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Local regulation of timber harvesting can increase the time and capital required to conduct timber harvesting operations. These ordinances are typically difficult to locate, use vague language, and vary considerably in intent and requirements across jurisdictions. This research determined that the number of New York State towns with ordinances increased from 58 in 1995 to 150 in 2013. Ordinances and their provisions were classified into eight categories and then examined using content analysis supplemented by expert opinion interviews with 18 foresters. Ordinances varied considerably among towns and across ordinance provisions; however, the complexity of ordinances (measured by the number of provision categories in an ordinance) was not equivalent to the onerousness of an ordinance. Foresters indicated that the most onerous ordinances contained specific provisions (long and involved permit applications, public hearing and site plan reviews, and excessively high performance bonds) or vague language that could be applied inconsistently by town officials. This study provides foresters, landowners, policymakers, and other stakeholders with insights they can use to better navigate and improve local regulation of timber harvesting.
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Local Regulation of Timber Harvesting in
New York State
Whitney C. Forman-Cook, Robert W. Malmsheimer, and Rene´ H. Germain
Local regulation of timber harvesting can increase the time and capital required to conduct timber harvesting operations. These ordinances are typically difficult to locate,
use vague language, and vary considerably in intent and requirements across jurisdictions. This research determined that the number of New York State towns with
ordinances increased from 58 in 1995 to 150 in 2013. Ordinances and their provisions were classified into eight categories and then examined using content analysis
supplemented by expert opinion interviews with 18 foresters. Ordinances varied considerably among towns and across ordinance provisions; however, the complexity
of ordinances (measured by the number of provision categories in an ordinance) was not equivalent to the onerousness of an ordinance. Foresters indicated that the
most onerous ordinances contained specific provisions (long and involved permit applications, public hearing and site plan reviews, and excessively high performance
bonds) or vague language that could be applied inconsistently by town officials. This study provides foresters, landowners, policymakers, and other stakeholders with
insights they can use to better navigate and improve local regulation of timber harvesting.
Keywords: municipal regulation, town ordinances, county ordinances, ordinance provisions
More than 19 million acres (63%) of New York State
(NYS) are classified as forested land. The vast majority of
this land (76%) is privately owned by more than one-
half million individuals, families, and businesses (North East State
Foresters Association 2013). The sale of forest products in NYS
provides these forest owners with approximately $250 million in
stumpage revenue annually. Many landowners use revenue from
forest products to pay property taxes and retain ownership of their
land. Over the past 40 years, many NYS towns have passed ordi-
nances that directly or indirectly affect these private landowners’
ability to harvest timber and other forest products.
Although NYS
has voluntary best management practices (BMPs) for timber har-
in the absence of such a town ordinance, timber harvesting
in NYS is regulated only by provisions of regional (e.g., the Adiron-
dack Park Act [NYS Executive Law Art. 27, NYS Environmental
Conservation Law Art. 24, and Art. 15 (title 27)]), state (e.g., NYS
Endangered Species Act [NYS Environmental Conservation Law
§ 11-0535]), and federal environmental laws (e.g., Clean Water Act
[33 USC §§ 1251-1387] and Endangered Species Act [16 USC
§ 1531-1544]) that apply to activities that include timber
NYS towns started enacting timber harvesting ordinances (or
regulations) in the early 1970s when the Town of Fishkill (Dutchess
County) created the first ordinance in 1973 and the Town of Big
Flats (Chemung County) passed an ordinance 4 years later (Wolf-
gram 1984, Floyd et al. 1996). By 1984, the number of towns with
timber harvesting ordinances had risen to 24 and only 6 years later
to 38 (Wolfgram 1984, Hickman and Martus 1991). In 1992, the
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS
DEC) (1992) located 47 towns with ordinances, and in the most
recent inventory in NYS in 1995, Floyd et al. (1996) found 58
towns with ordinances.
This increase in NYS town government ordinances was consis-
tent with local regulatory trends found in other states and regions.
For instance, Granskog et al. (2002) found that the number of
county and municipal governments with ordinances in the US
South increased 141% from 1992 to 2000, with the number of
ordinances in most southern states doubling during that time. Mor-
timer et al. (2006) found that the number of city and county ordi-
nances in Virginia increased from 48 in 1992 to 78 in 2000 to 264
in 2005. Although studies have not documented the amount of
timber affected by local regulations, Prisley et al. (2006) estimated
that local ordinance buffer requirements in four Virginia counties
directly limited harvesting on an average of 21% of operable forest
area and indirectly limited harvesting on between 2 and 23% of
operable forest area.
Manuscript received September 13, 2014; accepted May 12, 2015; published online June 18, 2015.
Affiliations: Whitney C. Forman-Cook (, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Robert W. Malmsheimer
(, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Forest and Natural Resources Management, Syracuse, NY. Rene´ H. Germain
(, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Acknowledgments: This research was supported by a McIntire-Stennis grant administered by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. We thank the
foresters and town clerks who participated in our study.
APPLIED RESEARCH For. Sci. 61(6):1079–1087
Copyright © 2015 Society of American Foresters
Forest Science December 2015 1079
Timber harvesting ordinances are often enacted to address legit-
imate local government concerns, such as the following: protecting
nonharvesting landowners’ property values, local government infra-
structure, or environmental quality; providing towns with the abil-
ity to hold irresponsible loggers accountable (Kaeser 1996); and
reducing the opportunities for timber theft by requiring property
line buffers. However, timber harvesting ordinances can also in-
crease the cost of forest management and timber harvesting and
create additional problems for forest managers and forest landown-
ers (Lickwar et al. 1992, De Sylva 1998). For example, ordinances
may (1) duplicate state and/or county requirements, (2) dictate
specific management practices rather than desired outcomes, (3)
prohibit timber harvesting directly or indirectly, and/or (4) contrib-
ute to declining economies of scale (Kaeser 1996, Prisley et al. 2006,
Vickery et al. 2009). Local ordinances can also be difficult to locate
and recognize (Provencher and Lassoie 1982, Popovich 1984,
Youell 1985, Cubbage and Siegel 1985, 1988, Cubbage 1989), vary
considerably in intent, severity, and cost of compliance (Hamilton
1980, Provencher and Lassoie 1982, Smith 1984), limit the use of
forest management practices such as regeneration cuts, and delay
forestry operations (Kaeser 1996).
This study documented the current status and assessed the effects
of local timber harvesting ordinances in NYS. This goal was sup-
ported by four research objectives: (1) inventory existing town tim-
ber harvesting and tree-cutting ordinances, (2) classify and describe
timber harvesting ordinances and their provisions, (3) identify the
complexity and onerousness of town timber harvesting ordinances,
and (4) explore the effects of town regulations on commercial tim-
ber harvesting operations.
Ordinance Collection and Classification
We surveyed the town clerks of all 932 towns in NYS to identify
those with timber harvesting or tree-cutting ordinances. We chose
town clerks for two reasons: because previous research identified
town governments, rather than city, county, or regional govern-
as the primary enactors of regulations in NYS that limit
timber harvesting or tree-cutting (Wolfgram 1984, Hickman and
Martus 1991, NYS DEC 1992, Floyd et al. 1996)
and because
town clerks are the official custodians of towns’ codes and are re-
sponsible for keeping a complete and accurate record of all town
business (New York State Department of State [NYS DOS] 2009).
Our survey followed the modified survey method of Dillman
et al. (2008). We mailed a questionnaire with a return, stamped
envelope to 932 town clerks across NYS. After 4 weeks, we mailed
nonrespondents a reminder postcard, and 5 weeks later we mailed
nonrespondents another copy of the questionnaire. Persistent non-
respondents (more than 500 town clerks) were e-mailed the ques-
tionnaire and contacted via telephone.
In our mail, e-mail, and telephone surveys, we asked town clerks
whether their town currently had a timber harvesting or tree-cutting
regulation. If it did, we asked them to send us a copy of the ordi-
nance and reimbursed them for any costs.
Because our primary goal was to understand ordinances that
affect commercial timber harvesting, we report the results of our
ordinance inventory and then limit our subsequent analysis to tim-
ber harvesting ordinances. We also limited our in-depth analysis to
towns in upstate New York (which we defined as all towns north of
New York City) because commercial timber harvesting rarely occurs
on Long Island or in New York City boroughs.
Ordinance Variability
We read each timber harvesting ordinance and classified its re-
quirements (e.g., permit requirements and buffers) into eight pro-
vision categories (Table 1). We adapted the ordinance provision
classification system of Hickman and Martus (1991) and Floyd et al.
(1996) and classified ordinances by their specific restrictions. How-
ever, unlike other studies (Floyd et al. 1996, Granskog et al. 2002,
Mortimer et al. 2006) that analyzed ordinances’ effects on forest
management generally (e.g., restrictions on pesticide use or pre-
scribed fires), we classified ordinance provisions by their direct effect
on commercial timber harvesting operations.
In addition, we categorized town ordinances by level of complex-
ity based on the number of ordinance provision categories within an
ordinance. For example, if an ordinance contained three provisions
(e.g., requirements for a permit, a performance bond, and a stream
buffer), we categorized it as less complex than ordinances with four
or more provisions.
Ordinance Provisions’ Variability, Impacts, and Onerousness
According to Kaeser (1996), foresters who work across jurisdic-
tions sometimes have difficulty navigating the variability of ordi-
nances. To increase our understanding of this variability and how
ordinances’ provisions affect foresters, we identified and interviewed
18 foresters from across NYS who were familiar with numerous
towns’ timber harvesting ordinances. To ensure that we recruited
Table 1. Timber harvesting ordinance provision categories and number of forester comments on ordinance provision categories.
Provision category Common examples of requirements No. of comments by foresters*
Permits Permits “by application”; permits “by right”; special use permits; notification or
registration requirements
Bonds Performance bonds; surety bonds 40
Road and Property Line Buffers Road or highway buffers; property line buffers; landing or loading area buffers 24
Best Management Practices Following NYS DEC timber harvesting BMP guidelines; town-specific BMP
requirements (e.g., water bars at scheduled intervals)
Management Plans Forest management plans; sediment and erosion control plans; restoration or
reforestation plans; stormwater management or pollution control plans
Stream Buffers Stream buffers; requirements for buffers around wetlands, lakes, and/or rivers 14
Clearcutting Restrictions Prohibition of clearcutting; additional requirements when clearcutting (e.g., site
plan review or management plan drafted by professional forester); residual
basal area minimums
Reviews Public hearing requirements; site plan reviews by town officials or others 9
*Foresters provided comments on more than one town ordinance and on different numbers of ordinances, so some town’s ordinances received comments from more than
one forester and some town’s ordinances were not evaluated by any foresters.
1080 Forest Science December 2015
experts, we primarily interviewed members of the Society of Amer-
ican Foresters (SAF) (nine of which were SAF Certified Foresters). It
is important to note that we did not choose a random sample of NYS
foresters to interview. Given the exploratory nature of this part of
our study—no studies have interviewed foresters and used qualita-
tive data to understand the variability and impact of local govern-
ment timber harvesting ordinances–we thought it was critically im-
portant to interview only highly experienced foresters in NYS.
In the interviews, we asked foresters a series of questions based
on existing timber harvesting ordinances and their provisions.
The survey instrument was tested for reliability and validity be-
fore our interviews by two foresters with considerable timber
harvesting ordinance experience. The interviews varied in dura-
tion based on two factors: the number of ordinances within the
foresters’ woodshed and the number and types of provisions
within towns’ ordinances. On average, each forester reviewed 5
different ordinances; 44 town ordinances were reviewed by at
least 1 forester.
We asked the foresters to provide comments based on an assump-
tion that they were conducting a timber harvesting operation on 75
acres of even-aged, northern hardwoods with a stumpage value of
$50,000. For each provision in a given town’s ordinance, we asked
them to do the following:
Share their general thoughts on the ordinance’s provisions.
These comments provided the qualitative data that we ana-
lyzed to supplement our analysis of ordinance provisions’ vari-
ability, and formed the exclusive basis for our results on ordi-
nance provisions’ onerousness.
Estimate the number of additional hours of administrative work
it usually took them to comply with each provision’s require-
ment. To facilitate their estimation, we asked foresters to base
this on five options: (1) 0 hours, (2) 1–2 hours, (3) 3– 4 hours, (4)
5–6 hours, and (5) 7 hours or more. In our results for each
provision, we report the option chosen by the most foresters.
Estimate how much additional money it usually cost a landowner
to comply with the provision’s requirement. To facilitate their
estimation, we asked foresters to base this on five options: (1)
$0 –$50, (2) $51–$150, (3) $151–$300, (4) $301–$750, and (5)
$751 or more. In our results for each provision, we report the
option chosen by the most foresters.
Estimate the cumulative effect of all the provisions in each ordi-
nance on each town’s harvestable timber supply, which we de-
fined as the timber within each town that was feasibly harvestable
given the ordinance’s provisions. To facilitate their estimation,
we asked foresters to estimate the percentage that harvestable
timber would decrease in a given town based on five options: (1)
0%, (2) 0–20%, (3) 21– 40%, (4) 41– 60%, (5) 61– 80%, and
(6) 81–100%. In our results, we report the option chosen by the
most foresters.
Although determining ordinance complexity allowed us to mea-
sure ordinance variability, complexity does not necessarily indicate
ordinance onerousness. So, in addition to the questions above, we
asked foresters whether the ordinances’ provisions made it more
likely than not that the forester would not conduct a timber sale in
the town.
Ordinance Inventory
The survey of 932 NYS town clerks yielded 901 responses, for a
response rate of 96.6%. A total of 201 towns had either a timber
harvesting or a tree-cutting ordinance (Figure 1). The locations of
the towns with ordinances were not uniformly distributed through-
out NYS. Of these ordinances, 150 directly affected commercial
timber harvesting operations and 51 towns’ ordinances addressed
only tree cutting. Interestingly, 13 of the 58 towns that had timber
harvesting ordinances in 1995 repealed their ordinances by 2013.
Ordinance Provisions
We classified all the provisions of the 150 towns’ timber harvest-
ing ordinances into eight provision categories. By far the most prev-
alent provisions were those requiring permits (Table 2). Even the
provisions found in the least number of towns’ ordinances, Stream
Buffers and Reviews, were included in more than 15% of towns’
Towns’ ordinances had various levels of complexity, which we
defined based on the number of types of provisions foresters have to
address in an ordinance, but towns in the Catskills and Hudson
Valley regions tended to have more complex ordinances (Figure 2).
The majority of ordinances (72.6%) had fewer than four provisions
and more than one-third (37.3%) of all the ordinances only con-
tained one type of provision (Table 3).
Ordinance Provision Variability
The types of permits required by towns varied considerably. For
example, some towns required standard permits: permits that were
permitted by right and did not require applicants’ permit applica-
tion to undergo any review process. Other towns classified timber
harvesting as a “special land use” and required special use permits:
permits that required town planning board approval. Some towns’
ordinances contained specific criteria for evaluating a timber har-
vesting special use permit application. Other towns required town
planning boards to evaluate these permit applications according to
the same criteria as those for other special use permit applications
(NYS DOS 2009).
Most foresters reported that it took 3–5 hours to complete per-
mit applications. However, some especially long permits required a
considerable amount of time to complete. For instance, most for-
esters reported the Town of Highlands’ (Orange County) standard
permit application took 7 hours to complete the paperwork.
The type of permit also influenced how much time foresters
needed to complete the permit process. Special use permits required
more time and preparation to complete than standard permits, be-
cause foresters had to both complete the special use permit applica-
tion and attend the special use permit hearing. For example, most
foresters said the Town of Fallsburg’s (Sullivan County) standard
permit took only 1–2 hours to complete. Conversely, most foresters
indicated that the Town of Beekman’s (Dutchess County) special
use permit application, which required an application nearly iden-
tical to that of the Town of Fallsburg’s, and hearing took them 6–7
hours to complete. In fact, as a forester working in the Catskills and
Hudson Valley noted, when work opportunities are not limited,
foresters may avoid towns requiring special use permits: “[Given the
choice,] I probably wouldn’t work in [the Town of Beekman] just
because [it requires a] special use permit.”
Forest Science December 2015 1081
The ordinances of 61 towns required the use of BMPs. Every
forester reported regularly complying with standard NYS BMP
guidelines (see NYS DEC et al. 2011) and indicated that they be-
lieved it was sensible to include these BMP requirements in ordi-
nances because, as a number of foresters noted, these are “a part of
responsible forest management.” Because foresters included the cost
of using the NYS recommended BMPs in their timber sale price
estimates, foresters reported that the standard NYS BMP require-
ments did not take additional time or cost landowners additional
money and, as a number of foresters noted, were actually desirable
because they “evened the playing field” between foresters and log-
gers. When ordinances required BMPs beyond or different from
those outlined in the BMP guidelines of NYS DEC et al. (2011),
foresters reported they spent more time on the timber harvest to
ensure compliance with the additional BMPs. Consequently, forest-
ers held landowners responsible for the additional costs, which av-
eraged no more than $150 per timber sale.
Clearcutting Restrictions
Clearcutting restrictions were relatively consistent from ordi-
nance to ordinance. The majority of foresters reported that clearcut-
ting restrictions were inconsequential to their decision to work in a
town because their harvesting operations’ silvicultural treatments
rarely required clearcuts (see Germain et al. 2007, Munsell et al.
2008). Even when clearcuts were used, most foresters reported that
compliance with town clearcutting restrictions took less than
1 hour.
The dollar amounts of performance bonds varied considerably.
Some towns had flat rates, one as high as $50,000 (Ossian in Liv-
ingston County); other towns had graduated bond schedules based
on the number of acres harvested, often beginning at $30 per acre.
Of the 40 towns that required bonds, 24 did not define a preset
dollar amount or range in their ordinances. In these towns, the town
boards set bond amounts on a case-by-case basis, setting up the
potential for town board arbitrariness and bias and making it im-
possible for foresters to know how much a bond would cost before
deciding to conduct a timber harvest in that town.
Foresters indicated that the reasonableness of a bond depended
on the quality of the timber, the size of the timber sale, and the
willingness of the sawmill or logging company to post the bond.
Typically, foresters considered bonds that were less than $5,000 to
Figure 1. NYS towns with timber harvesting and tree-cutting ordinances in 2013.
Table 2. Ordinance provisions, by number of towns (n150).
Provision category
No. of towns with
ordinances in this
Percentage of towns
with ordinances in
this category
Permits 116 77.3
Best Management Practices 61 40.7
Clearcutting Restrictions 61 40.7
Bonds 40 26.7
Management Plans 40 26.7
Road and Property Line Buffers 33 22.0
Stream Buffers 23 15.3
Reviews 23 15.3
1082 Forest Science December 2015
be “reasonable” and “not deal breakers.” However, as one forester
said, “if Ossian does require a bond of $50,000, I’m not working
there. That’s ridiculous. It would have to be a million dollar timber
sale [to make it worth working there].” Most foresters reported it
took 1–3 hours of additional work to post a bond.
Management Plans
Town required management plans that varied considerably in
content. The types of management plans included forest manage-
ment plans (typically a customary 10-year management plan pre-
pared by a forester), erosion and sediment control plans, stormwater
management or pollution prevention plans, reforestation plans, and
restoration plans. Some towns required more than one type of plan
or required a forester to hire a consulting civil engineer, surveyor, or
hydrologist to complete a management plan. In these towns, forest-
ers reported increased costs to landowners. In some towns with
vague or absent management plan approval criteria, foresters re-
ported lengthened application processes and delayed forestry oper-
ations. As a forester working in the Catskills and Hudson Valley
said, quite bluntly, “liabilities make a difference and vagueness is a
liability” because it may indicate that town officials are not equipped
to evaluate a management plan or monitor a timber harvest accu-
rately. Foresters indicated that management plan requirements cost
landowners between $300 and $750 (if the landowners did not
previously commission a town-approved plan).
Road and Property Line Buffers
The ordinances of 33 towns required one or more road, highway,
property line, landing, or loading area buffers. The width of these
buffers ranged from 20 to 500 ft, and applicants had to either leave
buffer strips uncut or to reserve a specified residual basal area in
the buffer. Most foresters reported it took between 2 and 4 hours of
additional work to comply with these buffers requirements.
Foresters noted that buffer requirements were easy to comply
with, but sometimes objected to their use by local governments on
principle. As one forester explained, road buffers “are not necessary
from an environmental perspective.” Other foresters agreed but re-
ported that road buffers helped conceal debris and made timber
harvests more palatable to the public.
Stream Buffers
Twenty-three towns required uncut or largely uncut buffers
around water bodies. Of these, 19 towns required buffers between
15 and 150 ft wide between streams and the timber harvest, 2
required a 200-ft wide buffer between streams and landings, and 2
towns required buffers but did not specify distances in their
Foresters agreed that stream buffers seldom prevented them from
working in a town. In fact, foresters reported that stream buffers,
which are widely regarded as a standard BMP in NYS, were incon-
sequential to their decision to work in a town. However, foresters
Figure 2. Number of provisions in NYS towns’ ordinances, by number of town location.
Table 3. Number of provisions in NYS towns’ ordinances, by
number of towns.
No. of provisions No. of towns Percentage of towns
1 56 37.3
2 30 20.0
3 23 15.3
4 15 10.0
5 10 6.7
6 11 7.3
7 4 2.7
8 1 0.7
Forest Science December 2015 1083
emphasized that stream buffers, like road buffers, sometimes af-
fected landowners’ timber sale income by reducing the volume of
timber harvested. In towns where a stream buffer width was wider
than the NYS BMP guideline recommendation, most foresters said
complying with such a provision took 1–2 hours of additional work.
Twenty-three NYS towns required permit applicants to attend
public hearings or undergo site plan reviews. In towns that required
site plan review, the approval process generally involved two steps
(NYS DOS 2009). First, applicants provided the town planning
board with a detailed proposal, and then the planning board re-
viewed the site plan at a public hearing. In towns that required
public hearings, foresters reported that review-associated activities
(preparing for, traveling to and from, and attending town meetings)
required a minimum of an additional 3– 4 hours of work, with most
indicating that reviews added an additional 5–6 hours of work.
Foresters also reported long delays, from weeks to months, waiting
for town board approval.
Factors Determining the Onerousness of Ordinances
The size and value of the timber sale affected ordinances’ oner-
ousness. Foresters reported that the larger the area and value of a
timber sale, the more amenable they were to working in towns with
more onerous ordinances. Specifically, timber stand improvement
harvests, smaller timber sales (i.e., stumpage values of less than
$50,000), and salvage harvests were the most vulnerable to onerous
ordinances because of decreasing economies of scale.
Ordinance provisions also affected foresters’ decisions to work in
a town. Reviews, although only occurring in nine towns’ ordi-
nances, were almost always judged as onerous because of the waiting
periods between steps in the review process, with foresters reporting
that the longer the wait, the less likely they were to conduct a harvest
in that town. Long permit applications and high bond requirements
also were noted as onerous requirements.
Ordinance implementation also determined onerousness. Sev-
eral foresters reported that sometimes town officials would purpose-
fully make the application process more difficult than foresters be-
lieved it should be. For this reason, the personalities of town
officials, particularly the code enforcement officers, played a role in
foresters’ willingness to work in a town; of course, foresters’ inter-
action with town officials’ could exacerbate personality issues and
create the perception of onerousness. In addition, foresters stated
that turnover in town officials sometimes increased onerousness;
new town officials take office frequently and sometimes are unfamil-
iar with what a few foresters referred to as “the old way” of doing
things and unwittingly complicate the application process.
Ordinances’ Effect on Timber Supply
We asked foresters to estimate how much the timber supply
would generally decrease as a result of the entirety of a town’s ordi-
nance, regardless of whether they regarded any of its provisions as
onerous. Most foresters predicted that ordinances decreased towns’
timber supply between 21 and 40%.
The number of NYS towns with timber harvesting ordinances
nearly tripled since the 1995 inventory of Floyd et al. (1996) and
increased by 625% in the 30 years since Wolfgram (1984) first
inventoried ordinances. Others (e.g., Granskog et al. 2002, Mor-
timer et al. 2006) have documented the proliferation of local ordi-
nances in other states and regions. These studies indicate that local
government regulation of timber harvesting is fairly prevalent in the
eastern United States and seems to be increasing. However, the lack
of research in other parts of the country limits our ability to under-
stand whether this is strictly a regional phenomenon.
Newly adopted ordinances were found in towns across NYS but
were particularly prevalent in towns in the Catskills and Hudson
Valley region, where LaPierre and Germain (2005) found that the
urban-rural interface was growing. Our results suggest that towns in
the urban-rural interface may be more likely to enact ordinances that
impact timber harvesting. Although Kaeser (1996) reported that
spatial relationships between towns with ordinances were not statis-
tically significant, our results (as displayed in Figure 1) suggest that
future researchers may want to reinvestigate this concept. Such an
examination could either be based on a geographic information
system (GIS) analysis or a policy transfer framework analysis that
evaluates whether the occurrence of and processes involved in the
development of policies within one town government are based on
adjacent towns’ policies (see Dolowitz and Marsh 1996, Dolowitz
Amid the proliferation of NYS town ordinances over the past 18
years, 13 towns repealed their timber harvesting ordinances. Our
study was not designed to determine the rationale for these repeals.
In fact, we did not consider examining towns’ repeal of ordinances
when we designed this study because it had never been discussed in
the literature. However, our findings suggest that the adoption and
repeal of ordinances may be fluid and that town governments may
periodically reassess how ordinances affect landowners and the for-
estry community and indicate that foresters and landowners should
communicate with town code officers, council members, and super-
visors about the specific financial and management implications that
result from existing harvesting ordinances.
There is considerable variability between NYS towns’ ordinances
and within ordinance provision categories. On the ground, this
variability requires foresters to locate, obtain, and review each
town’s ordinance before every harvest. All of the foresters we inter-
viewed stated that they work in multiple towns and regularly spend
time completing this arduous task. In fact, a few of the foresters we
interviewed were surprised to learn that a town they had conducted
a timber sale in had a timber harvesting ordinance. Although our
nonrandom sample of foresters prevents us from generalizing our
results, given procurement and consulting foresters’ normal wood-
shed responsibilities and the size of NYS towns, it is likely that nearly
all NYS foresters in the private sector encounter the same difficul-
ties. This issue could be partially addressed by an online, open
access, centralized database for local ordinances. For such a database
to be useful and accurate, states, via state agencies such as the NYS
DEC, would need to require local governments to update the data-
base whenever they amended their ordinances. Doing so would ease
the burden of navigating local government codes and, in turn, prob-
ably improve ordinance compliance rates. However, such a database
also requires towns to hire additional staff and increase the tax bur-
den shared by all landowners, which raises the issue of whether the
cost of complying with timber harvesting ordinances should be
borne by landowners harvesting timber or by all landowners.
States can address issues associated with ordinance variability by
doing the following: developing a standardized ordinance, with the
option to select standardized provisions that towns are required to
1084 Forest Science December 2015
use; passing a state law restricting towns’ ability to enact ordinances
affecting timber harvesting or limiting town ordinances to regulate
only the most environmentally harmful practices; or adopting a state
forest practice act that eliminates the need for local ordinances. In
2005, the NYS DEC developed a “model ordinance” to assist town
governments interested in revising or adopting timber harvesting
ordinances (see NYS DEC et al. 2005). However, NYS law does not
require towns to use the DEC’s model. The NYS Right to Practice
Forestry Act (RTPFA), enacted in March of 2004, requires local
land regulations to “facilitate the practice of forestry,” but does not
mandate or restrict specific regulations (Senate Bill 1783-2; New
York State Assembly 2003). The Act requires that on the request of
an interested party (e.g., a forester or a landowner), a town consid-
ering a timber harvesting ordinance must send the ordinance to the
NYS DEC for comment. However, since this is a “notification and
comment” law (Malmsheimer 2003, p. 6), towns can accept or
reject NYS DEC’s comments without consequence. This fact sug-
gests that the RTPFA is an ineffective method for curtailing the
adoption of onerous local ordinances. However, when we presented
the preliminary results of our research at events in NYS, we heard
anecdotal accounts of how RTPFA resulted in some towns aban-
doning or amending their proposed ordinances.
Although determining ordinance complexity allowed us to mea-
sure ordinance variability, complexity did not indicate ordinance
onerousness. For instance, the most onerous provisions, namely
long permit applications, long or costly review requirements, and
excessively high bonds, were enough to make foresters reevaluate
whether to conduct a timber harvest in a town. Conversely, foresters
indicated that ordinances with multiple ordinance provisions of
minimal onerousness were inconsequential to their decisions to
work in a particular town. Instead, foresters reported that specific
ordinance provisions and the implementation of ordinances by
town officials were sometimes so onerous that absent a very high
value timber sale, foresters avoided conducting timber harvests in
towns with these characteristics. Onerous provisions seemingly limit
timber stand improvement projects and other types of low-value
harvesting and thus may encourage exploitive harvesting to ensure
that timber harvests provide adequate profitability.
The impact of ordinances on timber supply is affected by the
following: definitive prohibitions, such as setbacks and basal area
retention requirements; decreasing some existing forest manage-
ment units (because of buffer requirements) into smaller units,
which can make forestry commercially unviable; and the onerous-
ness of ordinances’ provisions. The study of Prisley et al. (2006)
documented the first two findings in four counties in Virginia,
where ordinance buffer requirements directly affected an average of
21% of operable forest area and indirectly affected between 2 and
23% of operable forest area. Our study determined the direct effect
of ordinance provisions that, unlike buffer requirements, were not as
easily quantified or analyzed using a GIS overlay. Our results are the
first to integrate ordinance provision onerousness to estimate timber
supply impact and provide a second benchmark for future research
that addresses and builds on this topic.
The exploratory interview method we used to assess town timber
harvesting ordinances’ impact on timber supply was imprecise and
potentially biased (because we only interviewed foresters) and pre-
vented us from generalizing our results to the county or state level.
We acknowledge the there are better methods to test the impact of
ordinances on harvestable timber supply, such as assessing harvest
rates in towns with and without similar ordinances or longitudinally
examining harvest volumes in towns before and after the passage of
ordinances. In addition, many circumstances can adversely affect
harvestable timber supply, such as landowners’ affluence and apathy
and landowners’ perception that harvesting interferes with their
privacy, aesthetics, and wildlife habitat goals, and these factors can
combine and evolve over time. So our finding that most of the
foresters we interviewed indicated that the harvestable timber supply
in a NYS town with an ordinance would decrease by 20% (conser-
vatively) as a result of timber harvesting ordinances must be inter-
preted with caution.
Nonetheless, this finding has implications for forest landowners
who rely on revenue from timber and other products and for re-
gional economies with high concentrations of ordinances. For ex-
ample, in Ulster County, located in the heart of the Catskills region,
60% of the county and an estimated three-quarters of the private
forestland is subject to town timber harvesting ordinances. The
impact of these ordinances on Ulster County’s timber supply is
amplified because nearly one-third of the county’s land area is NYS-
owned land in the Catskill Forest Preserve, where timber harvesting
is prohibited. Regardless of whether the actual percentage of impact
of these ordinances on harvestable timber supply results in reduc-
tions of 510, or 20%, the harvestable volumes affected by these
ordinances are not trivial. For example, if timber harvesting ordi-
nances continue to expand across NYS, some portion of the state’s
estimated 93.7 billion board feet of harvestable stumpage is at risk.
This gradual erosion of the harvestable timber supply affects the
NYS forest products industry, neighboring states using stumpage
originating in NYS, and other states that experience a similar in-
crease in harvesting ordinances. So although this may be the most
questionable of our findings, we believe it is the most important one
for future researchers to address.
Our study has a number of limitations. For example, we relied on
town clerks’ knowledge of their town’s code to know if their town
has a timber harvesting ordinance. Although as we noted, “town
clerks are the official custodians of towns’ codes and are responsible
for keeping a complete and accurate record of all town business,” it
is possible that town clerks may not have a comprehensive under-
standing of their town’s code, or that town clerks may not under-
stand what is involved in timber harvesting and therefore may not
understand that their town’s code has a section that applies to har-
vesting (NYS DOS 2009). Thus, it is likely that our results under-
estimate the actual number of NYS towns having ordinances that
affect timber harvesting.
Another potential bias of the study is that we are reporting the
views, positive and negative, of professional consulting and procure-
ment foresters. Our respondents’ attitudes toward timber harvesting
ordinances should not have affected their ability to determine the
additional costs town ordinances impose on landowners, but with-
out interviewing other stakeholders, such as loggers and landowners,
our ability to determine the impact of ordinance provisions and
their onerousness and of bond requirements is limited to these for-
esters’ opinions.
Another limitation is that this study failed to account for the
impact of NYS’s largest regional regulatory government, the Ad-
irondack Park Agency, on the adoption of town ordinances within
the Adirondack Park (the lands within the solid line on Figure 1).
The Adirondack Park Act [NYS Executive Law Art. 27; NYS Envi-
ronmental Conservation Law Art. 24, and Art. 15 (title 27)] and its
regulations (NYS Codes, Rules and Regulations Title 9, Subtitle Q)
have a number of provisions that affect timber harvesting on private
Forest Science December 2015 1085
lands within the Park, such as limitations on certain size clearcuts,
wetland restrictions, and shoreline setbacks. These restrictions apply
to both the towns within the Park that have enacted timber harvest-
ing ordinances and those that have not. So although our research
(and Figure 1) indicates that 15 towns within the Park have enacted
timber harvesting ordinances; in reality, all the private lands within
the Park are subject to timber harvesting restrictions.
The number of towns with timber harvesting ordinances in NYS
nearly tripled in the past 18 years. As a result, local government
regulations affect more land, foresters, loggers, landowners, and the
forest products industry in general than ever before.
This study provided unique and significant findings. It docu-
mented the variability in ordinances across towns and across ordi-
nance provisions and found that towns not only adopt ordinances
but they also occasionally repeal them. It determined that the com-
plexity of ordinances, as measured by the number of provision cat-
egories in an ordinance, did not indicate the onerousness of an
ordinance. Instead, foresters reported that specific ordinance provi-
sions (long permit applications, public hearing and site plan reviews,
and excessively high performance bonds) and the implementation of
ordinances by town officials were sometimes so onerous that absent
a very high value timber sale, foresters avoided conducting timber
harvests in towns with these characteristics.
Ultimately, the continued expansion of harvesting ordinances
across the working forested landscape will result in a reduction of
available timber supply, with potentially severe impacts on the forest
products industry. Our focus on timber harvesting ordinances
(rather than ordinances affecting forest management in general) and
their impact provides foresters, landowners, policymakers, and
other stakeholders with information and insights they can use to
better navigate and improve local regulation of timber harvesting in
the future.
1. All NYS counties (besides New York City’s five counties) are divided into towns.
All NYS residents who do not live in a city or on an Indian reservation live in a
town. NYS towns provide or arrange, usually in coordination with counties, for
many primary local government functions (NYS DOS 2009).
2. NYS BMPs address log decks and landings; riparian zones; wetlands, seeps, and
vernal pools; skid roads and trails, forest roads, and winter roads; temporary
stream crossing; postharvest wrap up; and hazardous materials (NYS DEC et al.
3. Anecdotal information indicated that it is likely that many NYS cities may have
ordinances that affect timber harvesting or tree cutting and at least one NYS
regional government, the Adirondack Park Agency, has enacted regulations that
affect timber harvesting (see the Discussion). However, we limited our analysis to
town governments’ ordinances for two reasons: commercial timber harvesting
rarely occurs in NYS cities; and prior research (Wolfgram 1984, Hickman and
Martus 1991, NYS DEC 1992, Floyd et al. 1996) and information from key
informants indicated that few regional NYS governments have enacted such laws.
4. In most of the United States, counties are the primary enactors of local timber
harvesting ordinances (see, e.g., Mortimer et al. 2006).
5. Foresters were unable to provide estimates for the “plans” provision category,
because of the variability in the types of plans required by town ordinances.
6. Because of the variability in most types of provisions, foresters were unable to
provide cost estimates for all but the “BMPs” and “plans” provision categories.
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... Policies and programs that affect management of family forests exist at multiple jurisdictional and spatial scales. For instance, local municipalities may issue ordinances to regulate harvesting activities (Forman-Cook, Malmsheimer, & Germain, 2015), which can increase harvesting costs and lead to reduced stumpage prices. A patchwork of ordinances among local municipalities can be difficult to navigate when activities occur over multiple municipalities (Mortimer, Stull, Prisley, & Slack, 2006) such as trucking logs from a harvest site to a mill. ...
We offer a conceptual framework where management couples natural and human systems backed by a representative synthesis of the literature studying US family forest owners. Within a socio-ecological forest system, management occurs at the intersection of resources and conditions intrinsic to owners and land with interactions influenced by extrinsic social and natural factors. Among extrinsic factors, public policy stands out as a major instrument society uses to influence how family forest owners manage their parcels. We discuss how public policy tools influence individual management preferences occurring within a system of forest owners. In the US, forestry extension programs are a major conduit for achieving public policy objectives by increasing family forest owners’ knowledge and reducing barriers to purposeful management, among other services. We conclude with insights into documented relationships linking family forestlands and owners to larger natural and human systems and identify areas where more research is warranted.
... Public discontent with active management practices has previously delayed or impeded restoration work in other nature preserves and natural areas across the country (e.g. Forman-Cook, Malmsheimer & Germain, 2015;Mortimer, et al., 2006;Shore, 1997). In some contexts, education efforts have increased individuals' acceptance of management practices which may reduce land manager concern about public pressure to change or halt conservation efforts (Kaval, et al. 2007;Loomis, et al., 2001;McCaffrey, et al., 2013;Rogers, Hoover, & Allred, 2013). ...
Full-text available
New York City's (NYC) water supply system is the largest unfiltered surface storage and supply system in the country. Forests cover 89 percent of the Catskill/Delaware systems, with 75 percent of the forest area owned by non-industrial private forestland (NIPF) owners. The results describe the degree of parcelization on private forestlands in four of the five counties within the Catskill/Delaware systems of the NYC Watershed between 1984 and 2000. Parcelization on NIPF in the eastern half of the Catskill/Delaware systems is occurring at a rate exceeding the national average. The average parcel size is 14 acres, 10 acres below the current national average for NIPF, and already below the projected national NIPF average parcel size of 17 acres for 2010. Changes in land use and development on private lands threaten the quality of the NYC water supply.
Full-text available
Nonindustrial private forestland (NIPF) owners control a large percentage of the working forest east of the Mississippi River and supply the forest products industry with the majority of its roundwood requirements. Many of these forests are subject to increasingly frequent parcelization and ownership transfers. Such transfers often are associated with liquidation cuts. This study completed forest inventories on a sample of 137 NIPF woodlots to examine the relationship between parcelization and ownership changes and 23 forest stocking and quality variables. The results indicate that organized subdivisions are associated with lower forest stocking and poorer-quality residual stems. We found no relationship between land tenure and forest stocking and quality. Nonparcelized woodlots with long ownership tenure did not differ in forest stocking and quality.
Full-text available
The urbanizing forested landscape in the United States is creating challenges for resource managers and land-use planners. Logistic regression models developed to assess urbanization's effect on forestland for the mid-Atlantic and southern states found that population density was the best predictor of reduced commercial harvest opportunity. We applied similar methodologies in central New York to assess urbanization's impact on sustained yield management. We surveyed professional foresters in a five-county area and asked them to rate the potential for sustained yield management by township. We utilized those expert opinions to develop a logistic regression model that predicted the probability of sustained yield management in central New York while exploring the factors that influence sustained yield management. We found that road density was the primary variable influencing the likelihood of sustained yield management in central New York. Population density, which is highly correlated with road density, also proved to be a strong determinant of sustained yield management. The results suggest that the potential for sustained yield management approaches 10% at a road density of 3Â mi/mi2, 50% at 2.5Â mi/mi2, and 90% at 2Â mi/mi2. The corresponding figures for population density were 150 people per square mile (ppsm), 75Â ppsm and 25Â ppsm, respectively. In addition, we determined that the probability of sustained yield management approaches 100% for a property that is approximately 30Â acres and drops to 50% for a parcel that is between 15 and 20Â acres. This study provides resource managers and land-use planners a guide in which to effectively gauge the cumulative effect of urbanization on the forest resource in central New York. Unlike other regions of the United States, central New York's growth pattern is characterized by stagnant population growth (declining in some places) combined with continued urbanization and low-density sprawl. Because growth patterns vary regionally, different indicators may be needed to accurately assess the urbanizing forested landscape across the United States.
US forest practice laws fall under the general umbrella of public regulation of private landowners' activities. Land ownership has traditionally been seen as a collection of rights regarding acquisition, use and disposal of land and its products. A private owner has exclusive but not unlimited rights. Land may be appropriated to avoid illegal use or private nuisance, and also to exercise eminent domain, viz. property taken for a public purpose with just compensation being paid. Land use and forest practice laws have usually been challenged on the basis of the Fifth Amendment's taking clause whereby no state may 'deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law'. A number of case law challenges and decisions are outlined, and interstate differences in interpretation and regulation are noted.-P.J.Jarvis
Data on harvest volumes, topography, and other site and area characteristics were obtained from 22 timber harvests in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. An economic analysis was then used to estimate the marginal costs of implementing each state's recommended Best Management Practices (BMPs), as well as a set of enhanced BMPs on these sites. Considering all of the areas combined, the costs of using the recommended BMPs averaged 2.9% of gross timber sale revenue, $2.34 per thousand board feet (mbf) of timber harvested, or $12.45/ac. The cost of implementing the enhanced BMPs averaged 5.1% of gross stumpage value, $4.13/mbf, or $21.94/ac. Seed, fertilizer, and mulch, broad based dips, and water bars were the most expensive practices on a total cost basis. Culvert installation, streamside management zones, and road relocation costs were less expensive for most tracts. South. J. Appl. For. 16(1):13-20.
Local governments may enact ordinances that have a substantial impact on forestry operations. Direct estimation of the economic impact of ordinances requires site-specific forest inventory data and management assumptions. In this study, we attempt to quantify, for four counties in Virginia, the forest area that would be subjected to timber harvesting restrictions under local ordinances. Ordinances that restrict timber harvesting within buffer zones of roads, streams, and property boundaries were simulated for four study counties. Using GIS overlay analysis with forest cover data, estimates of forest area within these buffers were obtained. In addition to this direct effect, we considered indirect effects of ordinances as they fragment potential forest management parcels to small sizes (<20 ac) deemed less conducive to operational forest management. Direct effects ranged from 9 to 33% of operable forest area and averaged 21% of operable forest area. Indirect effects averaged 7% of operable forest area, or ⅓ of the direct effect. Ordinances focused on protecting visual quality affected twice as much forest area as ordinances directed toward preserving water quality. Of the total forest area in these four counties, 13.6% lies in protected areas, 27.7% is in inoperable small parcels (prior to ordinances), and 16.7% is affected directly or indirectly by ordinances, leaving only 42% of forest area potentially available for management.
State and local regulation of private forestry in the eastern United States is increasing. A number of statewide laws regulate the practice of forestry in some fashion. Many local governments in the northeastern states and a few in the South have enacted or considered ordinances governing logging operations, primarily to prevent property damage or to preserve amenity values. The trend toward disjointed local regulation may prompt renewed calls from the forestry sector for uniform state forest practice laws. North. J. Appl. For. 5:103-108, June 1988.
An inventory of Virginia's counties and incorporated cities was conducted in 2005 to detect the presence of forest-related ordinances. Comparative inventory results suggest that the number of ordinances appears to have increased from 44 in 1992 to 377 in 2005. Local governments in Virginia have enacted forest-related ordinances addressing erosion and sediment control, the use of prescribed fire, forestry in floodplains and wetlands, scenic limitations, timber harvesting, and the use of pesticides. Nearly all (97%) local governments have been involved in the regulation of forestry to some extent. Study observations include inconsistent regulatory standards among municipalities, potential conflicts with state mandates, and concern for the uncertain effects on the management of private forestland. Policy implications might include state action to provide greater uniformity in local standards, clarification of the relationship between state-level requirements and local implementation, refining the definition of terms such as “silviculture,” and state reaction by amending Virginia's Right to Practice Forestry statute.