Young Forest Initiative on Wildlife Management Areas
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
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:
- Songbirds: Golden-winged Warbler, Whip-poor-will, Canada Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Brown Thrasher
- Game birds: American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse
- Mammals: New England cottontail and snowshoe hare
- Reptiles: Eastern box turtle and smooth green snake
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.
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
- Learn more about private forest management
- Visit the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture private landowners page (Leaving DEC website) for a list of resources
- See Managing Grasslands, Shrublands and Young Forests for Wildlife (PDF, 5 MB), which describes specific management practices that are necessary to create or maintain early successional and young forest habitats on the northeastern landscape
- View the current guidance for protecting Northern long-eared bats during timber cuts
Flowering plants in new growth are beneficial
to pollinators. Photo (c) NY Natural Heritage
Young forests are home to reptiles such as
the state-endangered Eastern massasauga.
View a larger map to see states with
young forest projects (PDF, 182 KB)
- The Initiative DEC is implementing on WMAs complements the work being done by other professional conservation groups throughout the Northeast and upper Midwest; learn more about The Young Forest Project (Leaving DEC website) and read success stories
- Check out New Hampshire Fish and Game's video (Leaving DEC website) on the importance of young forests
- Find out more about the New England cottontail (leaving DEC website)
- See the Fall 2016 Conservationist for Kids issue dedicated to young forests!
- Do you want to help conserve wildlife and their habitats? Purchase a $5 Habitat/Access Stamp
- DEC's Young Forest Initiative Strategic Plan (PDF, 1.56 MB) contains the framework of the Initiative and includes a map and list of WMAs in the program
- The Young Forest Initiative Monitoring Plan (PDF, 2.08 MB) provides a standardized approach to evaluate the effectiveness of habitat management conducted under the initiative on Wildlife Management Areas
- New York State Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality (PDF, 4.1 MB) presents suggestions, guidelines, and technical references on a range of timber harvesting best management practices
- Special Management Zones on State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas (PDF, 61 KB) outlines rules for protecting areas adjacent to water resources and recreational trails during a timber harvest
- Rutting Guidelines for Timber Harvesting on Wildlife Management Areas (PDF, 59 KB) should be followed to reduce soil compaction
- Retention Guidance on Wildlife Management Areas (PDF, 187 KB) provides advice about conserving biodiversity in stands managed for timber production
- Plantation Management Guidance on WMAs (PDF, 103 KB) outlines a policy that promotes the conversion of plantations to naturally regenerating forest