Reconnecting People and Forests
Careers, Community, Forest Management, Innovation, People

Adapting forests for a changing climate in the Adirondacks

An Interview with Forester Mike Federice

By Tony Mazza, Natural Resources Policy Specialist, SAF.

In late September 2022, I had the pleasure of visiting Huntington Forest at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). The higher peaks in the area were already displaying picturesque fall foliage, setting the scene for a pleasant weekend. I was invited by Dr. Marianne Patinelli-Dubay, who is the Environmental Philosophy Program Coordinator at ESF and SAF Adirondack’s Chapter Chair. During my weekend at Huntington, I had the immense pleasure of spending an afternoon with forester Mike Federice, who manages ESF’s forest properties in the Adirondacks. He is also SAF Adirondack’s Chapter Chair Elect. Federice gave me a generous tour of Huntington, which included a black bear sighting, local trivia, splendid vistas, and most impressively, a walk through the forest’s demonstration and research sites.

The back-to-back demonstration sites brought to life textbook silviculture treatments, some serving as important research projects attempting to address challenges forests face in northern latitudes. I was inspired by Federice’s knowledge, insight, and optimism around the future of the forest sector, and so I invited him to share more about his work with ESF.

Tony Mazza (TM): Hi Mike. To begin, would you introduce yourself?

Mike Federice (MF): I’m Mike Federice, a Forester with SUNY ESF Forest Properties. I manage ESF’s Adirondack Forest Properties in northern New York. Prior to working with ESF, I worked in industrial forestry and procurement in upstate New York and New England. I have always enjoyed the outdoors, which is what led me to become a forester.

TM: Can you tell us a bit more about ESF’s properties in the Adirondacks and the type of work carried out there?

MF: SUNY ESF maintains 20,000 acres of forest land in the Adirondacks, in addition to 4,000 acres in central New York. There are four different properties spread across the Adirondacks, each with their own defining characteristics and specific uses which make them unique. The primary purpose of the Forest Properties is to promote opportunities for teaching, research, and demonstration.

The properties are regularly used as an outdoor classroom, which is an indispensable learning tool for hands-on teaching. The properties also provide a setting for long- and short-term research across a multitude of topics like forestry, ecology, wildlife, biogeochemistry, and beyond. There are various examples of forest management techniques as a means of demonstration on some of the properties as well. Public recreation is currently permitted in some capacity on portions of three of the four Adirondack properties.

 TM: During our tour of the Huntington Forest, you discussed how your research plots are addressing some of the leading threats to forests in the Adirondacks. Can you discuss some of the challenges you’re addressing and what your research suggests so far?

MF: The primary challenge we are facing at this time is associated with the effects of beech bark disease. Beech saplings are prolific throughout the understory across the majority of our hardwood stands. These saplings have little—if any—opportunity to develop beyond small diameter pulpwood. Since the saplings are already established in the understory, they impede regeneration of desirable species (i.e., sugar maple, yellow birch, red oak, white pine, hemlock, red spruce). In our more recent timber harvesting, we found it necessary to remove the beech saplings from the understory during harvesting in order to open the understory for desirable regeneration. This has been accomplished during logging using a feller buncher and a prescribed threshold for cutting beech saplings (i.e., 1” DBH or > 5 ft. tall). Timber harvest areas employed with this level of beech sapling removal are still in the early stages of regeneration and are being closely monitored as regeneration begins to appear. We have also seen that heavier cutting intensities help initiate a competitive advantage for regeneration of desirable species over beech.

Another challenge we are facing is climate change. Shorter and milder winters pose major concerns for winter logging. This is especially important here in the Adirondacks where many areas can only be accessed during frozen conditions. The cost of constructing a road only for winter use is considerably cheaper than a summer access road; this is particularly important in areas with low timber value. A long-term concern associated with climate change is the transition of tree species ranges. The Adaptive Capacity Through Silviculture (ACTS) study at Huntington Forest is intended to evaluate strategies for managing forest stands for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The ACTS study also includes a “Transition” area. Within the Transition blocks, tree species more characteristic of warmer sites will be planted and monitored for success. In many cases these species' current range does not include Huntington Forest, however, given temperature projection models, it is expected their ranges will shift to higher latitudes and elevations.


Other challenges the Adirondack properties are facing include white pine decline, forest tent caterpillar, and spongy moth. There have been recent management activities in areas affected by all three of the above concerns. Hemlock wooly adelgid, emerald ash borer, and beech leaf disease are also knocking on our door with anticipated management challenges that may facilitate additional research and demonstration projects for us. Another concern of mine is having an adequate contractor base of loggers and truckers in the future. The general trend in recent years has been a decrease in the number of crews available for logging, which may pose a challenge for us to successfully complete forest management projects.


TM: Given the research you’re doing, it’s clear you are thinking about what the future holds for the forest sector. What opportunities do you think are in store for forestry and forest management?

MF: I think there are more opportunities than ever for forestry and forest management. As a society, we are beginning to focus on sustainability and renewable resources. To me, this should mean a growing demand for forest-based products over traditional plastics, fossil fuels, steel, and concrete. I’m hopeful that forestry is recognized by our youth as an avenue for sustainability to help increase recruitment into the field.

TM: ESF is first and foremost a school and a research institution—and a strong one at that. On the topic of the future, can you talk to us about the work you do with students?

 MF: On the Adirondack properties, we provide opportunities for field trips and tours of research projects and demonstration areas for ESF classes, as well as groups from other institutions. We are also able to facilitate research areas for students looking for specific sites on the properties with relevant data; we maintain extensive records going back many years that are often used by researchers. Last but certainly not least, Forest Properties often employs a summer crew to help with field work. This is a phenomenal opportunity for students and recent college graduates to gain boots-on-the-ground experience through a variety of forest and natural resources management projects.

In a time when our forests face such grand challenges and opportunities, it’s critical to have forestry professionals who are thinking creatively and strategically about the future of the sector. Central to that task is fostering a new generation of forestry professionals who are passionate and adaptive. We are grateful to Mike Federice and Dr. Marianne Patinelli-Dubay for their forward-thinking service to SAF and the profession. 

Original article for the Forestry Source, January 2023 edition



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Standing Proud

You grow through what you go through. And through it all, we'll be here. Standing proud.

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Our people - their commitment to safety, the environment, and to a better future. That’s what makes this possible. It’s why we’ll always remain committed to keeping forests as forests. We plant and regrow trees to ensure that the world can continue to rely on us for innovative and essential solutions to whatever challenges the next 30 years holds for us.


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Roseburg, Ore. – Restoring central Oregon’s federal forests is a big important job, requiring a  diverse group of stakeholders working together to create science-guided solutions that strive for balance, landscape scale and local economic benefits. Too many small trees crowd the landscape, putting homes and property at risk from intense wildfires. But what to do about it? This six-minute video showcases how stakeholders are working to restore central Oregon’s forests and make them more fire-resilient.

“The forests in central Oregon are adapted to fire,” said Pete Caliguiri, a fire ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. “With 450,000 acres of forest in need of restoration, it is important that we learn how to scale up our efforts. Sound science should continue to guide us.”

Forest restoration is expensive and results in a lot of by-products with varying degrees of commercial value. Finding markets for less valuable by-products from restoration projects, such as small trees and brush, would lower costs and create more local jobs.

“Ideally we’d have markets for the small trees and biomass that result from these treatments,” said Nicole Strong, assistant professor at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to create markets for some of these by-products like firewood, post and poles, pellets and wood chips for heat and power,” said Ed Keith, Deschutes County Forester.

“Forest restoration creates a lot of benefits: reduced fire risk to communities, improved economics and utilization of the by-products and improved forest ecology,” Stowe added. “We’ll never get the forest back to where it was before we mucked it up. But we can get it headed in the right direction, and it will be a better forest for everyone.”

The video was produced by the Oregon Department of Forestry with generous funding provided by the USDA Forest Service.

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The Crew

The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work. – Thomas Edison

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Technology To The Rescue

People are bad at random – we even have a tendency to find patterns where no intentional pattern exists (seeing a face in the stones on a wall is a common example). So, when forest managers are working to recreate the complex, seemingly random patterns found in nature, how do they do it?

They start with science and statistics. Yes – statistics can help you get surprisingly close to the complexity of nature (see my recent blog for background). Even so, after you determine what a more natural forest would look like in your area, there’s the challenge of implementing that on the ground. 

I’m joining the Tapash Forest Collaborative for a workshop organized by the Nature Conservancy’s Ryan Haugo and led by the University of Washington’s Derek Churchill to see first-hand how a new app allows them to recreate spatially diverse, resilient forests on the ground.

" We realized we need to do something with these stands, or we’ll lose them all to insects, disease, and wildfire. "

Rod Pfeifle

We gather in Cle Elum, Washington to learn about the science behind restoring a forest to a more natural pattern of individual trees, tree clumps and forest openings (ICO). During the workshop local foresters have an opportunity to practice using QuickMap, a forestry app created by Churchill’s team to implement the ICO approach to ecological restoration thinning in dry western forests.

In the conference room, we look at aerial images and stem maps of old-growth forests in similar climates – these will provide the reference conditions for the healthy mosaic we hope to restore. Looking at the aerial images of forests and stem maps of the individual trees, clumps and openings, I can easily see the difference between a homogenous patch and one that’s spatially diverse.

From Churchill et al. 2013 used with permission.

In the Thick of It

However, once we arrive in a large clearing among Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines, the old saw about not seeing the forest for the trees becomes all too real. How will we decide which trees need to be thinned without the benefit of a birds-eye view? Undaunted, the forestry professionals around me gather for a briefing on the plans for this forest.

Rod Pfeifle of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife leads with background on the forest and management goals for the future.

“The last harvest in this stand was 35 to 40 years ago. We realized we need to do something with these stands, or we’ll lose them all to insects, disease, and wildfire,” Pfeifle said.

This forest is being managed for conservation and wildlife habitat. The planned management will be mechanical thinning hopefully followed by burning, so we’ll need to mark which trees will not be cut in order to recreate a resilient spatial patchwork – yes, under some circumstances, thinning forests can be better for conservation in the long term.

We are instructed to keep any very old or very large trees. Another important goal is to keep and create wildlife trees, dead or unusually shaped trees that birds and other wildlife rely on for nesting and foraging opportunities. If there aren’t any around, we can mark trees that have a “catface” or scar to let tree removal crews know they should remove the top of the tree, but leave a “snag” behind, which will become a new wildlife tree.

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The pacific chorus frog, one of the many wild animals supported by the dry forests of the Pacific Northwest. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Hannah Letinich)

Some threatened spotted owls still live not far from this area, so we’re keeping an eye out for and preserving any areas that could be good habitat for them to expand to in the future.

Keeping all of this in mind, we’ll use QuickMap to decide how many trees we need to remove and which trees we should keep in order to recreate a resilient spatial mosaic in this forest.

QuickMap to the Rescue

Each team gets a tablet with the QuickMap app and a few cans of neon orange paint. Measuring tape is also a must, but these foresters come prepared, the typical “uniform” includes a utility belt complete with tape measurer and a spot to hang a paint sprayer, a hard hat, and a safety vest with built in pockets all around the bottom.

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The tools of the trade for forestry specialists. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Hannah Letinich)

We huddle around to look at the app and discuss the layout and goals for our five-acre practice plot (pine forest surrounding a rocky clearing on a slope).

The app has already been updated with information about how many individual trees and clumps a naturally diverse five-acre plot in this area would be statistically likely to contain.

As we ascend, the group discusses which trees to mark as “leave trees” (those that will not be removed). Leave trees are marked with paint, measured, and the data is entered in the app as individuals or clumps – the number of trees in a clump and the average diameter is also recorded. QuickMap uses a color coded system to let crews on the ground know in real time as they approach an appropriate number of individual trees and clumps for the reference areas.

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Foresters practice using the QuickMap app. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Hannah Letinich)

It’s not important that each team have exactly the number of recommended individuals and clumps for their region. Depending on factors like soil conditions and wildlife goals, some groups end up preserving more clumps, while others preserve more individual trees – the more acres that are covered, the more the final result averages out to create a diverse spatial mosaic that will keep the forest resilient to fires, pests, and a changing climate.

Even though it’s our first time using the app, our five-acres are mapped in just a couple of hours. An experienced two-person team can mark 10-20 acres in just one day. The app is still being improved, but once it is complete Churchill will make it freely available so that people in different places can adapt it to their needs and make it their own. Speed is of the essence since millions of acres of America’s forests are too dense compared to reference conditions, making them prone to uncharacteristically severe fire and disease.

It will take time for tree removal and for the forest to take over the job – growing, seeding new areas, and dying back from others – but the ICO approach gives the forest a head start at creating healthier, more resilient conditions.

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