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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. 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.

Young Forest

Young forest refers to an early stage of forest with tree seedlings, saplings, woody vines, shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants growing 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
    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).
  • human activities, such as logging and farmland abandonment

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

Goals of the Young Forest Initiative

  • Provide habitat for those species that depend on young forest.
  • Establish and maintain approximately 10% of the forested habitat on each WMA as young forest.
  • Maintain existing shrublands and allowing fields to become new shrub/woodlands.

Purpose of Young Forest Management

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.

What We Are Doing

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. We will use responsible forest management techniques to create gaps in the tree canopy so sunlight can reach the forest floor. This will spur the growth 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; and
  • 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

Preliminary Results

Creating Young Forest on Your Land

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

Map of States with Young Forest Projects
View a larger map to see states with
young forest projects (PDF)

Supporting Documents

View the list of completed or in-progress Habitat Management Plans. The following documents are referenced in the plans:

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