Scott and Donna Bonno

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Member Profile:

Scott and Donna Bonno

by Dorian Hyland

Early in life Scott Bonno fell in love with the woods down the hill. As a child, he cut wood and hauled water with his father and younger brother for a neighbor who had been injured and could no longer work. By the time he was a teen, he dreamed of buying the land in Pierrepont Township in the St. Lawrence County foothills of the Adirondacks. After the Civil War, the property was the first homestead of Marcus Crossman, who carved a farm out of the forest and used the timber for building the home and barns. His son, Ora, started a sugarbush that produced sap for decades. Ora’s son, Howard, worked the land until 1961 when injuries prevented him from running the farm.

After graduating from the local community college, Scott gained employment at the county sheriff’s office. In 1985, he was able to purchase the Crossman farm consisting of 208 acres. Shortly after he purchased the land, Scott began to run cattle on the farm, and cut 100 cords of wood a year. Over the years, he and his wife, Donna, added four adjoining parcels for a total of 230 acres, 210 of which are forest. They renamed the farm Glenmeal Maple Lane.

One of their immediate tasks was to save two of the barns, including a 40×60 open loft barn with stables, and install water. Following that, they began the ongoing process of rehabilitating the forest, which had not been managed since Howard’s injury, and especially, the precious sugarbush which had been heavily cut for firewood between 1961 and 1978.

From the start, Scott enlisted the aid of NYSDEC foresters. Forester Charles Porter helped create his first stewardship plan, and marked his first timber harvest in 1987. Enlisting aid and advice in the best silviculture practices has always been integral to his goals. Porter aided them in their first Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) in 1992. A major result of his continuing efforts is the regeneration of the original sugarbush and other young timber stands.

Like many young people they substituted labor for the money they didn’t have. Their first tractor cost $200. Eventually they bought an ATV to pull a small wood trailer. Soon their family expanded. A son, Leon was born in 1987 and daughter, Erin, the following year.

Glenmeal Maple Lane farm is a diverse woods with eastern hardwoods dominating the landscape with stands of hemlock, white cedar, spruce, and pine. Since so many of the mature beech were lost, they focused on regenerating red oak and bitternut hickory by collecting, and then hand plunging or broadcasting thousands of nuts after “mast” or bumper crops of nuts fell. Some acorns and hickory nuts have germinated and they use five foot tree tubes to protect them. There are three ponds and a beaver pond on the creek which attracts a wide variety of wildlife. Listening to bull frogs, spring peepers, pileated woodpeckers, coyotes, owls, and turkeys may be normal occurrences, but they are not taken for granted. Scott enjoys these experiences every time he is in the forest. It is why he is there: it still invigorates him. Stopping to appreciate a scenic outlook makes his day. Managing timber makes sense economically, but he still enjoys watching a tree grow into something useful that will be valued by others. He has had good growth rates with red oak. One specimen has grown 13 inches in diameter over the last 20 years. He measures 50 hardwood “stake trees” annually with a diameter tape. It takes a day of walking, but it is a fun and quiet activity. He often tells Donna that “I am going to the woods to thin my carrots.” He has a very large garden.

Scott feels fortunate to have shared these experiences with his family. Life was always busy with both he and Donna working full time. Donna maintains employment and continues to travel regularly for her job; however, Scott retired in 2016. While his early career as a deputy sheriff allowed him the ability to be outside, his career path changed with a promotion to sergeant, and later, in 2008, an appointment to the department’s undersheriff where he took charge of the criminal division. Getting into the woods, cutting trees or chopping wood was a relief from his desk job. With less time for fun, he sold his evaporator. His real interest was thinning hardwood forest stands and selling fuel wood in the community. He continues to cut 100 cords of fuel wood annually, and occasionally, a load of pulp or saw logs. He did this by working before his shift for an hour or two. Every year he harvests sap from the original, previously cut, now reinvigorated sugarbush and sells the sap to a neighbor.

In January 1998 a tremendous ice storm ranged throughout the Northeast into Maine and southern Canada. The family was without power for 17 days. For two weeks he worked twelve hour shifts for the sheriff’s office, chainsaw in hand, so he could clear roads for emergency calls. The first day of the storm he came home and listened as tree limbs snapped in the forest at a rate of 30-40 per minute which sounded like light rifle fire all night long. As temperatures warmed and he could get into the woods, his fears were confirmed. The storm had significantly damaged those stands where they had done so much TSI work. It was emotionally distressing, although he knew he was lucky compared to others who had lost much more than trees. There was no syrup harvest that year. Twenty one years later, the crowns and boles of some trees still show damage. The following summer, an army of forest tent caterpillars infested the woods. Scott guesses it is nature’s way of ensuring new habitat. Since the storm, he has learned to thin the woods less vigorously.

There have been stand improvement projects which have been more conservative after the first thinning suffered from the ice storm of ’98. Although the storm temporarily slowed tree growth, the area recovered far faster with the opened canopy than without it. In designated areas, he has planted many thousands of acorns, hickory nuts, and some black walnut. Chosen saplings are protected by Tubex tree shelters. Two commercial timber harvests in recent years with occasional pulpwood salvage and the 100 cords of firewood a year are the byproducts of their silvicultural practices. The 65 HP farm tractor with cable winch, bucket, or pallet forks with a hydraulic clam and a wood splitter with a hydraulic lift makes it possible for Scott to do the work of his younger self.

Another change is in how he handles the sugarbush. At first, he and his brother, Leonard, made syrup together and handled 1,200 bucket taps from trees on both of their properties. Eventually the syrup operation re-focused to became a family oriented enterprise, and they would tap 350-400 trees and process the sap on a 2×8 evaporator with a pre-heater and steam hood. Donna prepared a picnic dinner which they ate in the sugar house with family and friends. The kids did homework at the picnic table and might collapse into the bunk beds, sleeping until the boiling was done, usually between 10 pm and 2 am. Today he harvests the syrup but sells it to a neighbor for processing.

In spite of difficulties, they’ve enjoyed many good times as a family. They’ve kept saddle horses for over 30 years and sometimes, like a picture postcard, they tugged a Christmas tree home, cowboy style, behind the horse. The kids helped plant and prune the Christmas trees, and transplanted white oaks and blueberries. Sugaring-off parties with neighbors and 4-H kids, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, riding ATV’s, and dirt-bikes is a partial list of activities they have enjoyed. While not hunters, Donna, Leon, and Erin have harvested game because they understand the importance of managing game populations. Donna and Scott are proud their children grew up in the forest and made their own fun, finding special places and things. “Whale Rock” and “Teepee Rock” have a significant meaning to them and the “Devil’s Backbone” and the “Waterfall” are special places they will revisit.

Beyond creating a sugarbush and mature forest, Donna and Scott achieved their wider goal of providing habitat for many species. Several small food plots in the forest are visited not only by deer and turkeys but also by black bear, fox, coyotes, squirrels, grouse, and many other species. He is starting to understand more about songbirds in the forest and the value of a young forest to them. As part of their long term plan, they created the three small ponds, all fed by springs. To provide shelter for wildlife habitat, he thinned a ravine which was a natural wildlife corridor with meadows on either side and created a sanctuary for nesting birds and bedding and fawning for deer as well as other wildlife.

They’ve used glyphosate judiciously when beech was the target, although it is not a big problem. There are minor problems with honeysuckle and buckthorn. He pulls small stems in the spring when the ground is soft and cuts larger stems. One thing is certain, the quality of his woodlot, on average, has increased greatly since 1985.

He works alone, all the time. With appropriate caution to potential dangers, he uses safety gear and took the “Game of Logging” course. If he had to wait for a partner, he wouldn’t get to the woods as often as he wants. On a positive note, he says, he never worries about where his partner is. He often hopscotches around looking for problem areas, correcting as he goes, preferring to make frequent visits rather than cut too much. “I am sure I tend to micromanage some stands, but I feel that every stand has potential equity and you want to maximize the equity.”

He uses Cornell’s ForestConnect website as a resource and attends woodswalks whenever possible. In 2016 he attended Cornell’s Master Forest Owner Program which was a tremendous resource and he enjoys bringing it into the community. He takes every opportunity to talk to forest owners, loggers, and foresters, and hosted a woodswalk in August 2019. Everyone, he says, has something to offer, some insight into the problems or useful experiences to share. That’s the primary reason he belongs to NYFOA; that it is a network of like-minded people. “We are a very diverse group from a career-based standpoint, but we are all passionate about the forest, and I believe we are out there for many of the same reasons.”


Dorian Hyland is a writer for The New York Forest Owner landowner profile. Photos credits A. J. Sharlow


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