Introduction and benefits of best management practices

New York forest owners own much more than forests. They own the source waters of creeks and rivers, hundreds of tons of rich organic soil per acre, trillions of microscopic animals, and enough biological energy to make any electric producer envious. These ecological aspects of forests require proper stewardship and maintenance to continue providing the many benefits for our communities.

The key concepts in managing a hardwood forest are to

  • Think long-term
  • Plan wisely, and
  • Get professional assistance when needed

Forests in New York can reach an ecologically and economically valuable state with assistance from responsible forest owners. For three centuries, the impacts of human activities have made a "hands off" approach to forests impractical. Doing nothing to a woodlot may lead to undesirable conditions, like low species diversity, infestations of unwanted exotic plants, and loss of wildlife habitat.

Timber harvesting is the main way we derive economic benefits from forests. The basic process of timber harvesting remains the same, despite centuries of technological development: selected trees are cut down, humans use equipment to move logs to a gathering site, then the logs are transported en masse to a mill for processing. The owner of the trees or timber rights is paid according to the specific arrangement of each sale.

Many Northeasterners view timber harvesting suspiciously. The most important way for timber management to remain compatible with widely held environmental goals is to engage in "best management practices" - actions taken to reduce the impacts of logging on environmental quality. Best management practices apply to water quality, forest soil quality, forest site productivity, wildlife habitats, as well as the overall ecological integrity of New York's forests.

Timber harvesting often resembles a construction project. Concerns about water quality are usually associated with the movement of heavy logs on the site. However, environmental degradation can take place anywhere during a timber harvest.

Each timber harvest is different, so as a landowner, town official, forester, or logger, you will need to be familiar with best management practices and how they are applied to different situations. Your good judgment in the field will pay off with enhanced water quality protection, improved post-harvest condition of forest soils, improved regeneration of seedlings and saplings, improved resistance to storm damage, and sustainable flow of forest products we all use.

Compared to other human activities - residential development, farming, road construction, and mineral extraction - timber harvesting has a relatively small impact on water quality. However, since most of the water we share with all other organisms first flows through forested land, it is an ecologically sensitive area.

Professional and skilled assistance is an important part of forest stewardship. Once you determine your long-range plans for a forest, engage the services of a qualified forester to help make good short-term decisions. You can also meet with trained volunteers (Master Forest Owners), attend workshops, read publications, and review electronic guides (like this one) to shape your forest activities.

This guide lists and explains more than one hundred best management practices for Finger Lakes forests. Included are details about best management practices:

- before a timber harvest
- during a timber harvest
- after a timber harvest
- in a non-harvest situation, and
- for forest owners working in their own woodlands intermittently.

This resource is intended to supplement two print publications: "Best Management Practices During Timber Harvesting Operations," created by the Chemung County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the "New York Forestry Best Management Practices Field Guide", created by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

Sixteen practical benefits of utilizing forest best management practices:

1. Landowner satisfaction with all parts of a timber harvest, and enhanced access to a woodlot for hiking and recreation.

2. Can create information and resources for future timber sales and sales of forested land

3. Increase the efficiency of woodland resources. Under a good forest plan, woodlot owners are often able to obtain more income for less timber removed. They avoid the inefficient methods of diameter limit cutting or high grading.

4. Improve condition of forest roads, trails, and wildlife areas if desired.

5. Increase options for non-timber forest projects, like growing American ginseng and forest mushroom cultivation.

6. More quality timber available in future sales.

7. Reduces burden of town-by-town ordinances and regulations.

8. Reduces chance of violating NY Environmental Conservation Laws and avoid major fines.

9. Increases logging productivity from reduced weather-related downtime.

10. Reduces time and expense repairing eroded roads.

11. Enhances water quality protection.

12. Improves post-harvest condition of forest soils.

13. Forests managed with the full range of BMPs are less susceptible to disease, insect, and deer damage.

14. Improved regeneration of seedlings and saplings.

15. Improved resistance to storm damage.

16. Easier to maintain condition of town and county roads.

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Please cite source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, 2004
Written by James Ochterski, CCE - Schuyler County