that there are more trees currently in the lowest quality class than there were in 1993.

FIA inventories also gathered data about tree species, though only trees above 5 inches DBH are counted in volume calculations. The data revealed that all measured commercial species had increased in number, with the exception of spruce and aspen. Crawford suggested that this was because the market in Canada for stud lumber had increased, and this had concentrated harvest pressure for spruce over a relatively short time period. Otherwise, there had been what he characterized as healthy increases in white pines, cherry, ash, and maple; although red maple numbers had doubled since 1980 while sugar maple volume grew by only about 60%. Again Crawford attributed this discrepancy to market demand. Sugar maple has been popular and where it was harvested red maple, more resilient and hardy, had filled the void. “You can start to see,” he said, “how FIA data could be used for providing long-term monitoring of forest management practices and other factors that contribute to forest dynamics.”

Crawford also provided the data on average annual growth-to-removals ratio. The removal rates take into account harvest, and also change in land use. Most removal, Crawford said, was because of harvest. In the 1993 inventory, which covered data from 1979 to 1992, the growth-to-removal rate on private lands in the North Country was 2.3 to 1. From 2007 to 2012, the ratio was 1.3 to 1, reflecting changes in harvest levels and forest dynamics.

The last slide of his presentation Crawford discussed the low-grade timber markets in the region, comparing those in operation between 1979 and 1992 with those operating in 2012. In the span of those years many had closed, but some new ones had come in. Since 1992, the overall harvest of low grade timber on private lands in the Northeast has gone up from an estimated 700 thousand to 800 thousand green tons.

The next two speakers – Michael Burger, Director of Conservation and Science for Audubon New York and Charlie Canham, from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies – discussed ecological issues involving forest management practices.

Mike Burger spoke on how forestry practices impact bird numbers and species distribution. Forestry practices change forest structure, which changes the nature of cover, the amount of woody debris, tree and plant species, and microclimate. These changes in turn affect the nature of and quantity of nesting substrate, possibly affect food supply, and, locally, change light, moisture, and temperature. Forestry practices trigger trophic cascades in the ecosystem that can be measured through their impact on birds.

First, Burger explained the terms used in study, clarifying the parameters that defined clear-cut, moderate- to partial-harvest, and mature forest. The Adirondacks, he said, are a very important breeding area, and he presented the list of birds that use the Park. The species were divided into three categories – those who prefer young forest (forest with dense shrub layer or understory and a more open canopy) generalists who didn’t care, and birds who prefer mature forest. He explained that the data came from 71 Northern Hardwood stands that had been logged at various intensities and were studied three to seven years post-harvest. Each stand was about 24.5 acres. The study measured relative abundance and richness of nesting birds, as well as abundance of amphibians and carrion beetles.

The study revealed that birds that prefer young forests were found to be nesting at higher richness and abundance in stands that had been logged more intensively (e.g., clear-cut) compared to unlogged or lightly harvested stands. In contrast, birds that prefer mature forests were found to be nesting at higher richness and abundance in stands that were unlogged or lightly harvested. The studies reveled that a greater variety of bird communities and a wider range of species prefer young forest habitat – that is forest regenerating from a disturbance like logging. Burger emphasized that the post-fledgling period is a time of high mortality for birds, and one when survival rate is highly influenced by environment. He shared results from other, newer studies that show that both birds that prefer mature forests and those that prefer immature forest for nesting gravitate to younger forests during the post-fledgling stage. In these younger forests, where denser understory provides protection, the young birds had higher survival rates and were in better condition, e.g., had more body fat. The data suggested then that clear-cut plots in general support bird survival and diversity. He cautioned, however, that the results also revealed that as forestry impact increased, although there was considerable increase in the birds that prefer young forest, there could be a decline in the numbers of birds that prefer mature forest.

The amalgamation of many studies suggest that for ideal bird habitat – for numbers as well as diversity of birds – the landscape should be 5 to 10 percent young forest, 10 to 15 percent intermediate forest, and 75 percent or more mature forest. According to the latest FIA data, only about 2 percent of the forests in Hamilton and Herkimer Counties is providing young forest habitat for birds.

One concern about forestry practices has been that clear-cutting will lead to fragmentation. Fragmentation is bad for most birds – except those that thrive in edge environments – because of increased exposure to predation and nest parasitism. For the most part, however, clear-cutting in large, heavily forested landscapes does not lead to fragmentation. In the Adirondacks, for example, clear-cuts have not led to isolated forest patches nor the problems associated with fragmentation.

Burger’s take-home message was that diversity of forest types, and a mix of age classes, is what is ultimately best for birds.

Charlie Canham’s presentation was about local verses regional impacts of forest management practices. Environmentalists, he said, typically focus on the local impacts of forestry practices. That is, they focus on aesthetics and the impact of any given harvest on the local wildlife, soil, streams, and lakes. Ecologists, on the other hand, are more concerned with regional impacts: the impact at a whole-landscape scale. What he wanted to discuss, he said, was the impact of forestry practices at the scale of the whole landscape. The central question for ecologists was what was happening to landscapes over a long period of time.

Ecological theory assumes that disturbance in an ecosystem is essential for diversity and abundance. Windthow is the dominant natural disturbance in the Adirondack region. Catastrophic windthow disturbance is anticipated only at intervals of 1,000 or more years. Smaller disturbances are more frequent, but for the last two centuries logging has been by far the most common form of disturbance in these forests. Logging accounts for 57 percent of all adult tree mortality in northeastern U.S. forests, and is the cause of 65 percent of removal of net growth.

While the public may perceive that clear-cutting is the predominant form of harvesting in northeastern forests, Canham pointed out that partial harvesting is by far the most common form of silviculture in the region. Most of the logging in the Park is partial and selective harvest: the targeting of trees of specific species and size. Harvesting is also typically concentrated within 300 to 500 feet from the nearest improved road. Forest inventory data show that, in some regions and in some forest types, as stand biomass goes up, the proportion of biomass removed actually declines. In addition, very large trees are less likely to be harvested. But while partial harvesting is less visible to the public than clear-cutting, the overall levels of removal of biomass from northern forests are currently very close to what can be sustainably harvested. If harvest levels exceed sustainable supply, regional forest carbon stocks will decline, and at the level of national policy, forests are valued as carbon sinks.

Canham closed by posing a series of questions to the rest of the attendees: Can even the “best” forest management practices, applied locally, result in undesirable changes at the regional scale? How will changes in market forces, landowner values, regulations, public policy, and incentives play out at the regional scale? And, how will those forces play out in the unique context of the Adirondack Park?

At this point there was a brief break and attendees had the opportunity to ask questions. One attendee asked why, given that there had been a call for more data and more information to be made available to landowners as far back as 1980, was there not more out there? Why wasn’t the sort of data being presented now more readily available to landowners, so that they could make better silvicultural decisions?

Rob Davies answered first, explaining that the DEC had had difficulty getting good data. The agency did not have good information from many parts of the Park. Canham’s reply was that the problem was not lack of data (“I’m drowning in data!” he exclaimed) but transferring that data into usable form for the people who need it and want it.

Another audience member asked about the accuracy of FIA data. Crawford replied that although FIA data was often broad stroke and that it should be interpreted with its omissions in mind, nonetheless, for what it did offer, it was reliable and valuable.

Next, conference attendees heard from two land managers: Sean Ross, Director of Forestry Operations for The Lyme Timber Company and Herb Boyce, the founder of Northwood’s Forest Consulting, LLC.

Lyme Timber is a private timberland investment management organization, and identifies itself as being focused on the acquisition and sustainable management of lands with unique conservation values. Lyme currently owns and operates 239,500 acres within the Park – that is the largest private land ownership in New York. Lyme Timber’s goal is to generate a reasonable return on its investment – that is, to get value from the land Lyme Timber believes that managing the land for healthy, sustainable forests and for good wildlife habitat is good business practice. Value is not just what is harvested. Value means healthy and diverse forests that provided good wildlife habitat. Acting as responsible stewards of the land makes sense from an investment standpoint, Ross said. Because Lyme Timber’s only asset is forestland, selling that land, at some point, is part of their investment. By maintaining a diverse, well-managed forest the company is maintaining an asset that others would also want to own. If one were to extract all the value from the forest it would be difficult to sell in the future.

Ross summarized some of what is different today compared to the forest management practices of 1973. Mills don’t own large tracts of land anymore. Most large tracts of forestland are owned by private timberland investors. There have also been big changes in forest management, including the introduction of forest certification systems. Working Forest Conservation Easements exist now, and there is an awareness of climate change and a desire to address it. The tools of forestry have changed also. For example, the widespread use of hand-held field computers and GPS – and there have been advancements in the technology and equipment used to actually harvest. Another major change has been the increase in access to markets for low-grade wood and the development of a global market place. “Our wood goes all over the world,” Ross said.

In order to identify best forestry practices, Lyme Timber gathers detailed historical and cultural knowledge about an area, as well as ecological knowledge. The company conducts forest inventories to determine species composition and to assess wildlife habitats. With that knowledge, Lyme determines sustainable harvest rates and best practices.

In large-scale land ownership the focus is at the landscape level. Forests are managed for structure and composition. At Lyme Timber, the focus is on improving regeneration success and species diversity, increasing age-class diversity, wildlife habitat, and protection of special management zones. “On portions of our property,” Ross said, “we are implementing more intensive treatments that will create larger canopy openings, with the goal of regenerating shade intolerant species.”

Lyme Timber has set a goal to maintain 5 percent young forest on their land, at all time. In areas dominated by beech regeneration, Lyme is implementing silvicultural clear-cuts, with the intent of starting the successional phase at time zero. But, Ross said, that sort of forestry impacted very few actual acres. Only 2 to 3 percent of acres that the company treated in a given year, or about 0.5% of the forested area of the property per year, are intensively clear-cut. He showed a photo of one such site two years after treatment and pointed out that it had become a meadow thick with berry bushes and young trees.

On any given harvest, 80 percent of the volume is some form of a low quality product (i.e. pulpwood and firewood that are not suitable for solid wood products like lumber). But that high volume of low-grade wood accounts for only 15 to 20 percent of the value. Higher value products, like saw logs and veneer logs, only account for 20 percent of the volume but contribute 80 percent of the value of a harvest. To only cut the high-value products, which are typically found in the tallest and best formed trees, and leave the low-grade wood, is short sighted and irresponsible forestry practice, and the company does not do it.

From a large-scale land owner’s perspective, because the land and the forests on it are a financial investment, an essential condition to enable sustainable forestry practice is access to markets for low-grade trees. It’s so important to cut low-grade trees – that’s an essential part of good forestry practice, Ross emphasized. But if the markets aren’t there, then from a business perspective it becomes more difficult to focus on improving the quality of our forest to the extent necessary for healthy forests. Ross expressed a desire for more support of local wood and wood products, in a similar vein as the support that exists for local agriculture or crafts. He wished that there was greater promotion of the value of using local wood for energy, products, or lumber.

Ross closed with a critique of the current regulatory atmosphere. The current timber harvesting regulations only regulate the people who are trying to do the right thing, he said. The APA’s existing clear-cut rule discourages land owners from practicing shelter wood establishment cuts, which are necessary to regenerate white pine, red spruce, balsam, and oak. He wished the state would consider changes to the definition and method of measuring of regeneration. “We need public policy that supports and encourages long-term, thoughtful resource management,” he said.

In response to a question from the audience, Ross explained that Lyme Timber anticipated selling their land in 10 to 15 years, and would likely sell to another investment company. Hence the incentive not only to maintain high value forestland – thereby ensuring salability – but also providing incentive to maintain diverse forest type. It was impossible to anticipate changes in the market, Ross said, so diverse forests offered investors more assurance that the company would be able to meet changing market demands.

Herb Boyce spoke next. His company, Northwood’s Forest Consulting, manages 80,000 acres. His clients’ properties range from five to several thousand acres, with the average holding size between 100 to 500 acres. What his clients want from their land ranges broadly, from better bird-watching habitats to long-term investments to pass down to future generations.

He and Deborah Boyce founded the business in 1990. One change that has impacted his business is the loss over the past several decades of sawmills and the capacity to process wood fiber locally. Trucks have to go much farther now – to Canada or Maine – and that cost, obviously, makes it less financially attractive, and sometimes even impossible, for some small-scale landowners to harvest low-grade wood. Some of his clients, he said, looked to timber harvest to help them offset the expense of land taxes. In current market conditions, there was considerable financial incentive to do selective harvests only for high-grade wood.

Other changes he’d seen included the loss of small scale contractors – now there were fewer, though they were larger and more mechanized. The machines currently used in timber harvest have been a good change, he said. Indeed, he’d seen many improvements in forestry practice over the years. And the reason for this was public pressure. He saw loggers implementing good practice on their own now, voluntarily.

Boyce listed some of the other challenges that he faced in trying to help small-scale landowners implement good forestry practices. One was maintenance of the necessary infrastructure. Often, he has had to replace or build proper culverts, bridges, and roads. This work requires complying with many regulations, which means a great deal of time spent in the permitting process. In the Adirondack Park, obtaining the necessary permits for this work involves working with several agencies. Also, historically, the forestry practices on small-scale land holdings have been selective harvesting. This has left most small lots with predominantly low-grade wood, which is the most difficult to manage responsibly and economically.

One major problem today is that land is considered financially valuable regardless of the condition of the forest on it. Many landowners harvest timber right before selling it. Even if they’ve done so in a way that significantly degrades the forest’s diversity, the value of the land is not impacted. Until land is valued more or less highly depending on the forest quality, market forces will push towards selective and partial harvesting.

Boyce and Ross took questions from the audience. Did they take out healthy beech as well as beech sickened with beech bark disease? Both Boyce and Ross said that that they left healthy beech intact. This made business sense, Ross said, because it was possible that at some point in the future there would be a demand for beech wood as, in the past, other woods have suddenly gained or lost popularity. Another question was on the nature of their interaction with loggers. Both answered that they had close and amicable relationships with the loggers they worked with. What about maple production? another audience member asked. Since maple sugar production is one of the forest-products that is on the rise, and growing rapidly, were either Boyce or Ross actively encouraging it? Ross answered that this was an area of growing interest, but for maple products to really become a major industry in New York, land owners will need to take the plunge and start building the necessary infrastructure. The last question was about education – did either Ross or Boyce educate smaller-scale landowners? Ross explained that this was something paper companies had done in the past as a way to gain access to pulpwood. Currently, he sees it as his responsibility as a large landowner to lead by example. And, as Boyce’s entire business entails working with small landowners in a consultancy role, the educational component is inherent.

Sally Bogdonovitch, Paul Smith’s College, remarked that some of the problems seen in the forest management on private lands might be attributable to the fact that few landowners retained land long enough to establish a long-term rapport with, and understanding of, the forest on their lands.

In the afternoon, Tom Martin, Regional Natural Resources Supervisor DEC Region 5; Rocci Aguirre, Director of Conservation, Adirondack Council; and Dan Plumley, Partner, Adirondack Wild, shared different perceptions of current forest management on private lands in the Adirondack Park.

Martin began by sharing his perspective on what he’d seen over the last several decades of forest management. There is now nineteen million acres of forest in the State of New York. In the six million acre Adirondack Park, three million acres are in Forest Preserve, about three million acres are in private ownership, of which one million acres are in large-scale private ownership, and about 800,000 acres are committed in permanent conservation easements.

Martin described the problems that he saw with forest management on private lands. Most recent data suggest that only 20 percent of logging done on private lands has a forester involved. It is important for landowners, loggers, and foresters to work together on a management plan. Another issue is “high grading.” On average people own land for seven years and before they sell many strip out the profitable trees – a “cut the best, leave the rest” practice otherwise known as “high grading.” If this practice occurs several times on a stand, the long-term degradation can be hard to recover from. It degrades the forest both in terms of timber value and as wildlife habitat. Repeated high grading reduces the value of the land. Sadly, a significant percentage of timber harvested on private lands is high graded.

A major problem is the public’s perception of logging. The public, by and large, accepts logging – as long as what’s left still looks like woods. There’s a lack of education or appreciation of what actually constitutes forest quality. A major challenge in the effort to encourage good forestry practices in the Adirondack Park is educating the public about the difference between actual good forestry practice and merely the perception of it.

So, what’s the answer? Martin asked. Reasonable regulations, good silviculture, and education for land owners and the public. “We’ve been trying for years,” he said. “And we have to keep trying.” He also noted a need for green certification and forestry licensing programs. Rocci Aguirre explained that although he was not a forester, and also only newly back to this part of the country, what he could contribute to the conversation was the perspective of an outsider, and one informed by eighteen years of experience in diverse conversations about complex environmental situations. He said that this dialogue, in the Adirondack Park, was different now in that there was more spanning of cultural boundaries. “We have to recognize that there are different cultures in the public at large,” he said. “We have to span boundaries – getting not just one perspective, but all perspectives.” If indeed this was happening, “then we’re moving in the right direction,” Aguirre said.

A defining feature of the Park is the intersection of public and private lands. Aguirre said that he foresaw that it was on the private lands within the Park that important change would happen. He acknowledged that the process of change was slow, but pointed out that one benefit of this was that it helped preserve the integrity and character of the park. Change did, however, need to come, he said. It was essential to have policy that supported good practice – good for private land owners, and good for ecology. Something he felt that would aid that process was faster synthesis of data.

Dan Plumley spoke next. He noticed that many in the conversation were moving away from the term environmentalist. He, however, claimed this label proudly. He had been trained as a forester, and he was also an environmentalist. To be a good forester you had to be an environmentalist, he said. Foresters were stewards – and not just of trees, but also of landscape, streams, soil and the rest of the ecosystem. He disagreed with Dr. Canham’s characterization of environmentalists as only focusing locally and ecologists looking at the bigger picture.

Plumley said that he wanted to register some concern regarding certain aspects of the conversation at the conference. The results of forging together forest management practices aimed to increase forest health and simultaneously increase economic return were, he said, a mixed bag. “Regionally we have an intact forest that is the envy of nations globally. We have, however, had many challenges: fragmentation, climate change, acid rain – these are some of the critical issues that our foresters and land owners have to tackle together.” And what we do on a local scale, he said, has global impact.

One aspect that had peaked his concern – even skepticism, he said – was the emphasis on clear-cutting as the best tool for achieving healthy forests. We have to think about actual values – the value of ecosystems above and beyond timber value – and when considering best practices we have to look at all parts of silviculture, and we have to look ecosystem by ecosystem.

He also objected to the characterization of beech as a problem. “Beech is not the problem. Our human manipulation of the ecosystem is the problem. The problem is the disease that we brought in. Beech is an important native species – it feeds our bears, it feeds our deer and turkey,” he said. Native species should not be maligned.

“Also, we don’t think that our locals are dumb,” he said, in reference to the lack of education about good forestry practices attributed to the general public. “They don’t just want to see trees. They want to know that our park is becoming wilder and more ecologically intact. he said.

There was a hidden issue, he said, that had not yet been discussed at the conference, but was of critical importance. And that issue was the use of herbicide in clear-cuts. When herbicides are used herbivores are impacted; amphibians are impacted heavily. When an audience member interjected that he felt no one was implying herbicides should be used except on occasion against invasive species, Plumley explained that, because herbicides were used in other parts of the Northeast, he did not believe that their use in the Park could be written out of the conversation. He emphasized that the decisions made in forestry practices in the Adirondack Park did not just matter locally and regionally, but globally.

In audience discussion, the point was made that at no point in the discussion regarding clear-cut had the use of herbicides been mentioned. Herbicide treatments and clear-cutting are issues independent of each other. It was also noted that clear-cut sizes of 500 acres or more had not been discussed; actual cut sizes are usually closer to 100 acres, and never any larger.

Graham Cox, Audubon New York, presented the U.S. Forest Service study “Forest Sustainability Assessments and State Forest Action Plans: Collaboration with State Agencies.” Through a criteria and indicators framework, it is an effort to define sustainable forestry at the international, national, regional, and state levels using the same or similar measures. The framework could be used in the Adirondack Park to determine whether the forest was being managed sustainably.

Cox discussed the relationship between the environment, economy, and society and how they are graphically portrayed. In the past this relationship was represented as circles that intersected but also had distinctly separate areas. Today the graphic representation is of circles within circles: environment being the largest, encompassing the circle representing society, and then inside and within that, the economy. This graph represents the relationship between environment, society, and economy.

Cox described what is called the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators, an internationally accepted set of sustainable forest measures consisting of seven big criteria or categories and up to 64 specific indicators, which have resulted in a framework that is used at different scales. The Montreal Process has also resulted in a global network of forest stakeholders talking to one another, and a national forum to discuss what is meant by ‘sustainable forestry.’ The criteria and indicators convey critical and complex information simply; they reveal trends and cumulative effects; they encourage holistic problem solving; they provide a context for state and regional strategic forest plans and support state forest planning.

This framework is based to a large extent in this country on Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data which has been prepared for the 20 Northeastern and Great Lakes states and is the basis for New York State’s forest resources assessment and strategic plan. This plan analyzed forest conditions and trends on public and private lands; identified threats, benefits and services; identified priority areas in the state; multi-state issues; and laid out long term strategies to address the issues. Cox cited from the New York Plan as follows: “[It] provides practical recommendations on how landowners, forest stakeholders and federal, state and local governments can work together to sustain the many benefits and ecosystem services our forests provide.”

Cox explained that the Adirondack Park forests can be examined in this state and regional context. He listed nine similar criteria and indicator sustainability reports that apply to New York and the Northern Forest and showed how the principles of the Northern Forest Lands Council fit within this context and for which the FIA data and reporting are an important element.

Citing a May 2001 report, “Adirondack Park Trends Analysis Plan,” Cox explained that the APA is not a newcomer to this framework. That report considers the Park landscape as a whole, and lists likely sources of data for planning efforts and reporting processes. Similar planning and reporting is going on in many communities and regions of this country such as a study in Baltimore County MD called, “Sustainable Forest Management, Critical for Healthy Bays and Communities.” The APA would not be alone in adopting this criteria and indicator framework linking water quality and quantity issues with sustainable forest management.

In an ideal world we should ask each individual forest landowner about their forest practices and plans, but this is not possible. One step toward this would be to ask each landowner to develop a ‘green certification’ plan, similar to the Montreal Process, but this is only practical for the big industrial forest landowners. The criteria and indicator framework is probably the most practical and expedient process to analyze sustainable forest practices on the privately owned forest ownerships, big and small. Sloane Crawford discussed using FIA data in the criteria and indicator framework to monitor and report on many aspects of forest composition, dynamics, and forest health. It included an overview of what FIA does – explaining in detail the three-phase sampling process by which FIA gathers data, and their measured variables.

Within the Adirondack Park, there are 975 sample plots on both private and public lands, including forest preserve. Data had been collected on these plots in a five-year annual cycle since 2002. The most interesting information, Crawford said, was revealed in the data on net growth and removals from privately-owned forest land in the Park. Between 2007 and 2012 there had been a net decrease in tree volume, due to a net-growth-to-removal ratio of 0.9 to 1. Sloane said he knew this was not what people expected to hear, but reminded the attendees that these numbers were almost certainly registering the impact of the 1998 ice storm, and also the heavy harvesting from forestland ownership changes that had taken place over the last two to three decades. The trees growing in place of those lost due to mortality or heavy harvest were not yet of measurable size to register contribution to the gross growth portion of the growth-to-removals ratio calculation. Future data may reveal a bubble of volume from growth in now seedling/sapling sized trees. Also, FIA data collection would be implementing a new practice of counting seedlings, Crawford said, which would help give a more holistic sense of forest composition. Crawford said he believed that, with good practice, the Park’s private forestlands could be back to a sustainable growth-to-removal ratio in coming years.

The final panel of the day, titled ‘So What? Regulatory and Policy Recommendations,’ was moderated by Dan Fitts and included Ross Whaley, Graham Cox, and Eric Carlson, executive director of the Empire State Forest Products Association.

Whaley reminded the group again of the concerns that had dominated discussion in the 1980s – the concern that there would be rampant clear-cutting within the Park; the concern about the switch to greater mechanization of forestry practice. The negative impacts anticipated then had not come to pass and it was important to remember, Whaley urged, that the concerns of the current day might also play out in unanticipated ways. Given that, he urged the group to remember that it was the impact of a silvicutral method, not the title of it that mattered. Positive and negative associations might change with time. Those considering forestry practices should not fixate on the perceptions of any given silviculture practice, but on its measurable and actual impact on forest health. When considering the practice of clear-cutting, for example, it is important not only think about the aesthetic impacts e, but the impact on local water, soil, etc. – at the landscape level. Finally, he hoped those implementing forestry practices would consider the forests for their role as carbon sinks.

Whaley presented a list of where he wished to see change. Regulation should shift from focusing on what is or is not cut to focus instead on the composition and quality of the future forest. The process of regulation should be as effective and simple to implement as possible. Although standards of forestry should be the same both inside and outside the Park, inside the Park should be a model of implementation. And, as there had been discussion of adaptive management, so too should there be discussion about adaptive regulations. He said that he believed current regulations on clear-cutting were flawed.

Graham Cox’s take-home message focused on the need to disseminate data in meaningful ways. The criteria and indicators framework was one practical means to do this for the Adirondack Park. It was essential, he said, to have the forestry data translated into “plain English,” so that scientists, foresters, and planners could have a common language. One of the conclusions from the 1980 APA conference was the need for education about forestry practices made available to the public. This was still true, Cox said. Cox reminded the audience that change is a constant over generations in the Park. He proposed that using the criteria and indicator framework results in better data, leading to better dialog and better decisions. He said there are many good examples to follow from other parts of the country and that the Adirondack Park can be a model for sustainable forest management. The challenge is reaching the many thousands of private forest landowners. But most importantly today, we need a sustainable forest policy that applies across the state.

In his final remarks, Eric Carlson said, “We’ve got to make it easier for people to do the right thing. A critical piece of the puzzle is markets.” One can’t manage forests without markets, he said, and this is a real complicating factor, especially as private land tracts get smaller and smaller. Many landowners want to do the right thing, even when facing challenging market forces. “We have to think in terms of regulation and policy that will help them practice forestry the right way.” We have to remember, he said, that we’ve lost markets. Our wood is not processed here, it’s processed in Canada, and manufacturing has left the Park. This has changed what the landscape looks like. As markets change, landowners have to adapt to what they can sell. What we want is to make it easy for them to practice the best forestry, even as they adapt to changing markets.

A question from the audience: what did panelists think of the possibility of promoting greater local market for local wood and wood products? The questioner described what she had witnessed in Finland, where there was considerable pride in Finish wood products and a concerted effort (in the establishment that she had visited) to furnish with local wood.

It was noted that a similar program featuring Adirondack manufactured products had received a lot of attention and support in the past but in recent years has faded away as state and regional priorities have changed. Eric Carlson responded, “Consumers are the key to that kingdom.” And reiterated the importance of educating the general public on what good forest management practice actually entailed and required.

Herb Boyce added that many houses and businesses didn’t even use wood to heat. Until landowners saw the value of standing timber, not just the land, it would be difficult for many of them to see the value in a lot of good forestry practice.

At this point, the official program concluded and several workshop attendees elected to attend one of three field trips designed to view many of the concepts discussed. One trip was to the Paul Smith’s College VIC to view and discuss several silvicuture demonstration plots of multiple forest management techniques. A second group went to a privately owned stand to see management strategies being employed. The final group went to a forest easement tract to see management practices and strategies being utilized in this ownership arrangement.

 Sarah J Hart is a writer and editor, and an adjunct instructor at Paul Smith’s College.  She can be reached at


Sally Explains

 Sally Bogdanovitch of Paul Smith’s College (right) explains forestry practices on a field trip to the demonstration plots at the VIC during the 2013 Forestry Roundtable.  (Photo by Graham Cox )



Posted on Feb 05, 2014 at 12:22:45 Read more and Comment »

2014 Student Research Symposium

APRIL 12, 2014, 10:00 – 3:00

 Sponsored by the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation
International Paper’s Ticonderoga Mill



The Adirondack Research Consortium is inviting abstracts for paper and poster presentations at the 2014 Student Research Symposium on April 12, 2014 at the Joan Weill Library on the Paul Smith’s College campus.  Students will have 20 minutes each to present their research and provide for audience participation.  Presenters are encouraged to limit the number of slides presented to stay within the time frame.  Those papers not selected for presentation are invited to present a poster. 

Select paper presentations will be invited to participate in the 21st Annual Conference on the Adirondacks, May 14th & 15th, 2014 in Lake Placid.  All poster presentations are invited to present at the Annual Conference. 

Posted on Jan 28, 2014 at 16:50:35 Read more and Comment »

2014 - 21st Annual Conference on the Adirondacks

“Moving Forward- Revitalizing Communities and Forging Opportunities”
 May 14-15, 2014, High Peaks Resort, Lake Placid, NY
Media Sponsor – Mountain Lake PBS, WCFE, Plattsburgh, NY

Please join us for a multidisciplinary discussion focused on sustainable communities, bioenergy, demographics, higher education, water quality, and more...  The Annual Conference will also feature a premier screening of the new Mountain Lake PBS documentary on climate change in the Adirondacks.

Conference program and registration information can be found HERE.

2014 Annual Conference Call for Papers and Posters.

Posted on Jan 28, 2014 at 16:34:00 Read more and Comment »

Annual Conference in the News!

The Conference on the Adirondacks celebrates its 20th year!

Join us this Wednesday and Thursday, May 15th and 16th, at the High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid, NY.  

Read the entire article and register for the Conference here.

Posted on May 12, 2013 at 23:44:31 Read more and Comment »

Call for Submissions!

AJES is accepting submissions.  Would you like your work to be featured in the next volume?

Submission categories include feature articles, peer-review manuscripts, book reviews, organizational profiles, essays, interviews, research news, and original artwork.

 Why publish in AJES? 

  • Reach a broad and diverse audience within the Adirondack Park and Northern Forest region.
  • Publish your work about the region in the region where it has a greater chance of making an impact.
  • Support open access publishing that is free for authors and readers.
  • Publish your work quickly and online to have immediate visibility.
  • Bridge information producers with information users and share knowledge that works to find common ground among stakeholders.

To submit an article or to inquire about contributing, please contact the executive editor, Rebecca McKay Steinberg, at  



Posted on Mar 18, 2013 at 09:11:53 Read more and Comment »
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