Jena Buckwell & Colin Butgereit

by Briana Binkerd-Dale

Jena Buckwell grew up in Clarkson NY before attending the Rochester Institute of Technology for graphic design. After graduation, she moved to New York City to work as a designer in the fashion editorial industry. There, she met her now husband, Colin Butgereit, who had moved from his hometown of Grand Rapids, MI to work as a manufacturing manager in the 3D printing industry. Jena and Colin decided they were ready to get out of the city after a few years, and moved to the Shenandoah Valley, where their love of the outdoors and interest in small-scale farming was easy to explore. After a year in Virginia, Jena got homesick, and they decided to move to western NY where land prices were cheap and family was nearby. Colin worked in the solar industry in VA and Rochester, and is now a professional gardener and landscaper in Medina, NY. Jena retired from graphic design when they moved back to NY, and currently is employed at the Orleans County Soil and Water Conservation District as a Conservation Planning Assistant through the AmeriCorps State and National Program.

Colin and Jena purchased their 3.32 acre parcel in February 2015. Located in Clarendon, it is secluded, while still being affordable and a short drive for work, grocery shopping, and family; all reasons why they initially searched for property in that area. At 2-6% slope throughout, it is a lot drier than other properties around Clarendon with no water features to speak of, though some areas act as small vernal pools. It is primarily surrounded by an old, unused orchard and farm land with patches of woodlot. The overstory is made up of mostly (dying) ash, a handful of cherry trees and some pin oaks, while the understory is dominated by invasive species (multi-flora rose and honeysuckle), with some viburnum and many wild raspberry bushes.

Jena and Colin both make management decisions and work on the property. Jena completed the Master Forest Owner (MFO) training in September 2016, which has played a vital role in helping to move forward with a forest management plan. They both learn as much as they can about forest management through reading and resources like the ForestConnect webinars and attending classes and workshops to understand the challenges western NY forest owners are facing. “Unfortunately, when we bought the property we only had a vague idea of EAB and what its impact was going to be on our area. The first summer we were on the property, we noticed our leaves were not really coming in fully, and by the following summer had confirmed with the DEC that we have EAB on our property,” Colin said. “As most of our trees are ash, we have had to fell a lot of trees and are working to replant a diversity of species to replace them.”

Their first steps after purchasing the property were to clear out the debris left behind by the previous owner, and fell trees for access to their home site and septic system. While they hired contractors to install the septic system and foundation, they built every other bit of their 850 square foot passive solar off grid home themselves, with the invaluable help of Jena’s stepfather. “Basically he would come over, tell us what needed to be done next, show us how to do it, and then Colin and I would do the work and let him know when we were ready for the next step,” Jena said. They completed their home by November 2015. Their only regret is that they did not have time to log the site to the full necessary extent prior to building their home. Had that been possible, they feel that the logging process would have gone much more smoothly and they would have had more timber to sell. “Unfortunately, we were living in a pop-up camper from July 2015 to November 2015 and (for obvious reasons) needed to get our home finished,” Colin said.

After installing a garden and continuing to clear trees themselves near the home site in spring 2016, Jena and Colin had a salvage cut done of their marketable ash trees at the suggestion of their DEC forester in summer 2016, which also greatly improved access to the property. “We basically did exactly what you’re not supposed to do, and just hired a logger for the harvest, with no consulting forester or written contract,” Jena laughed, reminiscing. They did find the logger they ended up hiring via his advertisement in the SWCD newsletter and on a friend’s recommendation, after interviewing several other options who came out to give estimates. Happily, it ended up working out really well; the logger ended up subcontracting the job out to someone with smaller equipment that had less impact on the site, communication was good, and Colin and Jena had faith in him through the entire process. They are currently working on cleaning up after the harvest and continuing to take down the majority of their ash trees, with a focus on any ash that is too close to their home, livestock shelters, or garden.

Following the salvage harvest, the only challenges Jena and Colin have really had is that they choose to not use heavy machinery or chemicals on their property. “While we have a very small acreage, doing everything more or less by hand can sometimes be a struggle, as can trying to control multi-flora rose strictly mechanically and biologically,” Colin said. “Fortunately, these tasks keep us busy and physically fit — no need for a gym membership!” They also have some porcine assistants, pasture raised pigs that have been clearing the land of excessive vining species and multiflora rose in movable pens since fall 2015. While neither of them had previous experience raising livestock, they got the idea from Charis, the eco-friendly meat farm they volunteered at while living in Staunton, VA. The pigs there were raised on silvopasture, and Jena and Colin saw firsthand how efficiently they uprooted undergrowth. Apparently not all breeds are created equal, however; the first batch they purchased were a Gloucestershire/Yorkshire mix (which did really well), while the second batch (Mulefoots, a critically rare heritage breed) were a lot “lazier” and didn’t work nearly as hard at rooting. Colin and Jena generally keep the pigs for 5-6 months and then slaughter them for meat.

Jena and Colin were inspired to become involved in forest management due to a desire to improve the wildlife habitat in their woodlot, and an interest in natural resource conservation. They do enjoy some recreational activities there, mostly wildlife viewing, bird watching, and hunting (primarily done by Jena’s stepdad so far). Clearing out underbrush has made wildlife viewing and hunting more possible, while the trail cleared this summer during the salvage cut allows for access to enjoy the property more, as well as getting to work controlling invasives and planting native trees and shrubs to diversify the woodlot. Along the way, they have learned to not let others’ ideas of what they should be doing on their property sway them too much. “As nature lovers, we moved to the woods because we wanted to be close to nature, not control it — while raising livestock side by side with predators can at times be stressful, we keep our objectives in mind of living with nature when we make decisions on wildlife management” Colin said.They most enjoy watching the wildlife on the property go about their day to day business, seeing the seasons change, watching how their management decisions help (or sometimes hinder) wildlife – and of course the seclusion and quiet are also very welcome.

Their advice to other forest owners is to understand what your objectives are and stick to them. “We are young and have only a year and a half under our belts as forest owners, so our advice to young/new woodlot owners like ourselves would be to ask for help, go out and meet other forest owners etc. Our advice to the older generation would be to be open with your experiences and do what you can to educate and help the younger generation learn to love and care for the woods,” Jena said. They are walking the talk – though they just joined NYFOA, they have been on one woods walk already (and are looking forward to more); they’ve both discussed EAB with their neighbors and why it’s important that they not transport firewood outside of the quarantined area; and Jena does site visits in her new role as a MFO and recently taught a class called Creating Your Forest Management Plan at Orleans County Cooperative Extension.


Briana Binkerd-Dale is a student in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology at Cornell University. If you are interested in being featured in a member profile, please email Jeff Joseph at jeffjosephwoodworker@gmail.com


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