Our Forests Need Help


(This 1039th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on February 20, 2011.)


A Forest Gallery

photo by Tom Rawinski


When I was five years old, my family moved from the City of Rochester to the Rochester suburb, Brighton, and one of the first things my dad did on our arrival there was plant trees in our new backyard.


One of those trees, an oak, was about twenty feet from the window of my bedroom and I couldn't wait for it to grow large enough to provide me an escape route from my window. That wait was in vain: even fifty years later when I returned for a visit, although the tree was much larger, no limb reached toward that window.


That oak and several other trees were purchased from garden suppliers, but my dad also inadvertently planted some willows. He and my mother had a line of rose bushes along one side of that backyard and my dad wanted to provide them with a post to climb. An old willow regularly shed not just leaves but small branches. My father used some of those branches for the rose-climbers. He was very careful, however, to see that he stuck the posts in upside down, so they wouldn't grow.


Unfortunately, those posts didn't know up from down and they all grew. Soon we had a line of willows instead of the earlier line of rosebushes. I recall them as the buggiest, worst leaf-shedding trees I have ever known.


I thought of how those trees changed the character of that yard when Troy Weldy of Nature Conservancy called my attention to a newly published study of our state forests. The detailed study, "Forest Regeneration in New York State", and a summary are both available at: www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/newyork/

news/news3594.html. Like that yard, our state is changing.


Until now I thought that our forests were improving year by year, and indeed, after a low in the late 19th century when less than 25% of the state was forested, today they cover over 60%. This is only partly due to active reforestation programs. It is also due to agricultural lands returning to forests.


As our forested area continues to increase, there is still more good news in the forest regeneration report. Apparently about half of our forests are in reasonable shape today.


Unfortunately, we must be concerned about the future of our forests and that is what regeneration is about.