About ten years ago, Jeff Joseph, a carpenter and furniture maker, and his wife Suzanne, an herbalist, bought 33 acres of woodland in Willeysville in Tioga County. The acreage was formerly pastureland like much of the area. Now, their hillside property is forested with 33 tree species, dotted with small ponds and vernal pools, a creek and ravine, and a cleared acre where the Joseph’s have their home, barn, wood shop, and a small orchard and organic garden.

Jeff has been a wood-worker for about 25 years and always dreamed of owning his own woodland, but he didn’t have prior experience managing a forest. One of the first steps he took was calling a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation service forester to come out to his land and develop a management plan. Jeff wanted to use his trees to produce his furniture while also maintaining the land’s integrity for wildlife and herbs.

In fact, one of the Josephs’ main goals is to create a model woodland to inspire others who work off the land on a small scale and want to use a holistic, in-house approach to do so. Their management plan allows for sawtimber harvesting for Jeff’s furniture business while improving his timber stands and managing for a diverse understory. The Josephs manage for wildlife, both for hunting and enjoyment of nature. They also manage their woodland for non-timber forest products such as the herbal medicines Suzanne uses, like ginseng. They also harvest shitake mushrooms. The Josephs participate in two Farm Bill programs: the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.

The Josephs also have some concerns about their land. Like many woodland owners, they are worried about invasive pests that will affect their trees, like Emerald Ash Borer and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. The woods are also beginning to be over-run with beech trees and deer. Jeff has recently begun managing the beech trees through cut stump treatments and by also making it his main firewood source. He and his neighbors hunt the deer to try to keep their populations down. They are also concerned with the larger, long-term changes in the region, such as Jeff’s comment about “climate change and how that is going to impact, over time, the ability of forest species to be able to continue to grow and be healthy.”

Jeff became a member of NYFOA and trained as a Master Forest Owner volunteer in 2006. He joined the NYFOA Steering Committee in 2009 and recently joined the NYFOA Board of Directors last year. When Jeff was asked about the benefits to belonging to NYFOA, he replied, “It’s just a wealth of information and experience – that’s tremendous because if you feel like you’re doing it by yourself, it’s so easy to just become overwhelmed and again, it’s being able to have first-hand contact with folks who have actually done this stuff for decades. And that was the other thing I wanted to highlight… is that I really enjoy the multigenerational aspect to the network and being able to garner... the benefits of the decades of experience that some folks in the organization have. That’s been very important to me.”

His advice to new members is to not be overwhelmed by your woodland – he recommends starting with small projects first and to seek advice from woodland owner peers as well as professionals. He also advises owners to develop a long-term management plan for their woodland and to not feel compelled to do everything all at once. Jeff recommends new forest owners become NYFOA members: “Our forests have a lot of challenges, as climate changes, as demographics change, as development continues, and it’s a great time for people who do have an interest in engaging in stewardship of their land to take advantage of the incredible learning opportunities and socializing opportunities that NYFOA offers.”

As Jeff and Suzanne continue stewarding their woodland, they plan to create apprenticeship opportunities in the wood shop and in the practice of holistic, homestead management. In the future, they want someone to be able to walk from an adjacent woodlot into theirs and notice that something was different here, that this forest was healthy, well-maintained, and loved.

Maureen Mullen is an Extension Aide at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Human Dimensions Research Unit, Cornell University. Dr. Shorna Allred is the faculty advisor for the NYFOA Member Profile Series.

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