The planning you do for your woodlot or forest is not a difficult process and provides numerous benefits. If you’ve ever planned a vacation, then you’re capable of the planning necessary to get the most from your woodlot.
The process will include discussions with your spouse, children or co-owner; collection of resource materials; and working with a forester for technical and professional assistance. The good news is that much of this can be accomplished for free or with minimal expense. The expenses you do incur may be tax deductible, depending on your situation, and will be offset by gains in the efficiency of management and the benefits you receive from your property.
The starting point for a management plan is to identify your objectives—what you want to get from your property, either the material goods, such as timber, or for privacy, recreation activities and/or hunting. Maybe all these and more. To begin, ask yourself a few questions:
- Why do you own the property?
- What do you like?
- What do you dislike?
- What do you need (or want) in five, 10 or 20 years?
When you discuss the answers to these questions with your spouse or others, you’ll be able to identify what you want to accomplish. A forester can help you evaluate your objectives and whether or not they’re compatible with the resources on your property.
A woodlot plan provides benefits that are aesthetic, economic and logistical in nature. It allows landowners to integrate objectives such as timber harvesting, habitat enhancement for wildlife, and recreational trails. Planning ensures that management activities move towards your objectives and provides the optimal variety of desired benefits.
For landowners who seek IRS recognition as an active participant or proof of the intention of an activity, a management plan can document the role of the landowner in the management process or the intent of certain activities, and thus allow the landowner to enjoy certain tax provisions not otherwise possible. Examples include fencing to exclude deer from forest regeneration.
A typical management plan has four sections. The first section is a statement of the landowner objectives. It’s important that these are the landowner’s objectives and not the forester’s.
The second section describes the property. This should include: a legal property description; an assessment of the condition of the different areas or management units for timber, wildlife, recreation or other uses; and characterizations of the soils, especially any limitations of use, such as poorly drained or stony soils.
The third section is a work plan or calendar of scheduled events. Most likely you’ll want a fairly detailed plan for the current year and next year, but then more general targets for the following five- and 10-year time frames. Each year you can check the tasks completed and revise the current year’s plan. The schedule might also include the tools, equipment or resources you’ll need to complete a task.
The fourth section is an appendix that can include any number of things, from maps to historic records, aerial photographs, old pictures, a list of trees or birds seen on the property, etc.
Fortunately, there are numerous tools, people and organizations that can assist you with the planning process. One useful tool is a software program called “NED.” It’s available for free from the U.S. Forest Service website (http://www.fs.fed.us/ne/burlington) or by calling 802-951-6771. NED helps you visualize the relationship among your objectives.
Another tool is the Cornell Cooperative Extension publication, “Wildlife and Timber from Private Lands: A Landowner’s Guide to Planning,” (http://www.amazon.com/Wildlife-Timber-Private-Lands-Landowners/dp/1577530314).
People who can help include a corps of trained forest owning volunteers, the Master Forest Owners (MFO), who can be reached through your local cooperative extension office or the MFO website (http://www2.dnr.cornell.edu/ext/mfo). The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has a foresters (DEC Foresters) located throughout the state. Depending on availability, they will visit your property and prepare a basic stewardship management plan with you free of charge. You can also contact a consulting forester or an industrial forester for assistance with a plan, though they may charge a fee or expect some future relationship for their services.
Organizations that can assist include the New York Forest Owners Association (http://www.nyfoa.org) and the Catskill Forest Association (http://www.catskillforest.org); membership includes regular publications focused on the needs of landowners. These websites and others for maps, aerial photos and Webbased private landowner resources are provided as links from the Cornell University Forestry Extension Web page (http://www2.dnr.cornell.edu/ext/forestconnect).
Once you have your plan use it to your full advantage. Use the schedule of activities to plan the yearly events. Use the description of the different management units to think about places to put hiking trails, picnic areas or bird watching locations. Take the advice of your forester to help you evaluate offers from someone who shows up at your door and wants to buy your timber; if your plan doesn’t call for a timber sale, then most likely you’ll be better off passing up the offer.
A management plan is a critical starting point for the longterm stewardship of your wooded acreage and will serve you for years to come.
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with special permission from the Cornell Cooperative Extension featured in a co-op effort with the New York Forest Owners Association.
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