The Adirondack Park, larger than Connecticut and the largest park in the lower 48 states, is a unique mix of public (52%) and private (48%) ownership.  The private forest lands are fundamental to the landscape of the Park.  Indeed, the “forever wild” core of the Park requires carefully managed private lands to preserve that wild character.   A  map of the Park having public and private lands  delineated shows how the two are interwoven in a complex “patchwork” pattern.

As one drives (or walks, or bicycles, or canoes) across the Park this mosaic of public and private lands reveals itself, sometimes easily, sometimes not.  The public state lands of the Park are “forever wild” and may never be logged.  Private lands can be logged and most often have been, but not always.  Many private land stewards have practiced very sophisticated forest management methods, going back a hundred years or more.

Thousands of private landowners own land in the Park.  These landowners are as diverse as any such group might be.  Given the marginal economics of northern forest ownership, one common issue has been overharvesting for present profit, cutting too many trees without concern for the future.   One common method is called “high grading”, in which every tree over a certain trunk size – for example 14 inches – is removed.   This leaves a stand of uniform size trees – an often easily recognizable result as only pole-shaped trees are left.

A healthy forest is easily distinguished by having trees of different sizes – a tall overstory of thick trunked trees, a middle story working its way up to and through the canopy, and an understory with many kinds of healthy seedlings.  A carefully selected cut can leave all of these tree types, as well as a healthier forest.   Wildlife, dependent on different forest types, will find more types of habitat in a better-managed woods.  In the long run, a sustainably managed forest will yield more value from timber harvesting than high grading could produce.

The Adirondacks include several different forest types, managed in many different ways, producing a wide variety of forested landscapes.  The unique terrain of the Park creates a landscape that is stark and beautiful, with many rock outcroppings, creeks, ponds, and wetlands.  Stone walls and other man made features also add visual interest.  Old logging roads go everywhere, making hikes of all levels of difficulty easy to find.

Forest management is challenging in the Park for these same reasons.   The terrain, as beautiful as it is, makes it difficult to manage woodlands.   Trees are slow growing and a new management strategy may take years to prove itself.   Global warming is stressing some traditional species.   Invasive plants and tree diseases also challenge the forest owner.  Beech bark disease is devastating beech forests, among the original forest trees in the Park.

Each forest is different.  The unique history of each  type, along with various ecological factors, means that management choices must be made.  The help of a good forester, or better yet, inclusion in the Protect! Sustainable Forestry Program, is essential to making the best use of private forests–for wildlife, for present and future profitability, as well as for the overall beauty and wildness of the Adirondack Park

About the author. PROTECT board member Sid Harring manages a sustainable forest in the Adirondack Park and is the chair of PROTECT”s Sustainable Forestry Program.   He and his family have been camping, canoeing, and cross country skiing in the Adirondacks for thirty years.