What will you do with your woodland? Some landowners choose to "let nature take its course." They believe that nature, left to its own processes, will be a better manager than they ever could be. While this may be true in some situations, many of the natural processes that formed today's woodlands have been impaired by human activity. Wildfires that once renewed certain types of woodland have been curtailed. Non-native insects and diseases have decimated populations of some tree species. Introduced plants and animals have replaced native species. Residential, commercial, and industrial development, along with its transportation system, has fragmented woodlands into smaller, more isolated pieces. Wildlife populations are substantially different from a century ago. Centuries of human influence and disruption of natural processes have impaired forest ecosystems. Doing nothing is not the same thing as "allowing nature to take its course." The alternative is to become a woodland steward by actively managing for wood, wildlife, or recreation while protecting the quality of your natural resources (soil, water, wildlife, trees, and other plants) for future generations to enjoy.
Your woodland is a renewable resource; however, trees are long-lived and take many years to mature. Decisions you make now about wildlife management, harvesting trees, or controlling invasive species will influence the character of your woodland for many years into the future. As a woodland owner you need to plan for the long term because whatever you do—or don't do—will have long-term effects.
Start by developing a woodland stewardship plan. This process will help you determine objectives; use your time, energy, and money efficiently; make informed decisions; avoid costly errors; and evaluate your progress.
What Is a Woodland Stewardship Plan?
A woodland stewardship plan typically is a written document that:
Creating a woodland stewardship plan is easier than you might think. A forester can do most of this work for you.
Work with a Forester
Forestry is a science that requires an understanding of how trees grow, reproduce, and respond to changes in the environment, as well as how to manipulate woodlands to meet a landowner's goals. Foresters are professionals with knowledge of forest ecosystems and processes and experience in managing forests. Work with a forestry professional to develop a stewardship plan for your property. Depending on your interests and resources, you also may need to work with other experts in fields such as wildlife, soil, water, and recreation. Some forestry services are free, while others require payment, but their value is enormous compared to the costly errors with longterm consequences that you could make on your own.
Your state department of natural resources and some soil and water conservation districts have foresters available to visit your woodland, answer your questions, and help you prepare a woodland stewardship plan. They also administer other planning, property tax incentive, and cost-share programs.
Private consulting foresters are independent contractors who help landowners prepare woodland stewardship plans, market timber, plant trees, or perform any other management practices. Consultants charge for their services, but in some states, the cost of woodland stewardship planning still may be paid for by a state agency.
Forest products companies employ foresters to buy timber from private lands. Some of these foresters also write management plans for woodland owners in exchange for the right to match the highest bid on your timber when your woodland is ready for a harvest.
Extension foresters at universities offer educational conferences, workshops, field tours, publications, web sites, and other materials to better inform you about forestry options.
Forest Stewardship Plan Basics
The six steps that follow are designed to guide you through the forest stewardship planning process.
1. Identify Your Goals
The first step in developing a stewardship plan is to identify your woodland goals. How did you come to own your woodland property? What do you and your family do when you are there? What outcomes do you seek from owning your woodland? Sample goals may be to:
If you have multiple goals, prioritize them or determine where they apply to your land. Your broad, property-wide goals may require you to develop more specific objectives in different areas of your woodland. Sharing a list of clear, specific goals and objectives with a forester guides them when recommending appropriate management practices to you. Consider your management plan a living document that you can refine as you learn more about your woodland and its capabilities, or as your needs change.
2. Inventory and Evaluate Your Property
Work with a forester to inventory and evaluate your property. Begin by accurately locating your property boundaries and marking them with a fence, paint marks on trees, rock piles, stakes, or other means. Clear brush from your property lines to avoid trespassing when you or your neighbors carry out forestry practices. If the boundaries are not clearly identifiable, you may want to have your land surveyed.
Gather historical facts concerning previous land use or management activities that could have influenced the development of your woodland. Such activities might include livestock grazing, agricultural cropping, timber harvesting, tree planting, fires, and pest outbreaks. Foresters use information about these events and their timing to analyze the development of existing woodlands and to predict the results of future management practices.
Aerial photographs are especially helpful as a foundation for the map (Figure 1-2). They usually are available from local offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or from your state forestry agency.
If the property is large and hilly, topographic maps may help you assess slope and aspect as they relate to woodland access and tree growth (Figure 1-3). Topographic maps are available from the U.S. Geological Survey, but also may be available online or sold on CDs and DVDs at outdoor stores.
More detailed descriptions of some timber inventory procedures are presented in Chapter 2: Conducting a Woodland Inventory.
Your woodland may be just one piece of a large forested landscape, but the cumulative effects of the management decisions you and other landowners make can greatly alter the forested landscape over time. Identify land uses on adjoining property and find out what plans your neighbors have for managing their land. This will help you to evaluate the potential impact of your woodland management activities on the whole forested landscape. Coordination among neighbors can produce a forested landscape that meets individual landowner objectives without adversely affecting the environment.
An inventory shows the current condition of your woodland, but a forester can use the inventory to predict the future development of each stand by considering:
More than one management practice is usually available for each stand, but it may not be easy to reach your property goals, given the woodland resources and sites on your property. A forester will ask you to choose a management objective for each stand. Knowing your objectives will help narrow your choice of potential management practices for each stand. Such practices may include:
4. Assess Management Constraints
Consider these management constraints when choosing which practices to implement:
5. Choose Management Practices and List Them on a Schedule
Prepare an activity schedule, covering at least five to ten years, that lists management practices and the approximate dates when they should occur. If your woodland is large—perhaps several hundred acres—activities may occur every year. If it is smaller, management activities may occur less often, perhaps only once every ten years. Regardless of its size, inspect your woodland at least annually. Walk though the woodland and look for damage by pests, fire, or wind, unauthorized harvest, damaged fences, and soil erosion.
6. Keep Good Records
It will be easier to update your woodland stewardship plan and make sound decisions about the future when you keep accurate records of what you have done. Records also will be important when filing income tax returns, selling property, or settling an estate. Management records may include: