Charlie and Sarah Stackhouse

Charlie and Sarah Stackhouse own 311 acres of diverse land in Bluff Point, NY near Keuka Lake. Charlie has been a surgeon for the past 28 years and Sarah does the bookkeeping for his practice. They are also both active with NYFOA, Sarah currently serves as the treasurer, and are both Master Forest Owner Volunteers. The couple also enjoys participating in other volunteer work.

Charlie says it best when he says they "crept" into owning woodlands. They have always been interested in the woods because they enjoy hunting, hiking, camping, canoeing and fishing as well as cutting their own firewood. Their original property bought in 1988 was 35 acres and later in 2004 an adjacent 276 acres. They were initially interested in the larger property because it was a better building site for their home. Although their home has the added benefit of immense privacy and the opportunity to be surrounded by nature, they have also become stewards of the land they own. Most of the property had been farmed at some point in its long agricultural history. Even now 22 acres are still active vineyards and about 70 acres of fields are being farmed. The rest of the property has diverse habitat, which serves as an excellent wildlife habitat as well as a management challenge. Most of the 130 acres of woods, primarily mixed hardwoods ranging from saplings to small saw timber, has grown up on old fields or pastures and has been high graded.

From overgrown vineyards to maturing stands of saw timber every sort of habitat can be found on their property. Their goals for managing their forestland include improving and maintenance of valuable timber, enhancing wildlife habitat and using firewood as a byproduct. They began forest management when they consulted a DEC Forester, Jim Bagley, to help them determine which trees they should cut for firewood in order to improve their stands. Bagley first created a stewardship plan, which helped them to set goals and prioritize the work that needed to be done. In fact, the stewardship plan was developed around 10 unique stands on their property all that require different management. They are leaving some of the stands to “sort themselves out” while others are undergoing active work. In thinning the woods they have seen two of their management goals come together - improving their woodlands and having the thinned trees provide enough firewood for them to heat their house and domestic hot water nine months of the year.

Invasive species are another challenge - particularly in areas that were grazed in the past. Their property is a showcase for almost every problematic invasive species in New York but they are paying particular attention to buckthorn when they opened up a previously forested area via a TSI thinning. So far they have thinned about 40 acres and sprayed 20 acres for invasives. Charlie completed about 15 acres of the timber stand improvement work himself. They utilized their private forester from Future Forest Consulting, Corey Figueiredo, and technician Stan Stek do the work they are unable or don’t have the time to do, such as laying out and constructing forest trails, finishing up the TSI work on schedule and some herbicide treatment.

In order to enroll in the 480A program, the Stackhouses worked with their consulting forester to develop a more detailed management plan, building on the stewardship plan already in place. The money saved from enrollment in the 480A program helps to defray the cost of implementing the management plan. Right now, with property taxes so high and timber prices so low, it is difficult to make the land pay for itself. Enrollment in the 480A program certainly helps this problem even though they don’t plan any major timber sales in the near future.

Another focus of the management plan is improving wildlife habitat. The couple enjoy the foxes, deer and wild turkeys and other wildlife that wander through the field in front of their house. There are brush piles, snags and den trees located throughout the property. They have even designated wildlife sanctuaries of 5-10 acres where no one goes so that the wildlife has a safe retreat. They have also created food plots and put up three dozen blue bird boxes.

Taking the time to learn about their property has been beneficial outside of their woodlands too. With all of their forestry knowledge Sarah was able to navigate successfully the precommercial thinning of a property she owns in Maine.

Charlie and Sarah joined NYFOA in 2008 after their DEC forester informed them of the organization. They started by attending the annual dinner meeting of WFL Chapter and now attend three or four events a year. They volunteer at the NYFOA info booth at fairs and events and work with Yates County CCE and the other MFO’s to organize forestry workshops and woodswalks in their county. The interaction with other private forest owners and the opportunity to gain quality opinions has been a huge benefit of joining. For example, if someone is looking for a consulting forester, he can call three or four nearby NYFOA members and ask their opinion and receive candid information otherwise unavailable through the DEC or Master Forest Owner Volunteers who do not recommend individuals. The Stackhouses recommend that all forest owners develop a forest stewardship or management plan to understand their woodlands better and set priorities for achieving their ownership goals. Another essential step is creating access roads. The trail system on their property provides access for forest management work and future harvests, hunting, cross country skiing and walking in the woods. Having access allows them to connect the diverse landscape as well as perform any needed work. The Stackhouses also recommend taking advantage of the resources available through NYFOA, the Master Forest Owner Volunteer Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the DEC. As DEC continues to cut the number of service foresters available to help private landowners, NYFOA, CCE and the MFO’s can help to fill some of that void.

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