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Young Forest Initiative on Wildlife Management Areas

Ruffed Grouse hen and chicks
Ruffed Grouse prefer a mix of open
and brushy areas, adjacent to young
forest. Artwork (c) by Jean Gawalt

Wildlife need all types of habitat to survive, including young forest. In the early 1900s New York State was more farmland than forest, but today 63% of the landscape is forested and is shifting to predominantly mature trees. While mature forests are home to several species, others need young forests.

DEC is undertaking a new initiative to considerably increase young forest habitat on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) across the state. Declining species such as the Golden-winged Warbler and New England cottontail will benefit, as well as popular game species like American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse.

What is a Young Forest?

Young forest results from cuts that regenerate the forest, and typically has a dense understory where tree seedlings, saplings, woody vines, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants grow together. Young forests are approximately 0-10 years old.

Historically, young forests were created by natural disturbances such as:

  • fire or flooding
  • insect outbreaks
  • changes to the landscape by beavers
  • human activities, such as logging and farmland abandonment
Chart showing decline of young forest birds
Since 1966, there has been a decline in
many birds that use young forest habitat
(Source: Breeding Bird Survey data).

Today, active land management is required to maintain young forests throughout New York's landscape.

What are the Goals of the Young Forest Initiative?

  • to establish a minimum of 10% of the forested habitat on each WMA as young forest, which will be maintained in perpetuity
  • to provide habitat for those species that depend on young forest
  • to maintain existing shrublands and allowing fields to become new shrub/woodlands

Why Manage for Young Forests?

To increase habitat for wildlife

A healthy landscape has a mosaic of habitat types, including young forests, and supports a diversity of wildlife. More young forest is needed for species that depend on it, including:

Photo of a woodcock.
Much of the woodcock's habitat has been
lost to development or has grown up into
mature forests. Photo (c) Larry Federman

Species that live in mature forests also benefit from young forests and use it for food and cover, including black bears, bobcats, deer, moose, and many forest interior songbirds.

To manage forests

There are benefits beyond helping wildlife:

  • This is good land stewardship, promoting strong healthy trees and a healthy forest
  • Our actions mimic nature; there have always been disturbances in the forest
  • Trees are renewable and can be used for pulp, fiber, firewood, and energy production

For wildlife-related recreation

There will be increased wildlife-related recreation as a result of this Initiative: more hunting opportunities, better bird watching, and wildlife photography.

Photo just after a clearcut and then 5 years later
In just 5 years, a cut that may at first look
messy yields lush young forest habitat,
like this clearcut at Partridge Run WMA.

How Will We Create Young Forest Habitat?

DEC will create patches of young forest through timber cuts that meet target species' needs. Statewide, that will be approximately 12,000 of the 120,000 forested acres on WMAs. By using even-aged forestry techniques such as clearcuts to create gaps in the tree canopy, sunlight can reach the forest floor and spur the regeneration of shrubs, woody vines, and tree seedlings needed by a variety of wildlife species. Additional planning and follow-up include:

  • Writing Habitat Management Plans for each WMA where young forest will be increased and maintained
  • Monitoring target species to measure response and success, and adjusting our management as necessary
  • Implementing vegetation surveys to look for desired tree species and invasive plants

There are some forested areas not suitable for creating young forest, such as those that are:

  • on steep slopes
  • adjacent to environmentally sensitive areas
  • currently used by imperiled species
  • in some sensitive freshwater wetlands

Want to Create Young Forest on Your Land?

Trillium
Flowering plants in new growth are beneficial
to pollinators. Photo (c) NY Natural Heritage
Eastern massasauga snake
Young forests are home to reptiles such as
the state-endangered Eastern massasauga.

Additional Information

Supporting Documents

Completed Habitat Management Plans (HMPs) are posted on the corresponding WMA webpage. View the list of completed or in-progress HMPs. The following documents are referenced in the HMPs:


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