a forester creating a forest management plan

Creating A Forest Management Plan

If you own a small woodlot or a large forest tract in the United States, having a woodland management plan to manage your property is crucial. A forest management plan can help you obtain your forest management goals and ensure its sustainability for future generations. In this article, we will be discussing the many benefits you can get from a management plan (including grants). We will also look at what a management plan is made up of and how to make one for yourself.

What is a Forest Management Plan?

A forest management plan is a written document that prescribes management activities to be performed in a specific forest along with when the activities are to be carried out to achieve the short and long-term goals and objectives assigned to the forest. Simply put, the forest management plan is a comprehensive and detailed guide that tells you what to do and when, in order to maximize your forest’s potential.

Why a Forest Management Plan Is Important?

Managing forests is a demanding task and requires interdisciplinary knowledge and awareness. A forest management system will typically involve silvicultural, ecological, legal, economical, practical, regulatory, and cultural aspects. Managing all these aspects promptly without a guideline can be overwhelming. This is where the importance of a forest management plan lies.

First, a forest management plan provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of your forest, identifies the issues and challenges that you currently face or may face in the future, and outlines the strategies and actions needed to improve the health and productivity of your forest.

Secondly, it helps to align current actions and proposed actions in a long-term roadmap for your forest. By helping you make informed decisions about the use of forest resources such as harvesting, wildlife management, carbon sequestration, and recreation, it helps to maximize your gains from the forest resources but in a sustainable manner.

One often overlooked importance of a forest management plan is that it can help you attract financial assistance such as grants for your forest management activities. Having a management plan is a necessary criterion for most financial assistance provided by federal, state or non-governmental agencies. This can help you cover management costs or even generate income from alternative uses of the forest.

Similarly, having a management plan will largely eliminate any legal issues and make the process of forest certification easy.

Creating A Forest Management Plan

Making such a comprehensive plan can seem like a daunting task itself, and it indeed takes time, effort, and money. But the benefits of having a management plan always outweigh the cost.

Here are some of the items to include when creating your forest management plant:

  1. Goals and Objectives
    Goals and objectives are the starting point of your forest management plan. They are usually in the form of clear statements and must be specific, achievable, measurable, relevant, and time-bound.
    Goals and objectives are two different things that complement each other. While goals refer to the vision you have for your forest, objectives represent the tactics you will use to implement that vision.
    For example, If your goal is to increase the volume of high-quality timber by 50% within the next 10 years, your objectives will include effectively carrying out timber inventory, stand improvement thinning, protection activities, and harvesting operations.
  2. Forest Inventory and Site Description:
    The forest management plan is built upon the findings of an inventory of your forest, which provides a comprehensive understanding of the tree species, age, size, and distribution, as well as information about wildlife, soil, water, and other features relevant to the management goals.
    This part also includes the legal description of your forest including the tax parcel number, and USDA Service Center number (farm number), if available.
    Additionally, much of the information is also represented in the form of maps such as property maps, forest stand maps, hydrological maps, soil maps, topographic maps, historical maps, etc.
  3. Silvicultural Prescription:
    This will be the core of your forest management plan and comprise a detailed description of all the silvicultural prescriptions including their timing and frequency. While the specific treatments will depend again, on the management goals, they generally include site preparation, planting, thinning, stand improvement, fertilization, prescribed burning, building infrastructure, water regime regulation, habitat improvement and so on.
    This section goes into more detail about which silviculture system to use such as clear-cutting, shelterwood, and coppicing. It gives detailed guidelines for how and when to perform each operation.
  4. Forest Protection and Maintenance:
    A major part of managing forests is to protect them against damaging agents such as fire, insects and trespassers so that the forest can exist for a long time. So protection and maintenance measures have an important role in a forest management plan. Protection measures such as fire protection, insect inspection, salvage cuttings, fencing, boundary maintenance, etc. are included in the forest management plan so that you can be assured of their long-term survival.
  5. Other Management:
    There are several other management aspects that almost all forest management plans will mention in their document but their relative importance will vary. For instance, if your forests have a wildlife value, a plan for wildlife habitat management is necessary which identifies the species present, the habitat requirement of those species and the practices to be undertaken to create or maintain those requirements.
    Similarly, if you plan to use your forest for recreation, your plan will identify the types of potential recreational activities, their profitability, areas within your forest where they are suited, and the practices that will make these activities safe and sustainable.
  6. Monitoring and Evaluation:
    Forests are dynamic systems and the expectations from a forest also change over time. So, to make the forest management plan more flexible to the changing circumstances, it should have clear provisions and instructions for periodic monitoring and evaluation so that it can be updated over time. To achieve this, forest management plans will have a specific set of criteria and indicators which are used to assess the effectiveness of the activities being carried out.
    Monitoring and Evaluation will allow you to adjust your management strategies as necessary without having to come up with a new plan every time something changes.

Some Practical Considerations while preparing a Forest Management Plan

Preparing a Forest management plan can be a lengthy and frustrating process if proper steps are not taken. So below are a few practical considerations that will help you make it cost and time effective:

  1. Work with professionals
    Creating a forest management plan on your own is possible but not advisable and seldom done since working with a professional forester from a forestry service provider can provide you with valuable expertise that will ensure that your management plan is based on sound science and best practices.
  2. Consider your budget.
    Creating and implementing a management plan can be expensive, so you need to make sure that your plan is cost-effective by considering your budget and properly estimating the returns you will be gaining from the forest as well as the cost of managing it. Financial assistance and grants can be a big help, especially if your plan focuses on environmental sustainability.
  3. Consider the timing of the management activities:
    Some activities must be timed appropriately for them to be effective. For instance, harvesting should be done at a time of the year when timber is less likely to be damaged by insects. This is also why working with professionals is very important.
  4. Obtain necessary permits and approvals:
    Forest management is also a big legal undertaking. So you need to familiarize yourself with the federal and state laws and make sure that you have obtained all the necessary permits and approvals. For example, specific operations like logging or burning need a separate permit.
  5. Consider liability issues:
    There is a lot of risk and uncertainty associated with managing forests. So, you also need to consider liability issues when developing a forest management plan by taking steps such as obtaining liability insurance.

Researching Management Grants

As mentioned earlier, having a woodland management plan in place can help you access financial assistance programs for your forest management activities. Below are some tips that can help you secure a management grant that suits your forests and needs:

  1. Contact your state forestry agency:
    The best place to start looking when searching for a forest management grant is the state forestry agency since they have coordinated information about federal, state and NGO financial assistance programs. They can also help you determine whether you are eligible for these programs. You might also get support from State-level Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD)
  2. Contact your local conservation groups:
    Local management grants might be smaller in scale than federal or state grants but they offer other benefits such as flexibility, local knowledge, stronger community engagement and support. They are often offered by local-level NGOs, land trusts, and associations.
  3. Research Federal Grant Programs:
    The USDA Forest Service, along with other federal agencies offer attractive financial assistance to private forest owners. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) which provides both financial and technical assistance to landowners in choosing environmentally friendly practices.
  4. Attend Workshops and Training sessions:
    Many workshops and training sessions are being organized at all levels on management plans and grant programs. Attending these events is an excellent way of learning about new programs and establishing a network with other private forest owners and forestry professionals.

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, creating a forest management plan is essential for private forest owners in the United States. A forest management plan can help you achieve your forest management goals, maximize your forest’s potential, and ensure the sustainability of your forest resources for generations to come. By including the elements discussed in this article, you can create a comprehensive and effective forest management plan that helps you meet your needs and achieve short and long-term goals. Additionally, it opens opportunities for management grants to help you access financial assistance programs that can cover the costs of your forest management activities. Creating a forest management plan is best done in collaboration with forestry professionals along with your active involvement. With a forest management plan and financial assistance, you can manage your forest in a sustainable and profitable manner.

Some Important Resources:

Natural Resource Conservation Science has developed excellent templates, for landowners as well as foresters to prepare woodland management plans.

Contributed by Sandesh KC