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Ed Piestrak purchased his initial 265 acres of forest in Steuben County in 1989. Back then he "didn't know a conifer from an oak." He had grown up hunting with his father and brothers. Yet, they lived in a coalmining town where the mining companies owned most of the open land so he was not connected to the forest. Ed's son instigated his interest in purchasing the Steuben County land. The land had been for sale for several years, and his son had hunted the property. Ed's son invited him to take a trip to hunt there. After enjoying hunting on the property, his son mentioned the land was for sale. He encouraged his father to purchase it. Ed took out a home equity loan on his home in Pennsylvania to finance the purchase, which he paid back over the years. "Then it fell together over the years," Ed recalls. He has since added land to almost 900 acres. His neighbors sold to him, and he would seek out land from timber companies. When one neighbor became ill, he called Ed and said "I want it in good hands."
In 2002, Ed and his wife, Wanda, heard about Cornell Cooperative Extension's Master Forest Owners (MFO) program. They attended an informational meeting at Arnot Forest in the spring and filled out the application to take the volunteer training in the fall. They wanted to learn more about forests because they "did not want to abuse the land." They were accepted into the volunteer training program for the fall and became two of the now over 200 Master Forest Owner volunteers who meet with forest owners in their woodlots to discuss forest owner objectives and how to find the assistance they need.
Almost 90% of Ed's land is wooded. His land is managed under a 480-A management plan that he updates regularly. Additionally, it has been a Certified Tree Farm for nearly ten years now. His forest started as pioneer forest with hickory, oak, and maple, and some ash and aspen mixed in too. Ed has worked hard to create a healthy forest on his land. For example, he purchased a parcel that had been clearcut in 2000, removing virtually all the trees on over 250 acres. The deer population on the land was so great that when he visited it in the winter, he could not find a single tree with leader buds growing. "The deer had eaten them all. Deer are fussy and eat hardwood," Ed explains. Ed has since invested in reforestation and afforestation on his property, including fencing large areas to keep out deer and allow for young tree growth.
"Bruce Robinson, our forester, he's A+," Ed genuinely states. "It's so important to get the right forester working with you." Following the management plan and advice of his forester, Ed sees results. His land "looks like a forest now." It had been heavily high-graded in places. To restore the health of the forest, he invested in a commercial thinning, spending money to have it done well. Now he is left with desirable trees that are healthy. He manages for what is appropriate in the various areas of his property, such as hemlocks along his two creeks.
Ed's primary goal is for sustained timber harvest on his land. His forester advised him to put in two new roads with landings to enhance the access for timber harvest and minimize impact. "The goal is to have land healthy in 20 years and then able to cut a chunk of acres every year…I'm managing for the future generation."
Clearly, Ed does not manage his forest just for today; he believes in planning for its future. Almost a year ago, he started a Limited Liability Company for the property. He manages the LLC, while his sons and daughter have shares. He additionally plans to transfer shares to his grandchildren. His LLC agreement "puts his management plan in place." It ensures that when he passes, his children and grandchildren "will have to work together. They can't just sell off the land; it will stay intact for three generations." Drawn by his interest in planning, in summer 2009 he attended the "Ties to the Land" program offered by Professor Shorna Broussard Allred of Cornell Cooperative Extension. This DVD-based facilitated workshop offers effective tools to families to decide the future of their land and land-based companies. He was so inspired by the workshop that he facilitated his own workshop with the DVD for his family. He prepared folders for each of them with the LLC agreement, the forest management plan, and an outline of the key points that he found in the DVD. "My kids were speechless", he recalls, "and touched by the presentation."
His land is important to his children as well. His oldest son works the land with him often. His grandchildren come up to the land as much as they can. His family enjoys hunting, wildlife watching, hiking, and fishing on the property. They built 17 tree stands about 20 feet high. From the buildings on top with windows, they can stay out of the rain. In fall, they sit in the stands, taking pictures and watch the wildlife with binoculars.
The wildlife bring Ed and his family enjoyment, and they manage for the wildlife as well. Ed has enjoyed watching the number of wildlife and diversity of wildlife species increase on his property as a result of his efforts. The goals of timber and wildlife integrate well for Ed. He prefers oaks on his land for timber and animals who like acorns. He has seven acres of corn "for the animals" as well as a field full of turnips. His property teems with bears ("too many! they take seedlings out of the tree tubes!"), deer, grouse, and turkeys. He placed trail cameras on his property, capturing images of foxes, raccoons, and coyotes.
He additionally installed five ponds on his property for wildlife. Two they stocked with a mixture of fish for recreation. They left the other three for amphibians — frogs and salamanders. Ed explains the value of the ponds, "for the animals, the ponds are a magnet. They are always around them."
On the portion of his property that was largely clear-cut, it is re-growing and birds abound. In this young forest, Ed finds "all kinds of birds." When he visits this part of his land, he often "can't hear himself think because of all of the birds." While you hear them loudly, you often cannot see them as they enjoy the cover and bushes.
To attract even more birds, Ed and his family have erected 80 bluebird boxes. Last year all but two of the boxes were occupied. Not all were inhabited by bluebirds as swallows also are attracted to the bluebird boxes. Through his experience, Ed has learned to place the boxes on free standing poles to inhibit squirrels from taking over the boxes. And, the birds are not the only wildlife benefiting from Ed's hand-constructed homes; Ed has placed eight bat boxes on his property as well.
While Ed's forest and wildlife are benefitting from his stewardship, the future generation of the Piestraks are well-positioned to enjoy the woodland for years to come. And, there might even be hope that Ed's love for the forest will be passed on as a career to one of the youngest Piestraks. Ed proudly explains that his 15 year-old grandson is considering forestry. Sharing his grandfather's passion, he enters trees in fairs and finds ways to focus on them for school projects. His grandson always wants to know what the next project on the property will be, and with Ed's management of 900 acres for timber and wildlife, there is always one in the planning!
Ed is dedicated to his forest. He points out that in the "Ties to the Land" DVD, the forest owner twice cites a quote, "when they go home, you hoe another row." The line resonates with Ed. He has always worked two jobs or worked while attending school. While he would "hate to be called a workaholic," he firmly believes that "with the extra you put in, you can get involved in something else." He decided to get involved in the land. Ed "really love[s] the forest now."
PO Box 541 Lima, NY 14485
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