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American Forest Foundation provides Forestry Mapping Tools and Plans
Harvesting contractors should consider two influential trends that are having significant impact in today’s forest products business environment.
First, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), in the hands of an experienced forester, are becoming ever more necessary tools in developing sustainable forest plans for private land holdings.
Second, smaller landholdings are becoming more and more important to harvesting contractors scrambling to find work as more owners of large, private forests, traditionally managed for harvest, are choosing to subdivide the land and sell it off. Today, GIS can be a powerful tool in the effort to acquire harvest rights on small parcels and assure the harvests are accomplished in ways that help achieve landowner goals for the land.
In America today, according to the U.S. Forest Service, 150,000 new landowners are purchasing newly divided forested lands each year with 77 percent of them acquiring fewer than 20 acres and 96 percent managing fewer than 100 acres. Also, millions of new landowners are acquiring land by inheritance or purchase. Forest Service research shows harvest is well down the list in terms of the goals those new landowners have for their lands.
Education for the Small Landowner
Educating small-scale landowners about the part harvest can play in helping achieve seemingly non-harvest related goals for the land is going to be an important issue for harvesting contractors, mill owners, and others in coming years.
A good, and free, place to begin educating present and future clients about planning for small acreages is a new, on-line mapping and planning tool made available by the American Forest Foundation (AFF) in an effort to help landowners plan for and maintain their forests and woodlots in a healthy condition.
According to the AFF, MyLandPlan.org is, “A new, easy-to-use, interactive website designed to assist family forest owners map, protect, and enjoy their woods,” a tool “…designed for woodland owners to help them learn about their land and identify their interests and goals—whether they include improving wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, birding, income, or other interests.”
Central to MyLandPlan.org is a mapping tool. As described by AFF, “The exclusive mapping tool (a key part of MyLandPlan.org) was designed to help users map woodlands and record features such as streams, trails, plants, and wildlife. Through the tool, they can identify goals for their property, and once selected, the tool suggests recommended action steps and offers customized information to help reach these goals. The site also connects woodland owners to local professionals and organizations that can offer guidance and assistance as needed.”
Getting Landowners Actively Involved in Managing
Because the tool is designed to get landowners thinking about actively managing their lands rather than just sitting on them, harvesting contractors, sawmill owners, and other industry advocates would do well to promote the use of MyLandPlan.org by the small landowners the industry will depend on for a share of its timber resource in coming years.
The plan does not pretend to replace the need for professional services and, in fact, the tool actively encourages landowners to get in touch with professional foresters, loggers, and others necessary to help owners achieve newly realized goals for their lands. In short, planning for sustainability can create a desire to harvest land by owners who might otherwise zealously protect the land from harvest.
Using Industry Professionals
So…a landowner uses MyLandPlan.org to organize his or her thoughts about a parcel and, in the process, develop some goals for that parcel. What’s next?
MyLandPlan encourages landowners to engage industry professionals, like foresters, to fully develop the plans owners have begun to create using the tool.
Professional foresters have been impacted by the computer age just as the rest of the forest products industry has. Forward looking foresters, as exemplified by Jerry Witler of Northwest Forestry Services in Tigard, Ore., have made use of state-of-the-art GIS to develop forestry plans for their clients for the past two decades. That means, Jerry puts forward, “We now are able to provide more accurate information at a lower cost. For example, when we cruise a timber stand, knowing the acreage is critical for obtaining an accurate volume estimate. GIS allows us to measure acreage much more accurately than before. In many cases, it can provide as accurate an answer as a field traverse. GIS also allows us to show the landowner an aerial photograph of the property with stand boundaries, streams, roads, and other features drawn on it. The picture facilitates communication between us and the landowner. Finally, GIS has helped us locate property and other boundaries in the field more accurately than before. “
The cost benefits GIS brings to the table are important. Jerry comments, “More groups and agencies are requiring management plans today. For example, members of the American Tree Farm System must have a detailed management plan. NRCS (U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service) often requires plans before landowners are eligible for other cost-sharing funds.”
Even landowners with small parcel holdings can benefit from the services of a professional forester. “We have developed plans for properties that are as small as 15 acres,” Jerry says. Taken alone, planning costs for very small properties may become cost prohibitive but, today, he points out, “Cost-share funds for developing plans are available from the NRCS and from other sources.”
Jerry says owners can participate in the planning process using “sweat equity” to reduce costs. “I have worked with a few landowners who developed their own plans. I provided guidance and suggestions, but the plans were their own,” he comments. “With proper guidance from a professional forester, I think that most landowners can develop a useful plan for their properties. The forester can help educate the landowner about their management alternatives.”
Management in Action
As an example of how GIS technology in the hands of a professional can be used to enhance results, Jerry points to the Jackson School Home Owners Association, a community of over 550 households near Hillsboro, Ore. The association manages a 25.73-acre natural area known as Jackson Woods, a property including a stream with adjoining wetland, mature Douglas-fir and western red cedar timber, and a dense understory with both native and invasive species. Northwest Forestry Services was hired to develop a Forest Stewardship Plan including strategies for maintaining, enhancing, and restoring Jackson Woods. While most of the plans Northwest Forestry Services prepares include some harvest, the goal of the Jackson School Home Owners Association was restoration without harvest.
The resulting plan, Jerry says, represents a clear roadmap the association can use in its quest to achieve its goal for Jackson Woods over time. In fact, he continues, the Association has already begun to implement the strategies that were laid out in the Stewardship Plan to bring health and restoration to their wooded area. “The plans we develop are excellent communications tools,” he puts forward. “A document that family members, heirs, or new land managers can use to find out what has been done on the property in the past and what the future plans are for it.” With GIS in particular, Jerry continues, the plans are not static, they can be modified as property conditions and landowner goals change.
GIS has come to the forest making it easier for individual landowners to plan for their lands and providing a tool harvesting contractors and others can use to educate landowners regarding the importance harvest can have in maintaining forest health and other personal goals the new forest land owners of America have for their acreage.
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