While the benefits of New York’s forests -- watershed protection, air purification, recreation, and climate regulation – are plentiful, these ecosystem services are not guaranteed forever.
A primary factor limiting forest regeneration is deer browse; however, invasive plants, poor timber management, changing weather patterns, air pollution, and pests and diseases all have the potential to severely limit the capacity of New York's trees and forests.
A new Conservancy report, Forest Regeneration in New York State, examines the status of forest regeneration. Forest regeneration is the growth of tree seedlings into large mature trees, an important measure of forest health.
Trees begin their lives as seedlings on the forest floor. These young trees are necessary to fill gaps in the forest cover created by windstorms, insect outbreaks or timber harvests.
The report uses data from the USDA Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program and methods from an ongoing U.S. Forest Service regeneration study in Pennsylvania. Seedling and sapling densities at 1,647 unique forested locations were rated on a scale, ranging from poor to very good. Regeneration status was assessed for two species groups --all native canopy trees and for a subset of commercially valuable timber species.
- Seedling and sapling densities were adequate for native canopy species in 68% of plots statewide, however, nearly one third (32%) of the state may not have sufficient regeneration to replace the forest canopy after a significant disturbance to the uppermost foliage layer.
- Canopy regeneration is poorest in the southeast portion of the state, including Long Island, the southern Hudson Valley, and southern Catskills. These areas are subject to multiple forest stresses and may require more active management geared towards increasing forest regeneration.
- Regeneration of desirable timber is poor even in parts of the Adirondacks, where the low timber-value species American beech and balsam fir dominate the understory. This could have important consequences for the future of New York’s timber industry.
Responsible Resource Management Decisions
“Many factors contribute to forest health. The Nature Conservancy will be working with partners to protect and advance responsible forest and deer management practices to ensure New York's forests support people and nature. A partnership of public and private entities is needed to refine the accuracy and utility of the data collected on forest health and incorporate this new information into effective resource management decisions," said the report's co-author and Conservancy scientist Rebecca Shirer.