– by Steve Broderick, University of CT Cooperative Extension System
A forest stewardship plan is a working guide for the landowner who wants to maximize the benefits he/she receives from owning a piece of forestland. Properly done, it combines the natural characteristics of the forest with the interests and objectives of the owner to produce a set of management recommendations. Those recommendations, if followed, should transform the forest over time into one which, from your perspective as the owner, is as enjoyable and productive as it can be.
A forest stewardship plan need not be a long elaborate document filled with statistics and confusing jargon. The best plans, in fact, are brief, to the point, and somewhat dog-eared from continual use. While formats vary, any sound and useful plan will at least contain these essential elements:
- Ownership goals and management objectives for the entire forest;
- Locus, forest type, and boundary maps (Figure 1);
- Forest inventory data, a description, and a set of recommendations for each forest type;
- A chronology of recommended management activities.
Plans are typically written for a 10-year period.
Ownership Goals and Management Objectives
There are many reasons for owning woodland, and many benefits which can be derived. Most owners value the privacy and aesthetic beauty their forest provides. Many more enjoy hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing or other forms of forest recreation. Some desire an annual flow of fuelwood for their own use, or some periodic income to offset taxes and other expenses. The list of potential benefits is nearly endless.
No one can develop a forest stewardship plan that is right for you without knowing which forest benefits you value, and which are unimportant to you. Management recommendations for a given stand can vary dramatically depending upon objectives. Your goals and objectives should surface early in conversation with the forester(s) you decide to contact.
A typical set of management objectives might be:
- To create productive wildlife habitat for the greatest number of species;
- To maintain an annual supply of six cords of fuel wood;
- To improve the recreational opportunities for cross-country skiing and bird watching;
- To provide periodic income to help offset taxes.
- To improve the habitat for grouse, woodcock and other upland game species;
- To maximize income potential from timber stand management;
- To develop a maple sugarbush.
These priorities provide a frame of reference, which drives each management recommendation. Without them, a forester can only write a plan by assuming he/she knows what your priorities are, or by imposing his/her own.
Forest Inventory Data
A grocer inventories his/her stock periodically to determine what’s been removed, what new stock has arrived, and what age and condition the existing stock is in. Similarly, a forest manager must inventory his/her forest growing stock periodically to determine what’s been removed through cutting or mortality, what new growth there has been, and what age and condition the forest “growing stock” is in. Forest inventories provide the data necessary to make sound, scientifically based decisions on what stewardship activities will yield the desired results.
Some points about inventories:
- It is virtually never practical or cost effective to inventory every tree and shrub in the forest. Rather, a random sample is inventoried and the results extrapolated to the rest of the forest.
- The intensity of sample necessary for good decision-making varies from stand to stand, according to the quality of a given site. Rarely, for example, is it sensible to pay for a highly precise timber volume inventory in a dense young red maple swamp, where timber is unlikely to be harvested. On the other hand, serious and costly mistakes can be made without good inventory data on fertile sites containing high quality oak, ash and other hardwoods.
- Inventories tell you what things are like now, at this point in time. Trees grow, trees get sick, trees die, and trees get cut. The forest is a living, dynamic entity that changes over time. Inventories, therefore, need to be repeated periodically (preferably every ten years or so) and the management plan updated to reflect new conditions.
Descriptions and Recommendations
For each forest type identified on the map, there should be an accompanying type description and set of management recommendations. The description should be jargon-free and to the point, containing important information on the age and condition of the stand and quality of the growing site. Management recommendations which ignore either are likely to be less than optimal. Imagine, for example, a 40 year old hardwood forest which has grownup in an abandoned pasture. Quaking aspen, the “pioneer” tree species which first reforested the pasture, is gradually being overtopped and killed by slower growing but longer lived red and white oak. If the management objectives rank wildlife habitat improvement above timber production, a logical recommendation might well be to clear cut at least part of this stand, for the aspen would re-sprout quickly and provide a critical habitat component that is otherwise missing on the property. If, on the other hand, timber production were prioritized, a logical recommendation would be to do nothing for eight to ten more years. By then, the higher value oaks would have completely overtopped the aspen and a thinning program to improve the oak timber stand could commence.
Chronology of Activities
A chronological listing of recommended management activities is a valuable reference and should be included in any plan. The list should include a brief description of each recommended activity, the stand it is recommended for, the year, and some indication of its priority (figure 2). An estimate of the anticipated cost or revenue associated with each practice is also valuable.
Getting it Done
The best place to start in developing a forest stewardship plan is with your local Division of Forestry Service Forester (http://www.dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/forestry/boutfrst.htm ). He or she will tour your forest, provide a description of your forestland and make suggestions on management opportunities. In some cases, your service forester may help you develop an actual management plan. In others he/she will help you get off to the right start and then recommend several private consulting foresters who can do the complete job for you for a fee.
These maps are essential to a workable management plan:
Locus Map – a map which enables someone who is unfamiliar with your property to find it from a major highway.
Boundary Map – a map which shows the compass direction and distance along each boundary. This map is often combined with the forest type map.
Forest Type Map – a map which identifies the different forest types on a forest according to the major species present and the size of the dominant trees (Figure 1). A forest type is a group of tree species which, because of their similar growth characteristics, commonly grow together and are logically managed together.
Other valuable maps which are not hard to obtain include a topographic map and a soils map (available from your local Natural Resource Conservation Service Office).
Any map should include a scale (i.e. 1 inch=660 feet) and a north arrow.
Figure 1.Forest Type Map
Figure 2. Sample Chronology of Proposed Management Activities
Chronological Summary of Proposed Activities
|Stand||Date Planned||Date Applied||Priority||Practice|
|1&7||1995||High||two 2-acre patch cuts for habitat improvement, woods road widening. Approx. yield 60 cords.|
|2||1995-6||High||10 acres timber stand improvement. Approx yield: 45 cords.|
|3||1995||Moderate||10 acre habitat improvement; two patch cuts at road junctions. Approx yield: 30 cords.|
|4||1996||High||Wildlife mast plant release; apple tree pruning.|
|All||1997||High||Woods road maintenance|
|2||1997-8||High||10 acres timber stand improvement. Approx yield: 40 cords.|
|2||1998-9||High||10 acres timber stand improvement. Approx yield: 60 cords.|
|1&7||2000||High||two 2-acre patch cuts for habitat improvement. Approx yield: 60 cords.|
|7||2001-2||Moderate||15 acres intermediate timber harvest, pine release. Approx yield: 35,000 board feet; 30 cords.|
|All||2002||High||Woods road maintenance|
|1&7||2005||High||two 2-acre patch cuts for habitat improvement. Approx yield: 60 cords.|