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Forestry Programs
Article #120, June 2007
By Bill Cook

     Managing a forest or woodland results in many rewards; more money, lots of fun, stewardship satisfaction, family bonding, healthier conditions, better habitat, and so on. A managed forest also adds strength to our economies and lifestyles. It's this greater social benefit package that prompts government to make some offers to forest owners on behalf of their citizenries.

     From the State of Michigan, there are two property tax abatement programs for forest owners interested in forest management. The Commercial Forest (CF) program replaces regular property taxes with a straight $1.25 per acre. The Qualified Forest Property (QFP) program exempts owners from the school operating taxes levied by local taxing units.

     Of course, each program has eligibility requirements, fees, and protocols. After all, the government wants something in return for those tax reductions. Both programs require management plans. For many owners, one of the most important differences is the whether or not public access is allowed. The CF program opens enrolled forest to foot access for hunting, fishing, and trapping. The QFP program allows land to remain posted. That's part of the reason the tax breaks are greater for the CF lands.

     The State of Michigan also offers cost-share assistance for the development of an approved forest management plan. Such a plan is key to most forestry cost-share and tax abatement programs. Beyond that, it's simply a good idea to work with a professional forester to illustrate the potential for a property. There's more to a forest than what most people realize.

     Carbon sequestration programs have recently come to Michigan. Perhaps the most well known, at this point, are a pair of programs through the Delta Institute, a private non-profit company that trades carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. The Michigan Conservation and Climate Initiative (MCCI) currently offers a program for farmers, which includes a tree planting alternative. The forestry program may become available later this year, following the analysis of the pilot project.

     County Conservation Districts sometimes employ foresters to visit private forestlands and provide guidance and referrals. In many areas, the Districts may be the best way to learn about forestry and conservation services in a local area.

     The federal government also has a suite of programs, but many don't deal directly with forest management. Most work in conjunction with agricultural land to implement conservation measures. A variety of tree planting, habitat enhancement, and other activities might be cost-shared through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and others. Dollars are often limited and each state develops funding priorities. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provides some technical assistance through cooperators and a state forester.

     Some of the finest programs are through forest industry. If your land lies within the service area of one of these programs, you can receive some of the best assistance available. NewPage (Escanaba), Weyerhaeuser (Grayling), Packaging Corporation (Manistee), and DPI (Alpena) are examples of industry working with forest owners. Additionally, a number of sawmills and logging companies offer timber harvest assistance, which may be different than forestry in a fuller sense.

     Of course, if you wish to have a forester working directly for you, then hiring a professional forestry consultant is an excellent idea. For those folks genuinely interested in forest management or a bit reluctant to engage the government, consulting foresters offer the greatest variety and flexibility of services. Services come on a fee or commission basis and the investment usually pays significant dividends.

     The Michigan Tree Farm Program has changed significantly in the past five years. Cooperating foresters work with forest owners in a variety of ways, depending on the wishes of the owner and the services of the forester. In some parts of the state, forest owners can now enroll in the National Tree Farm group certification program. This is one of the easiest ways to have private property enrolled in a forest certification program.

     One of the best ways to learn more about these programs and all things related to forestry is by joining the Michigan Forest Association (MFA). The MFA consists of forest landowners from around the state that share stories, problems, solutions, and just about any other sort of forest related information.

     Where to learn more about these forestry programs? A few Internet keywords will get you a long way. You can also contact DNR Service Foresters (only six of them) or a Conservation District. Most MSU Extension offices can find information and help identify the right people. It may take a while to sort through and evaluate all the options and opportunities, but that's part of the adventure of owning a forest.

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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