[ MANY MILES AWAY ]
Forest Management in New York City
There are 10,000 acres of public forest within the five boroughs of New York
City. That doesn’t mean street trees, or trees dotting the lawns in parks, but
actual forested acres – what are known within the city as forested natural
areas. While only a three- or four-hour drive from the southern reaches of
what is generally considered the great northern forest, the forests of New
York City are a world away in how they must be managed.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural
Resources Group (NRG) is a 23-member team charged with stewarding
roughly 7,000 acres of these forests. They are assisted by the Natural
Areas Conservancy (NAC), a not-for-profit founded in 2012. Together, the
two groups bring a unique mix of horticulture and traditional forestry to the
management of this public resource.
Tree-planting, not typically a component of forest management in the
northeastern U.S., is a major priority in New York City’s forests. On November
20, 2015, the millionth tree was planted as part of the Million TreesNYC effort
initiated by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “With volunteer assistance,
more than half of the trees planted as part of Million TreesNYC were planted
in natural areas,” said Kristy King, NYC Parks’ director of forest restoration.
More than 85 percent of those trees have survived, which is impressive
given the pressures on trees in urban and high-use environments. The new
trees include more than a hundred species of native trees and shrubs, with
native seeds sourced from within 200 miles of each planting site. Native
genetic diversity is very important to the forest restoration program for a
variety of reasons, including the resilience it confers on tree populations.
While forest stewardship is important everywhere, in New York City,
A view of the restored Alley Pond Park in Queens, where volunteers and staff planted both young trees and wildflowers. The site was formerly a vineland.
the current emphasis is on forest restoration. The objective is to redress
the impacts that humans have had on forested areas dating back at least
three centuries. By the end of the American Revolution, in 1783, the entire
forested landscape of the city had been cleared. While there has been a lot of
regeneration since then, the fact that these forests are part of a city that’s
home to nearly 8. 5 million people (more than double the populations of
Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined) means there continue to be
unique human-induced pressures on the forests of New York City.
Almost all of New York City’s forested natural areas see high levels of use.
NYC Parks and the Natural Areas Conservancy have worked to overcome the
public’s perception of the areas as unsafe because of illegal dumping and
crime. “This is something that we’re working very hard to change through
civic engagement, improving pedestrian access, and education,” King said.
The NRG has mapped over 300 miles of hiking trails in the parks, with the
ultimate goal of designating and managing a formal trail system instead of
the current mix of desire lines (unplanned paths created by people).
“Working on trail management has really shown me just how intensive
human use can be in our natural areas – Marine Park in Brooklyn is a good
illustration of this,” King said. The park is really popular for operators of off-road vehicles (which are illegal in the city), and they’ve done considerable
damage to the unique maritime forest in the park. The Natural Areas
Conservancy is currently working on a project, on which King is advising,
to narrow and close some trails through ecological restoration. They also
hope that by increasing positive park use they’ll reduce illegal ATV access.
“Our efforts in Marine Park include planting 7,000 trees and shrubs and