by Briana Binkerd-Dale

Tracy Lamanec was born in Catskill, NY, growing up in Purling and Cairo in Greene County. “From my earliest memory, I have always had an interest in forestry and fish and wildlife management,” he recalled. “However, all my aptitude tests said I should go into science and engineering.” Accepted at SUNY ESF after high school, Tracy instead went to work for a year at Steifel Laboratories (now Glaxo Smith Kline) before enrolling in classes at Hudson Valley Community College. He spent his summers working for the U.S. Forest Service on white pine blister rust control and gypsy moth monitoring, graduating in 1962 with an A.A.S. in industrial chemical technology.“Rather than transferring to SUNY ESF’s forest chemistry program as I had planned, I accepted a position as an analytical chemistry technician at General Electric in Schenectady,” he said. Tracy continued his education part time at Union College in Schenectady, receiving a B.S. in chemistry in 1968, and going on to take post graduate courses at Union, MIT, McCrone Institute, and University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Tracy married Eileen Horan of Troy, NY (a classmate at Hudson Valley) in 1963, and they purchased a house on 2 plus acres in the rural hills of Rotterdam, Schenectady County. Their daughter Stephanie was born in 1964 and son Michael in 1968.From 1973 - 1987, Tracy wrote a weekly outdoor column for the Schenectady Gazette.He has also been active with conservation and sportsmen’s organizations, serving many years as Schenectady County representative to DEC’s Region 4 Fish and Wildlife Management Act Board (alternately as sportsman and landowner). After 25 years, the laboratory Tracy worked for was eliminated and he joined a group of fellow former GE scientists in an independent testing and consulting laboratory, as senior scientist for materials characterization. He mostly retired at the end of 1999 but went back as a consultant several times after that.

Tracy’s wife Eileen passed away 10 years ago of cancer, after nearly 45 years of marriage. “For many of those years, she was my deer hunting and wood gathering companion. When I come to the places where she used to wait for me to try to push a deer her way I can’t help but think she would be pleased with what our woodlot has become.” Tracy said. “Part of what motivates me is the feeling that I am still sharing it with her.”

The two acres Tracy and Eileen purchased in Rotterdam in 1963 have now grown to 143 acres. “In 1987 I purchased 60 acres that were landlocked but bounded my 2 plus acre building lot. With the permission of the owner/neighbor/friend, I had been hunting, maintaining trails, and gathering firewood on that land for 24 years,” Tracy remembered. “Two years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase an additional 80 acres of landlocked land that shares 1,100 feet of common boundary.I would say that my motivation was the preservation of open space and to assure my continued access to it.”

Tracy also owns 17 acres in Greene County, much of which is along a trout stream with a series of scenic waterfalls where his ancestors had water powered mills. He and Eileen renovated what had been the miller’s house and Tracy’s childhood home to be a bed and breakfast (Shinglekill Falls) which his daughter-in-law now operates. He spends most weekends there recently, working on a nature trail for guests on the neighboring property that they recently purchased.

“I seek out information from all available sources including conferences, webinars, text books, etc. and discuss with family and neighbors issues that might affect them, but the decisions are my own,” Tracy said. “Maintaining trails and boundaries, gathering firewood, and wildlife habitat improvement work are my recreation.” He did have a timber stand improvement harvest done five years ago for which he hired a consulting forester who put it out for bids. The actual logging was done by an individual hired by the mill that won the contract.

The Rotterdam property is mostly level, and at the top of a hill that is 1,100 feet above its surroundings. There are steep slopes and ravines on the north and east sides. The soil is shallow clay over shale. There is a man made pond of about two acres. Much of the land is poorly drained and there are several perpetual mud holes. There are old stone walls, ghost furrows, barbed wire and foundations to attest to the farms that were abandoned 87 years ago. Deep skidder trails and huge rotting logs remain from a timber theft that was halted in progress 25 years ago.

Tracy’s late friend and consulting forester Mike Greason, whom Tracy used to consult on forest management questions for his weekly outdoor column, referred him to NYFOA after the timber theft took place. “I knew the adjoining neighbor was having a timber harvest done, so I didn’t think much of it when I heard chainsaws,” Tracy remembers. “After a couple of days, I decided to take a walk and ran into the loggers — on my own land!” The conversation did not go well at first — the loggers accused Tracy of trespassing on his own property, and the police refused to come when called. They did eventually see reason and stopped the harvest, but 3-4 tractor trailer loads of timber had already been cut. Tracy considered pursuing civil action, but after weighing the upfront costs against the potential settlement decided that it was not worth it. His main project since purchasing the most recent 80 acres has been tracing out and posting the boundaries and establishing a trail along them. “The timber theft taught me the need to post, which I really hated to do,” Tracy said.

When he first moved to the Rotterdam property 54 years ago there was some old second growth, but it was mostly a mix of young forest; white pine and aspen, and abandoned pasture that was overgrown with red-stem and grey-stem dogwood, buckthorn, hawthorn, and viburnum. The dominant species now in the older areas are red oak, hemlock, white oak, white pine, ash, hickory, hop hornbeam, beech, serviceberry, and sassafras, in decreasing order of abundance. The understory is quite open with moderate red oak and ash regeneration and lots of witch hazel and some honeysuckle. The younger areas are dominated by aspen, red maple, white pine, dead and dying ash with a thick understory of honeysuckle, buckthorn, and multiflora rose. He has not done alot to address the interfering vegetation, except for a couple of areas he keeps open and plants food plots in for wildlife — his priority right now is establishing a perimeter trail around the entire property.

Tracy’s two biggest challenges when it comes to forest management are finding the time and energy, and dealing with the mud. He has two tractors, one with a backhoe, brush hog, tiller, a dozer, stump grinder, chipper/shredder, an Argo with tracks, winches, several trailers, a collection of chain saws and a skidding cone. He attended the Master Forest Owner program at Arnot Forest and continues to attend seminars when he can — he even hosted a Game of Logging on his property this December. “I almost always work alone but have my cell phone. It would be nice to have help sometimes but it’s amazing what an old guy can do with a chain saw, a tractor with a front end loader, a couple lengths of chain, and a little ingenuity,” Tracy laughed. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the new lithium-ion battery powered tools (as opposed to gasoline-powered) are great for light work pruning and trail work. He is considering purchasing an electric ATV so that he can enjoy taking his daughter, Stephanie, and girlfriend Claudia out and about on the properties — they both have mobility issues.

After being approached several times by wind companies interested in the possibility of leasing some of his land for a wind farm, Tracy decided to take advantage of it himself. After initial resistance from the town around permitting, he prevailed, and his Bergey wind turbine (installed by Hudson Valley Wind and Solar) now provides about 70% of his energy needs. He heats and cools with heat pumps, and only switches over to oil furnace and wood heat during the coldest months of the year. Between NYSERDA paying a portion of the costs (48.5% based on 13.5 mph average winds), and the federal income tax credit (up to 30%), Tracy ended up paying only $16,000 out of pocket for a $78,000 system. “Now if only they would come up the same kind of incentives for microhydro that they have for wind and solar!” Tracy exclaimed. He purchased a water wheel in NC years ago that he is hoping to set up at the waterfall in Purling one day.

Tracy has had an interest in forest management for as long as he can remember. “It may have been bred into me,” he mused. His father was a carpenter but cut firewood to scratch out a living during hard times. His great-great grandfather was a logger and had a team of oxen to drag logs down the mountainside to his uncle’s sawmill, and another relative was a forester for the Taconic Parkway Authority. “Hunting and fishing and the concept of conservation, putting something back, have been a family tradition for generations,” Tracy remembers. “When I was 12, a salty old woodsman and trapper took me on as a helper tending his trap line. Much to the disapproval of some people, I sort of idolized the guy. The old trapper smelled of bottles of beaver castor and fox urine he carried in his pockets. He wore heavy red and black plaid Johnson woolens, and rolled down hip waders year round. Only the length of his white beard changed with the seasons. He was an expert fly caster and adequate at tying flies. He was a pretty good shot with the .22 revolver that was always on his belt and he would let me break a few bottles with it. He must have appreciated my listening to his stories of serving with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish- American War. He certainly knew the ways of critters.”

At the age of 13, the Cairo Fish and Game Club sponsored Tracy to attend the New York State Conservation Camp for Boys at Debruce in 1955, where he was selected “Camper of the Year” from about 1000 boys. The award included getting to go back the following year to star in a documentary film, (Sportsmen at Work) about the camp and $1,000 to the sponsoring club to be spent on conservation projects. The second half of the film was the club implementing the projects the kids learned at camp. “We planted trees and shrubs, built pool digger dams, log crib stream bank protection, flooded a marsh into a duck pond and a lot more,” Tracy recalled. “Though the nature of the DEC camps has changed over the years, I am a strong proponent of the program and have been responsible for sending dozens of kids to the camps.”

His son and grandsons share his interests in hunting, fishing, and forest management, though they are not able to help out much on the properties right now, as his son lives a few hours away and his grandsons are in college.

Tracy’s advice to other landowners is as follows: “Be honest with yourself about why you want to be a forest owner. Learn as much as you can. When it comes to major decisions, talk to a professional. Get involved in NYFOA, a nice bunch of people with common interests and a wealth of information.”

What he most enjoys about being a forest owner is “Just getting out there and taking in the sights and sounds and realizing that for however brief a time it is mine. In retirement, I have released the woodsman that had continually struggled to emerge from within the scientist.”

Briana Binkerd-Dale is a student in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology at Cornell University.

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