Eco Talk: Appreciating New York’s woodlands

I have a love-hate relationship with the recent weather we are experiencing. I love the sunshine, but I hate the warm temperatures because they create muddy experiences for me and our dogs in our forest. It seems we are constantly washing mud from our dog’s paws after she is outside because we don’t want her tracking mud inside of the house. I like when winter is cold and snowy so the ground freezes and we can enjoy outdoor activities like skiing or snowmobiling. I have yet this season to visit a ski resort and snowboard because the trail conditions are miserable. But I sure like this sunshine.

The freezing cold temperatures at nighttime followed by warm, above-freezing temperatures during the day are causing sap in maple trees to flow. When maple trees are dormant, the pattern of freezing temperatures at night and warm days indicate the sap inside any maple tree is moving around. In fact, some friends were collecting maple sap last month and said “it was a great early run,” meaning they collected a lot of sap and produced a lot of maple syrup in January. My friends are not scientists or researchers, however, so this news is just anecdotal information and should not be used to establish trends across the region. More importantly to me, my friends are outside in the forests hiking around and enjoying the forests of the Finger Lakes.

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We are lucky to have forests in New York state. According to Forest Connect, a Cornell University program that connects woodland users to the knowledge and resources needed to ensure sustainable production and ecological function on private woodlands, New York is 63% woodlands. To compare, when I lived in the flat lands, or plains, of northern Colorado, there were no forested lands and native trees were found mostly near the edges of rivers. The eastern half of Colorado is a high-altitude semi-arid desert that on average receives about 15 inches of rainfall. Most of the landscape is comprised of grasses like blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis), forbs such as the small cactus named plains prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha), or the shrub big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), which grows on average to 4 feet tall. Compared to our 40 inches of average rainfall in New York annually, it’s no wonder we have enough water availability to support the great forests we see across our region. Trees need sunlight, nutrients (soil) and water to grow, just like other plants, and we have enough of those factors in our region to support the great forests of the Northeast.

Ryan Staychock

Forest Connect also reports on its website that 84% of family woodland owners that have 10 or more acres have not received any management advice about how to manage their forests. That means a lot of people do not know how to properly manage their forests. We need people to help spread good information about forestry.

Do you own any woodlands? Do you want to learn more about forestry in New York state? Have you ever thought about using your knowledge and skills to help your neighbor woodland owners? As a woodland owner, you have a unique perspective that allows you to serve as a peer-to-peer counselor to help other woodland owners in Cayuga or Seneca counties, or any county in New York. Do you want to be a volunteer who helps other woodland owners manage their property? If so, you are invited to the annual training for Cornell’s Master Forest Owner volunteers. These volunteers work through Cornell Cooperative Extension to visit woodland owners in their counties and direct them toward resources that help them manage their woodlands. This training is open to new volunteers and previously trained volunteers seeking a refresher.

Applicants selected to participate in the educational program will learn a lot about forestry by attending seven weekly online training sessions. Then they will meet in person for a one-day field session. Online sessions are 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, March 26 through May 7. Participants will learn about woodland ecology and health, wildlife and habitat, interfering vegetation management, silviculture, and agroforestry. Participants should plan to allocate three to four hours per week to study and learn content provided to you during the training. All woodland owners in New York are welcome. The fee is $35 per person and $50 per couple, which includes the full training and supplies and resources provided at the field session.

If you have any questions about the Master Forest Owner program, you can learn more at or from program director Peter Smallidge at or (607) 592-3640.

Ryan Staychock is an environmental/natural resources educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension serving Cayuga, Schuyler and Seneca counties. He can be reached at or (315) 539-9251 ext. 110. For more information, visit

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