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POV: New York’s forests: An endangered species?

Editor's note: The authors are members of the New York Forest Owners Association.

Recent studies by Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy concluded that up to 70 percent of our state’s forestland is not regenerating.

Since our current second-growth forests are entering the last quarter of their life cycle, this is a problem that should concern every New Yorker.

Our forests provide critical services to the ecosystem, including the purification and holding of water and the prevention of soil erosion. A single mature tree can sequester 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and produce enough oxygen to meet the needs of two people. Forests provide habitat for countless species of wildlife, and recreational opportunities and aesthetic values that contribute to our quality of life.

Forests also provide important economic benefits to the state. The forest products industry employs more than 60,000 people and contributes almost $9 billion dollars per year to the state’s gross annual product. Forests cover 65 percent of our state, and their loss would be tragic.

Most of our current forests developed when farmland was abandoned starting in the late 1800s. During the last half of the 20th century, in the absence of natural predators, deer populations exploded to levels far exceeding the carrying capacity of the forest. In many woodlands the deer consumed the entire understory of the forest, including seedlings of desirable tree species. In some cases, the natural understory has been replaced by undesirable vegetation not eaten by deer, and this vegetation is so well established that it prevents the germination of tree seeds.

Aggressive management action will be required to address this problem before the seed trees are gone. Deer populations will have to be significantly reduced in some areas, or the deer will have to be fenced out of woodlands where forest regeneration is being attempted – an expensive alternative. Broad use of EPA-approved forest herbicides will be necessary to control interfering vegetation. Heavy thinning of the existing forest may be required to admit sufficient sunlight to establish the future forest.

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