MONTAGUE — Flying over the Tug Hill Wildlife Management Area in Lewis County, patches of cleared forest spot the land like a dalmatian’s coat.
The patches total about 114 acres and are the culmination of a multi-year clearcutting process planned by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and its Young Forest Initiative.
Launched in 2015, the Young Forest Initiative is a management program designed to increase WMA habitat for species that prefer early stage forests with seedlings, saplings, vines, shrubs and flowering plants growing together in the same area. The strategic canopy gaps allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and spur shrub and seedling growth.
The initiative is framed by three goals — providing young forest habitat, creating about 10% young forest at each WMA and maintaining existing WMA shrublands.
More than 100 WMAs are protected in New York, covering roughly 120,000 forested acres and 53,000 acres of wetlands, according to the DEC.
Statewide, DEC estimates about 12,000 of the 120,000 forested WMA acres will be harvested through the Young Forest Initiative over the next several years.
The Tug Hill WMA, 5,110 acres on the Tug Hill Plateau, is partly managed by a DEC-written habitat plan that calls for 455 acres of young forest habitat to be clearcut from mature stands over a 10-year period. After initial Tug Hill cuts, a harvest of 54 acres began in 2018 and concluded this year, with an average 4.8-acre patch size, according to the DEC.
The department is particularly interested in fostering habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and snowshoe hare. A 2015 survey did not yield any woodcock observations at Tug Hill, but DEC staff have noted at least three woodcock using the open areas this year.
The remaining 331 planned acres will be harvested over the next six years.