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Building A Forest Future
Article #323 June 2021
By Bill Cook

You own some woods.  Great!  What do you want it to provide in ten years, or twenty years?  The best way to get where you want the forest to go is with a professionally written forest management plan.

     A small percentage of Michiganders own at least ten acres of woods.  These family forests provide many goods and services that benefit everyone.  One would think that taking good care of these forests is important. 
     For some, letting “nature take its course” seems the best route.  Unfortunately, nature does not “know best” and there are many alien pressures on natural systems, such as exotic species, deer damage, disturbed ecologies, and climate change.  The definition of “nature” and “natural” can be bandied about for hours. 
     The better question is “What should that forest look like in the future?”
     Following a forest management plan will help secure the future that a forestowner envisions.  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying; “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. 
     The idea of a forest management plan is fairly simple.  What sort of forest do you have?  What would you like it to be?  How can you make that vision happen? 
     These are easy questions to ask but the answers can be challenging for many forestowners.  That’s where hiring a professional forester can help. 
     Some, maybe a quarter, of forestowners take this first step in learning more about their woodlands through hiring a forester, or another natural resource professional, to help them manage that resource.  
     Management plans will cost several hundreds of dollars and will be valid for at least a decade.  They’re flexible.  It’s your plan and your woods.  Unless you’ve locked the woodland into a property tax abatement contract, a forestowner doesn’t have to follow the plan, although it’s probably a good set of ideas.  But, even under a property tax contract, there is some flexibility. 
     It’s easy for a forester to inventory a forest and describe what’s there, including some good maps.  Hopefully, the forester will explain the inventory in plain English. 
     At this point, a forester will ask many questions, and offer various possibilities and alternatives.  You’ll need to provide some direction for the forester.  Armed with that knowledge, the forester can proceed to write a plan that takes your forest from where it is, to where you want it to be.
     This process can be terribly rewarding, and a lot of fun.  Over the years, the right forester will become a valued family friend. 
     A management plan includes all the descriptive information, such as the owner names, addresses, legal description, and those sorts of things. 
     The inventory will be a critical part of the plan, containing items such as cords and boards, timber monetary values, stand maps, soil types and woodland recommendations, habitat conditions, history, rare plants and animals, forest health threats, presence of exotic species, and more. 
     The trees have monetary value separate from the land.  This is an asset that should be measured and recorded even if a management plan is never written.  Timber volumes and values, at the date of acquisition, will be very important for any future timber sale income tax calculations. 
     Yes, most management plans will involve cutting trees, and usually generating revenue.  They’re just big plants (plus a bit of human attribution).  However, a forester will help explain how management (which really is more than just cutting) can deliberately move towards obtaining the sort of forest values important to the owner.  Forests consist of a set of dynamic processes.  Forests continually change.   Doing nothing with a woodland sets a trajectory that might not be what the uninitiated will enjoy. 
     Trees create the structure that builds the forest habitat wherein everything else lives and functions.  Understanding where a forest exists in a successional pathway yields huge insights for many applications, such as wildlife habitat and water quality. 
     Management practices might incorporate newer issues such as forest certification, carbon sequestration, exotic eradication, and climate change strategies.   
     Each stand, or distinct area, will have its own descriptors, as well as the desired future conditions.  For example, a 45-year-old quaking aspen stand may be scheduled for a clearcut.  This will regenerate the aspen, creating important habitat features for game birds and an entire suite of “young forest” wildlife species. 
     Thinking of schedules, the plan should have a table that identifies recommended practices and the dates of when they should occur.  This is a quick and easy reference tool, related to definitions and descriptions elsewhere in the plan. 
     A convenient checklist of potential plan criteria can be found by browsing “Michigan commercial forest program” or “NRCS forest management program”.  The Qualified Forest Program website also has an excellent checklist. 
     Implementing a plan often benefits from the assistance of a consulting forester.  There are many cost-share programs for various practices (including the costs of a management plan) from several agencies, such as the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, Tree Farm Program, DNR Forest Stewardship Program, and a couple of property tax programs.  Becoming a member of the Michigan Forest Association will help share ideas, successes, and failures. 
     Some County Conservation Districts employ foresters that serve to guide a forestowner through the process of acquiring information and assistance.  That’s a free service.  So, why not?

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Working with a forester will help you better understand forests.

A forester can explain the benefits of different forest management options

A forest management plan should be clear and concise. 



TRAILER- This website was created by a consortium of forestry groups to help streamline information about forestry and coordinate forestry activities designed to benefit the family forest owner and various publics that make up our Michigan citizenry.  This website is maintained by Bill Cook, Retired Michigan State Extension Forester/Biologist.  Direct comments to cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.