Stacey and Jeannine Kazacos

Member Profile:

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Stacey and Jeannine Kazacos

by Jeff Joseph

Having both worked in the diplomatic service representing the U.S. in embassies in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere, Stacey and Jeannine Kazacos travelled a great many miles before settling into their current retired life in upstate New York. Jeannine, a French-Canadian, is originally from New Brunswick, and Stacey was born in Syracuse. They met while studying at McGill University in Montreal, spent their working lives travelling the world, and when their respective careers eventually wound to a close, they considered many possible locales for retirement, including Greece, Canada, Alaska, and Southern Africa, but the call of home must have been strong, as in 2007 they purchased a 96 acre wooded property (including a log home) in Mount Vision, Otsego County to which they moved permanently in 2015.

Among the several factors that figured into their selection of this particular property were the ample privacy, a beautiful seven-acre pond, a variety of recreational possibilities, and a diversity of wildlife, but also a proximity to the medical care and shopping available in nearby Cooperstown and Oneonta, despite their rural location. An overarching goal for the Kazacos was to build a home that would be a place where their children and grandchildren would always want to visit. They have two adult children: Stefan, who is a U.S. Army medical doctor attached to a Special Forces Unit, and Joe, who is a diplomatic courier for the Department of State; their two grandchildren are ages four and two.

As for the land itself, the property consists of about 65 acres of woods, a 12 acre meadow, the seven acre pond, and cleared areas for the house and out-buildings. The topography is a mix of flat land, marsh, and rolling hills. There is a shale pit on the property where they excavate stone to harden up low spots in their trail system.

The forested acreage is a typical northeast mixed hardwood forest with evidence of high grading over the years — i.e., “take the best trees and leave the rest.” The primary tree species include sugar maple, red maple, cherry, ash, hemlock, and white pine, with lesser amounts of a variety of mixed hardwoods. In an all-too-common scenario, the area has a high deer population and the understory is relentlessly browsed, significantly discouraging forest regeneration. The property also has its fair share of invasive and/or interfering vegetation including honeysuckle, undesirable ferns, and beech.

After spending the majority of their lives in cities and suburbs, neither Stacey nor Jeannine had any background or experience with forest management, which (as many of us can surely attest) was a cause for some initial trepidation Where to start? What to prioritize? How expensive will it be to carry out sound management practices? Where to find help we can trust? Thankfully, they soon learned of the Master Forest Owner (MFO) program, and had the good fortune to be visited by the undisputed ‘champion’ of all MFO’s (and longtime NYFOA board member) Jerry Michael, who recommended a number of initial practical steps, and introduced them to NYFOA as a source of information and camaraderie among NY woodlot owners. He went on to explain the many resources available to the private woodlot owner through Cornell, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), and others. In short order, the Kazacos became members of NYFOA, and later attended the training and became MFO volunteers themselves. They also got right to work on their land.

Over the years they have undertaken the following major tasks: 1) Created a long-term forest management plan; 2) Conducted timber stand improvement (TSI) on most of the acreage; 3) Planted trees in an effort to restore a good mix of native species; 4) Worked to control invasives; 5) Increased deer hunting on the property; 6) Built trails throughout the property; and 7) Enrolled in the 480-a tax law program.

Portions of the work, including the TSI and control of invasive/interfering plants were carried out with financial assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), and each (including the drafting of their management plan), were overseen and/or carried out by a private sector consulting forester. Both Stacey and Jeannine have been very hands-on throughout, and approach all management decisions on an equal basis. To aid with the work, they have amassed a variety of equipment and machinery, including a Kubota UTVand a 35hp tractor with loader and attachments, in addition to the standard outfit of chainsaws, chaps, helmets with eye and ear protection, steel toe boots, and a variety of hand tools.

Asked what advice they would offer to beginning woodlot owners based upon their own experiences, first on their list was undoubtedly to develop a comprehensive management plan (ideally with the assistance of a professional forester) at the outset, in order to establish priorities, and timelines for the work. Second was to take full advantage of the ample body of online resources available through NYFOA, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Cornell University, and SUNY-ESF. Third was to attend a Game of Logging safety course. Last, they suggested that tasks in the woodlot be reduced to a manageable size, in order to encourage a sense of accomplishment with small jobs done well, versus the overwhelm and discouragement of not having the time and/or resources to bring any one task to completion. In Stacey’s words, “Everything about forest management takes time, often a very long time, to see results. Accepting this basic tenet has indeed taken some time to accept given that our career successes and shortcomings were measured through the prism of a short time-frame. We often find that the ‘one hour job’ on the property often takes all morning or more.”

As for what they enjoy most about being forest owners, Stacey offered the following: “We enjoy heading out to our woods every day because it has given us a greater appreciation of nature and wildlife in our region. Our careers in the public sector involved issues and tasks that are difficult to quantify and often never fully resolved. By contrast, many projects in the woods can be completed fully so there is a more definite sense of accomplishment.”

Stacey and Jeannine have been active NYFOA members since shortly after their 2013 meeting with Jerry Michael, with both serving on the steering committee of the Southern Tier chapter, and have assisted in organizing and participating in several chapter events. In 2014, Stacey became a NYFOA board member, serving on the advocacy committee and supporting the administration of the Restore New York Woodlands Initiative (RNYW). More recently, Stacey became the vice-president of NYFOA. Asked for his perspective on his tenures in each of these positions, Stacey offered the following: “Serving on the statewide board and our local chapter have each offered great opportunities to help shape the type of activities our members want, and to understand better the challenges of promoting NYFOA positions among state and local legislators (e.g. improving the 480-A program and obtaining financial assistance for private landowners for who implement forest management best practices). Perhaps most important we have met some really great people along the way. As vice-president of NYFOA I believe firmly in maintaining the strong peer-to-peer roots of our association. At the same time I understand that there must be a balance in how NYFOA’s limited resources are allocated between chapter and the statewide efforts and that there is no magic formula on how best to do this. I encourage interested members to seek out board and chapter positions.”

The Kazacos have hosted a woodswalk on their property, highlighting stands which were extensively treated for invasives, and coordinated a second walk (led by a DEC forester) at the nearby Texas Schoolhouse State Forest. In addition, Stacey worked with the DEC and their town government to develop a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement to construct recreational trails at the state forest. The project has grown dramatically as they successfully added more miles of trails with interpretive signage and primitive camping options.

When asked how their membership in NYFOA has benefited them, Stacey said that “Membership in NYFOA has significantly benefited us as woodland owners. We learned where to go for good information about woodlot management and have taken part in several seminars, training courses, woods walks, webinars, and supported NYFOA’s presence at the annual Farm Show in Syracuse. Learning about woodlot management topics and applying best practices has opened up huge, new areas of interest for both of us. Getting out in the woods regularly helps keep us fit and we stay out of trouble!”

And for parting thoughts: “There is a lot of wisdom in NYFOA’s Restore NY Woodlands initiative (RNYW). The key points are like a three-legged stool: control invasives, manage the deer population, and get sunlight to the forest floor through TSI. Do these things and regeneration will follow. Not having one of the stool legs can lead to a bad outcome. To borrow an old cliche, ‘the devil is in the details.’ These three RNYW prescriptions have guided our forest management efforts, but not without challenges and attitude adjustments along the way. Initial TSI looked pretty chaotic with trees, branches, and snags everywhere. What do you do after most of the invasives have been dispatched? The deer population seems to have increased. Current DEC stats show that there are less hunters and fewer young people interested in hunting. We have taken steps to address deer browsing, invasives, and conducted TSI on most of our wooded areas. Forest regeneration remains an overarching long term goal.”

And looking toward the future: “I would like to see NYFOA encourage younger and more diverse members to get involved in woodlot management. In short, how can the ‘old white guys’ pass the baton? As an organization, NYFOA is trying to encourage this by recognizing that the younger generation is comfortable using technology to communicate and work. They communicate differently, more often, and are far blunter than their older colleagues. The challenge for NYFOA and the ‘old guard’ is to determine how we message in a way that will resonate with our tech savvy up and comers.”


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