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As a graduate of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and long time professional forestry and environmental consultant, Matt Smith has devoted his career to the sustainable management of our natural resources. In his current role as Director of Land Management and Director of Ecosystem Services for Forecon, Inc., Matt spends much of his time speaking and writing about climate change and the use of forests as carbon sinks both locally and nationally. For the past twelve years, Matt has also played a lead role in the management of over 250,000 acres of timberland in the northeast for institutional investors. Recently, Matt was selected to serve on the National Climate Change Task Force for the Society of American Foresters. Along with others on his task force, Matt is trying to understand how forests are affected by climate change, and how forests can contribute to long term solutions for climate change. Though developing solutions to detrimental effects of climate change is proving to be a lengthy process, Matt enjoys crisscrossing the country to speak with interested forest owners, policy makers, and other groups on how their forests can be used to combat climate change.
For his own part, Matt uses his 114 acre property in western New York to promote environmental sustainability and multiple use. From wildlife food crops to acres of managed forests, Matt is working towards improving many of the ecological aspects of the property, and enjoys sharing the results with others.
With his wife, Marsha, Matt purchased the land thirteen years ago from Marsha’s father and mother. Since that time, they’ve lived on the property in Chautauqua County. Matt and Marsha, who was a manager at a biotech company, have renovated their old farmhouse into a more modern house and have recently finished a large addition. The house is located on the bottom of a hill, along with a new barn built from trees harvested on and near their farm. Regardless of whether they are building barns, planting food plots or trees, harvesting firewood, or some other activity, Matt and Marsha have relied on the help and guidance of Marsha’s father, Paul.
Paul and his wife live on the fifty acres of property next door, but spend much of their time with Matt, Marsha and their grandchildren Loren and Luisa. Broken apart across the two properties lays approximately seven acres of wildlife agricultural crops, which Matt and Paul care for together. Corn, buckwheat, forage turnips, clover, and brassica are all planted specifically for wildlife each year. In addition to annual food plots, apple, hybrid chestnut, and sawtooth oak trees are also planted for wildlife use. Matt also grafts domestic apple and pear varieties to the wild trees to increase the stock for themselves and the wildlife. Some apple trees on the property have up to three different kinds of apples growing on them. The apple tree grafting and wildlife management was the primary subject of one of Matt and Marsha’s NYFOA woodswalks. Their other woods- walk centered on chainsaw safety.
Apart from the acres of wildlife crops, Matt and Marsha also have sixty acres of mixed hardwood timber, including sugar maple, black cherry, and white ash. Matt does improvement thinning on three to five acres of these sawtimber stands each year. He uses the wood from these dense, young woods to heat his home, and then sells whatever is leftover.
There are also eight acres of softwood forests planted on the property. These stands are primarily comprised of Norway spruce and European larch. Since 1994, when they bought the land, Matt has planted over 3000 trees on what were previously open fields. Currently there are still between 32-34 acres of open fields on the property, which are mowed every other year.
Prior to Matt and Marsha purchasing the property, Marsha’s Dad built a ½ acre pond on the property. Though they had to stock the pond with fish several times, it is now self-sustaining and is enjoyed by the entire family. Besides the pond, there are also two small creeks on the property, which Loren and Luisa can’t keep out of.
Loren, who has just turned seven, and Luisa, age two, were both adopted from Colombia. Loren spends a lot of time on the property, especially on top of the hill, where most of woods are located. The peace and quiet of the woods allows Loren, who is autistic, to focus on and interact with others with less distractions from other activity. As a result, Matt and Loren are able to connect and communicate with each other in a more intimate way than would be afforded otherwise. Loren loves looking for salamanders, frogs, and other creepy crawlies along with dropped antlers in the spring.
Luisa, on the other hand, enjoys the property in a different way. While she doesn’t spend as much time on the property as does her older brother, she enjoys the rides up and down the hill, as well as the time spent picking berries with the rest of the family. At some point in the past, a previous owner had planted domestic blueberries and blackberries on the property, which the Smith’s enjoy picking during the late summer.
While the summer is spent picking berries and mowing the fields, the fall is spent cutting firewood and hunting. Friends and guests are allowed to hunt deer, turkey, and small game on the property. Over the years, Matt and Marsha have found the resident deer to be ungrateful guests and consequently have developed a love-hate relationship due to their impact on the forest and garden alike. Aside from deer, Matt and Marsha have also had black bears that come for the berries, and for the honey produced on property in the past.
Matt and Marsha enjoy planning out activities in the many fields on the farm. According to Matt, an open field is like a painter’s canvas, with which you can do a million things, including wildlife plantings, tree plantings, building ponds, or other activities. However, Matt also recommends that, while landowners should plan for and try new things, when it comes to planting, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket because Mother Nature may have a plan of her own.
Following his own advice, Matt is looking forward to his first timber sale on the property. Sometime during the late summer or fall, Matt plans on selling about 20,000 board feet through bid process. While planning to harvest some of the trees he has groomed for years, he has gained a new appreciation for the “separation anxiety” a landowner can experience when the decision is made to harvest.
Though this will be his first timber sale on his property, Matt has been a professional forester with Forecon Inc. Forestry Consulting for nearly twenty years. Matt is also the Western New York Chairman of the Society of American Foresters, where he coordinates educational events and participates in local issues on forestry. Matt not only speaks on climate change, but also coordinates various other educational efforts such as teaching youth about the environment and various landowner organizations. Starting in 1999, Matt served as a steering committee member, vice chairman (2 years), and programs chairman (5 years) of the Alleghany Foothills Chapter of NYFOA.
With the help and support of Marsha and the rest of the family, the Smiths look forward to many years of managing and enjoying their small piece of the planet. Their goal is to manage the land for multiple benefits, but primarily to develop a place where they can recreate and have a place where their family can truly bond.
Alexandra Silva is a Forest Resources Extension Program Assistant at Cornell University, Department of Natural Resources, Ithaca, NY 14853.
PO Box 541 Lima, NY 14485
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