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Young Forest Initiative on Wildlife Management Areas

Since 2015, DEC's Young Forest Initiative has been increasing young forest habitat on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) across the state. Now we're also improving habitat of all ages classes of forests on WMAs. A forested landscape with a better balance of young, intermediate, and mature forest will provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife and help many species that are declining.

Definitions of Forest Age Groups

Young Forest

Aerial photo of forest management at Bear Spring Mountain WMA
Patches of young forest complement the mostly
mature forested landscape at Bear Spring
Mountain WMA. Photo by Nathan Doig.

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 0-20 years old. Historically, young forests were created by disturbances (fire, flooding, insect outbreaks, or changes in human land use), but today active habitat management is required to keep young forest on the landscape.

Intermediate Forest

Intermediate forests are approximately 20-50 years old with pole-sized trees. Left alone, these forests will eventually grow into mature forest.

Mature Forest

Mature forests are approximately 50-140 years old with large trees. Much of the forest in New York State today is mature forest. Currently, there is very little late successional forest (>140 years old) on WMAs.

Purpose of Forest Management

To improve habitat for wildlife

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

Healthy forests have a mix of tree species and ages (young, intermediate, and mature) and support a diversity of wildlife. More young forest is needed for species that depend on it, including:

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

To manage forests

This is good land stewardship, promoting strong healthy trees and a healthy forest. Trees are renewable and can be used for pulp, fiber, firewood, and energy production.

For wildlife-related recreation

By improving wildlife habitat on state-owned WMAs, our program provides people with new opportunities for hunting, birding, photographing wildlife, and enjoying nature.

Goals of Forest Management

  • Provide habitat for wildlife that depend on young forest.
  • Establish and maintain approximately 10% of the forested habitat across all WMAs as young forest.
  • Maintain existing shrublands and allowing fields to become new shrublands/woodlands.
  • Improve habitat for species that require intermediate and mature forest.
  • Promote healthy and resilient forests for wildlife.
  • Foster understanding of WMA management and encourage forest stewardship across New York.
A seed tree cut. Photo by Rachel Hillegas.
The photo above is a "seed tree cut" at Tug Hill WMA, which will regrow into young forest habitat for woodcock and grouse.
Photo by Rachel Hillegas.

Past and Current Management

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.

The first five years of the Young Forest Initiative focused on adding young forest to the WMA system using methods based on our target species' habitat needs. We used forestry practices that removed most trees (clearcutting) in patches, left a few trees for shade (shelterwood cut), or left a seed source (seed tree cut) to create space for young forest to grow. We planted seedlings, removed invasive plants, conducted prescribed burns, and felled old plantations to allow natural forest to regrow. Now, we also include methods such as thinning that improve all types and ages of forest.

All forest management on WMAs follows responsible management techniques, protects soil and water resources, and avoids areas currently used by at-risk species. In order to design and carry out projects that create high-quality wildlife habitat on public lands, we:

  • write habitat management plans for each WMA that guide decisions on that property over a 10-year period;
  • monitor target species to measure changes and adjust our management if necessary;
  • check forest health concerns such as invasive plants or excessive deer browsing;
  • work with conservation partners; and
  • share our results with the public.

Preliminary Results

Creating Young Forest on Your Land

Eastern massasauga snake
Young forests are home to reptiles such as
the state-endangered Eastern massasauga.

Additional Information

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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