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Forestry Programs You Might Not Know About
Article #149, October 2009
By Bill Cook

     Three relatively new programs target private forest owners. These forests are used for hunting, recreation, timber management, and similar purposes. About half the wood volume in Michigan lies in the hands of these ownerships.

     In June, as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, the U.S. Congress approved a program called the "Biomass Crop Assistance Program" (BCAP) which will be administered through the USDA Farm Service Agency. Using woody biomass as an energy alternative to fossil fuels has great potential in Lake States, especially for space heating.

     Biomass producers, and some forest owners, can receive a dollar-for-dollar payment for biomass delivered to qualified biomass-using energy facilities. So far, the only qualified biomass conversion facility in Michigan is the L'Anse-Warden plant in L'Anse. That just happened in mid-September. Hopefully, the region will gain additional qualified facilities in the near future.

     BCAP will also, eventually, contain provisions for the establishment of "energy" plantations for crops such as switchgrass, willow, and hybrid poplar.

     The protocol for enrollment and payment has yet to be fully developed. Administrators are figuring out how to run BCAP "on the fly". BCAP is on President Obama's fast-track agenda.

     Definitions, eligibilities, and guidelines can be found on the FSA-BCAP website. The Private Landowner Network also has a summary of the BCAP program. Enter "FSA" and "BCAP" as search words in an Internet browser to find both.

     Many forest owners have also expressed interest in "carbon credit programs" and learning how they might be able to sell credits from their land. Michigan is ahead of most states in that we have a program in place. However, at the current time, the price paid for carbon is low. That may change if and when the United States puts some sort of national carbon program in place.

     Carbon credits are exchanged in markets such as the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). Only large players can be a member of the CCX. Most forest owners are far too small. So, these forest owners work with a broker or "aggregator". In Michigan, the aggregator is the Delta Institute (http://delta-institute.org), a non-profit organization. An aggregator can sell blocks of carbon on the CCX. As carbon is bought, a return is then provided to forest owners, as the market provides.

     The Michigan DNR, Michigan Tree Farm program, and private forestry consultants have played key roles in the establishment of the current program. It's one of the first in the nation for standing forests.

     Forest owners must meet eligibility criteria, go through a process, and sign a contract. The program may not be appropriate for everyone, so care should be exercised before signing on the dotted line.

     The "Conservation Stewardship Program" (CSP), a restructured and renamed program through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), offers annual payments, with five year contracts, to eligible and approved forest owners for installing new and maintaining current conservation activities. Payments may range from $6 to $12 per acre per year. All eligible forest land must be included for an ownership.

     The CSP has a set of forestry enhancements and practices for which they may approve payment, and involve such things as tree planting, forest stand improvement, and habitat management.

     The NRCS has a self-screening landowner checklist available at the nearest NRCS office or on the Internet (key words "conservation stewardship program).

     Central to all of these programs, and most forestry and wildlife cost-sharing programs, is an approved forest management plan. In Michigan, the Forest Stewardship Program (FSP) cost-shares the expense of preparing a plan with a forester, usually a forestry consultant. This program uses federal funds administered through the Michigan DNR. You can learn more about the FSP on the DNR website.

     Of course, owning forest land offers many wonderful opportunities for enjoyment and revenue. You don't need government programs to gain these benefits. However, finding expertise to help manage a surprisingly complex and valuable asset is usually a good idea, including forest assets. Forest land investment is usually money well spent.

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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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