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by Briana Binkerd-Dale
Greg Lessord grew up less than a mile away from the land he and his wife now live on, and spent his early years until age 19 working on beef and dairy farms on either side of his home. The youngest of four siblings, he married his high school sweetheart, Kathy, and bought his parents’ house. After working 11 years as an automotive mechanic and 24 years selling and servicing fire equipment, he is now retired. His wife Kathy grew up in Riga, NY on a small parcel where she had a horse, dogs, chickens and ducks. She has one brother who was Greg’s best friend; “I traded him for the pretty one,” Greg chuckled. She worked for a bank after high school briefly and then moved to a large CPA firm where she works in the finance department. Greg and Kathy both love the outdoors and hunt, fish, and hike the Adirondacks extensively, with some canoeing, kayaking, snow-shoeing, and camping thrown in. Their black lab “Boo” is their constant companion and only child. Their one and only move was to their current land.
“I have the fortune to bear witness to this land’s evolution for over 50 years,” Greg said. The year he was born, the previous owners Dick and Thelma Leiston purchased the old farm. They were not farmers and did very little with the land, but Greg spent childhood through adulthood hunting and hiking on it. Approximately 12 years prior to their purchase he began caretaking the property for the Leistons, keeping fields from being completely taken back by forest and keeping tractor lanes open. He had asked for right of first refusal in the very beginning, and in the summer of 2003 Dick stopped over one day and simply said “I’m ready to sell”. Greg responded with “We’re ready to buy”.
Kathy and Greg’s parcel is in the town of Ogden in Monroe County, south of Northampton Park. It is 81 acres in total, with 64 wooded and 17 farmed. They also purchased 89 acres of forest land in Lyondale (Lewis County) in 2011, building a cabin in 2012 which they just got the interior finished on this past March. This article will be focusing on the 81 acres in Ogden, however.
Their Monroe County land is mostly flat with small sandy knolls and very stony, and has an 1865 two story farm house and a small barn on the property. There are old apple and pear orchards being overtaken with white oak, ash, black cherry, pin cherry, red maple and various hickories. The long established woods to the west is mostly swampy with a few knolls where sugar maple, beech, and basswood dominate. The low land contains spice bush, hornbeams, wildflowers, beech sprouts galore, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose. The young forests arising from the old fields are around 45 years old and contain ash, black cherry, pin cherry, various hickories, sugar and red maple, butternut, white oak, elm, basswood, cottonwoods, and a number of young apple trees.
As a youngster Greg rode his dirt bike in the fallow fields of stands 7 & 8 which were full of grass, goldenrod and patches of dogwood. “Now we have tree stands in those immature woods on trees with DBH 14-16!” Greg exclaimed. Kathy didn’t have experience with the land until around 1990 (when she got the hunting bug) yet the changes she’s witnessed are no less remarkable: some of the 8-15” seedlings they planted in 2004 are now 15 footers. Greg comes up with most of the ideas for management, but he and Kathy collaborate on what, when, and how things are going to happen, working both independently and together on projects.
“NYFOA and the DEC have been our biggest assets for knowledge and guidance,” Greg said. When they purchased the land, their first priority was to reclaim the three agricultural fields and put them back in production. However, they bought the land for hunting and wildlife, so in 2004 Greg called in to a forester at Trathen Logging at the recommendation of one of his former coworkers who had studied forestry at Paul Smith’s and spent some time working for the company. There was virtually no understory due to canopy closure in the mature hardwood stand, and the Lessords wanted to open the canopy up with an eye toward benefiting wildlife. They had a small timber sale in 2005 and have been happy with the results.
“We really had no experience as landowners on this scale,” Greg said. “With my agricultural background, I attend several farm shows, and at one around 2006-07 I visited the NYFOA booth. I stocked up on literature, liked what I saw, and we joined.” Greg and Kathy started attending meetings and woods walks, and soon had Master Forest Owners (MFOs) Dale Schaeffer and David Duell out for a look see. With their guidance, the Lessords contacted DEC forester Mark Gooding, who helped them develop their 10 year management plan and apply for several of the EQIP programs. “To date we haven’t been selected for any, but we haven’t sat idle,” Greg commented.
In 2004, the Lessords cleared a small old pasture area of ½ acre and over several years planted more than 350 spruce, fir, pine and cedars interspersed with Chinese chestnut, Sergeant crabapple, and paw paws. They have been amazed by the wildlife that has been attracted to it, and spend a lot of time observing the diversity of species. They gear many management practices toward habitat improvement: using the tops of harvested trees to create brush piles for rabbits, building bird houses, and installing bat houses that they procured from the Monroe County Soil & Water Conservation District office. They have five food plots which are rotated with corn, clover, buckwheat, brassicas and oats; and trimming around the field edges has encouraged the growth of many blackberries, raspberries, and staghorn sumac.
This past fall the woodpeckers hit their ash trees in earnest. Their current DEC forester Gary Koplun suggested that they not wait to have a harvest there, and as their management plan calls for commercial thinning of that stand by 2017, Greg and Kathy are now starting to work with consulting forester Susan Keister to achieve these two goals together. “We have amassed quite a large selection of equipment to lessen the burden on our aging bodies,” Greg noted. They have two log trailers, a tractor mounted chipper, trailer splitter with hydraulic log loading, loader attachments for handling logs and much more. They use wood chips for tractor paths and for mulch around young trees they planted in the evergreen plantations, and cut firewood for themselves and Kathy’s parents with an eye toward timber stand improvement.
As with many forest owners these days, two of the biggest things they struggle with are deer pressure and invasive species. They have had a lot of success clearing out invasives in the spring and fall. Honeysuckle especially has shallow roots that they uproot by hand, or pop the root ball up out of the ground with their small tractor; they treat the larger stuff with Roundup and 2,4-D as necessary. Thousands of seedlings popped up in one two acre stand after they cleared the invasives out, only to be decimated by deer as soon as they reached appropriate height. “Last night we had 10 deer in the yard, and eight when we woke up this morning,” Greg laughed. He and Kathy hunt with bow, rifle and muzzle and got 14 tags between the two of them last year. They also let friends hunt on the land. All told, they took 16 deer last year, and a neighboring farmer has a nuisance permit which he takes full advantage of, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. Greg thinks that may have something to do with the hunting-free zone of Northampton County Park to their north.
Greg’s advice to other forest owners is simple and poignant. “Don’t let your brain become overwhelmed by how much you think you must get done. Relax! The woods will be there tomorrow and the next day. Have fun! That’s why you bought it. Keep a journal, take photos of what you do and focus on one or two things and you’ll be surprised by how much you’ve accomplished”. Being informed is also key: knowledge is power. Greg plans on attending a MFO training this September, and hopes to host some woods walks soon. He and Kathy have watched the land change over their lives and until they owned it, they couldn’t do anything about it. Now, he says, “What we enjoy most is the freedom we feel out there, and seeing what a difference our efforts have made. There is a very spiritual connection to the woods and each other.”
Briana Binkerd-Dale is a student in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology at Cornell University. If you are interested in being featured in a member profile, please email Jeff Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org
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