by Todd Waldron | RGS & AWS Northeast Region Forest Conservation Director
The U.S. Northeast is home to more than 50 million acres of mixed northern hardwoods and boreal forests, and there are some notable grouse and woodcock hunting opportunities for those willing to travel. Along with its major east coast population centers, this diverse region contains several classic landscapes that have been traditional strongholds for our favorite upland bird species – including the north Maine woods, the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the White Mountains, Berkshires, Catskills and the Connecticut River Valley.
The Northeast’s sprawling hardwood, pine and spruce forests were once renowned for their iconic river drives, spruce gum, paper mills, tanneries, baseball bats and guitar tonewoods. In fact, river driving – the transportation of logs down a river to nearby mills each spring, was first innovated on New York’s Schroon River by Anson Fox in 1813. The famous “Big Boom,” or log collecting basin on the nearby Hudson River in Glens Falls, New York, was still operating until 1929. Loggers like “Yankee John” Galusha risked life and limb every spring as they drove thousands of 13-foot spruce logs through the torrents and gauntlets of the high-water melt. According to historian and retired Finch Pruyn forester Dick Nason, “Over 5 billion board feet of timber came down those two rivers starting in 1851 until 1929.” After which, the operations ceased at the onset of the Great Depression (Pearsall, 2016). Today, common forest cover types vary across the region and include maple-, beech- and birch-dominated hardwoods, spruce and fir, aspen, birch and spruce and the mixed oak and hickory forests found across much of southern New England (Eyre, 1980).
Map Source: Alvarez, M., Who Owns America’s Forests, US Forest Endowment for Forests & Communities
Who Owns the Forests of the Northeastern U.S.?
Forest ownership throughout the region is a mosaic of public and private land. Family forest landowners are stewards of 25.5 million acres, about half of all forestlands in the Northeast. Corporate and institutional ownership account for 29% of the forest ownership across the region, including timberland investment management organizations (TIMO,) real estate investment trusts (REIT) and institutional ownerships. Collectively, private and corporate ownerships account for more than 40 million acres across the Northeast.
Forestland Ownership Graph in the Northeast U.S.
Public agencies oversee 21% of forestland in the Northeast, which includes state forests (13%,) county forests (4%) and federal public lands (4%). U.S. Forest Service lands like the Green Mountain and White Mountain National Forests are particularly important because of their unique opportunities to benefit mid- to high-elevation birds and their public access opportunities for wildlife-associated recreation, including hunting. County and state forests are also pivotal to region-wide initiatives that support forest habitat diversity, including adequate representation of young forests. For example, on a state agency level, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation manages nearly 800,000 acres of State Forests outside of the Forest Preserve and more than 200,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas whose management includes New York’s Young Forest Initiative.
Northeast U.S. Forest Types and Silviculture
Northern hardwood forests span 20 million acres and are dominated by species like sugar maple, yellow birch, white ash, aspen, basswood and beech (Leak et al., 2014). These forests provide the firewood that heats so many rural Northeast homes, world-class hardwood furniture-grade logs, pulpwood, maple syrup, year-round recreation and the historic grouse and woodcock covers of William Harnden Foster and Burton Spiller. An excellent resource for learning more about northern hardwood forestry is Silvicultural Guide for Northern Hardwoods in the Northeastby William Leak, Mariko Yamasaki and Robbo Holleran (U.S. Forest Service Technical Report NRS-132, 2014).
Leak and his colleagues note that forests can be managed using a variety of even and uneven-aged silvicultural approaches – from group selection to patch cuts to even-aged shelterwood systems that can optimize the number of bird species through their structural diversity and dense thickets in the understory. Grouse management can focus on forests with an aspen and birch component and can be enhanced by creating up to four forest age groups in 2-10 acre stands within 40-acre activity zones (RGS, WMI et al., 2012). This can include nearby conifer stands for winter cover and a patchwork of forest openings good for dozens of other wildlife species. Meanwhile, nearby older forests can be managed using uneven-aged forestry techniques and not only diversify the forest landscape but provide excellent habitat for birds like scarlet tanagers and black-throated blue warblers.
Grouse & Woodcock Conservation in the Northeast
While the Northeast once held legendary covers across its range, grouse and woodcock face significant headwinds throughout the region due to wide-ranging habitat decline and a lack of forest age and structural diversity. Ruffed grouse is now listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) across six of the seven Northeastern states, while American woodcock is listed as an SGCN in all seven Northeastern states’ Wildlife Action Plans.
That’s why RGS & AWS is working with our partners across the Northeast to bring grouse, woodcock and dozens of other species back from the brink. To do this, we need to increase forest habitat diversity throughout the region – and some key pathways to accomplishing this are embracing science-based sustainable forestry and supporting modern forest economies that can keep forests intact throughout the Northeast while simultaneously helping rural communities and the dozens of wildlife species that need our attention. This is what’s driving our Massachusetts’ Dynamic Forest Restoration Initiative – a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, Department of Fish & Wildlife, Mount Grace Land Trust and the National Wild Turkey Federation started in mid-2021. If funded, this USFS Landscape Scale Restoration grant will enable over 1,000 acres of forest habitat restoration throughout the Commonwealth, allow for 450 acres of invasive species removal in preparation for future habitat work and provide a viable model for approaching landscape level, public-private conservation throughout the region.
Want to get involved and support this RGS project or something similar? Contact Northeast Region Forest Conservation Director Todd Waldron via email at email@example.com to learn how you can help.
Alvarez, M. (2019, April 1). The State of America’s forests. USA Forests. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://usaforests.org/
Eyre, F. H. (1980). Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Society of American Foresters.
Leak, W. B., Yamasaki, M., & Holleran, R. (2014). Silvicultural Guide for Northern Hardwoods in the Northeast. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. Pearsall, G. (2016, September 9). The big boom: Old Hudson River chain recalls logging history –. The Adirondack Almanack. Retrieved March 7, 2022.