Most people would agree that owning land is still part of the “American Dream” today. Having property where you can build a home, enjoy recreational activities or simply be around nature is an accomplishment people strive to achieve. For some, it is a reality. However, taking care of land, especially large acres of forestland, can be challenging and overwhelming for landowners.
For individuals who own woodlands, establishing a relationship with a forester early on can help ease your worries by working with them to outline strategies and solutions for your land. Foresters work with individuals one-on-one to develop a management plan and oversee all aspects of the land, so whether a landowner wants to generate revenue from their property’s assets, manage wildlife habitats or inquire about tax incentives, having a reputable forester is beneficial to outlining and attaining those goals.
As a forester, often my relationship with landowners begins with a call about an immediate need, usually for a timber harvest. They either wish to gain revenue from their land or, for a variety of reasons, they feel it is just time for harvesting. Another common situation is that they need a management plan to enroll in a property tax program. During that call, I listen carefully and ask clarifying questions to learn more about what the land means to the client. I try to identify questions like: Have they thought specifically about what they are trying to get out of land ownership? Do they have ideas on how to achieve their goals? How will those aims be incorporated in a harvest now? Is the landowner counter-acting their mission
The key is that the objectives are well thought-out and intended to bring the best results for the land. Establishing goals comes from addressing a landowner’s desires for the land such as if they want to produce income, and strategizing the approach to attaining them. Foresters aim to answer questions like: Is it possible to attain your desired outcome based on the tree species that are currently growing on your land? Have you considered how your forest is naturally changing and what practices could be implemented to best meet your purpose and the enjoyment you gain from your property? Are specific practices needed to achieve your goals? What steps are you taking to reach your objective? Is it the best time to harvest? Will waiting bring you better timber or better markets? Is there an urgency to implement a specific practice or is patience needed?
The best approach for purposeful land management is to have a forester work with you on an ongoing basis to prepare a written management plan tailored to your specific goals for all aspects of your woodlot. The management plan should aim to meet a landowner’s wants and will spell out the steps to have a healthy, productive forest while protecting or improving the valuable resources on the lot. A plan should be considered a living document that is revised as practices are implemented and as the forest changes. If a landowner has a need for income in the short term, they can follow through with planning the next steps in management and adjust the goals to reflect the changing forest. If they are intent on harvesting immediately, they should follow through afterwards and establish goals going forward.
Establishing a relationship with a forester
The best way to establish a successful, obtainable management plan is to consult with a forester before taking action. Before hiring a forester, sit down and interview them. Ask about their background and expertise and see if their approach fits well with the goals for your property. At American Forest Management, we make sure that all potential clients know the variety of our services, our knowledge of land management, and that we are dedicated to the landowner. A forester that is working for your interests will work to maximize your goals.
If you hire a forester and continue the initial conversation, you can rest assured that harvests and other projects will happen when it is best for you and your forest. Together, you can work on long-term goals and have confidence that the forester working for you understands your goals and why they are important to you. You can structure the relationship in several ways. It can be informal where you agree to check in periodically about management goals and scheduling activities. Larger acreage owners can use a forester to schedule regular harvests, do periodic timber inventories, establish sustainable harvest levels for the ownership and provide market reports for timber in your area. The forester can manage recreational leases or help you establish private recreation trails. Some forestry consulting firms offer land management contracts that can provide a variety of services from reviewing potential new land purchase opportunities to monitoring use of your land to reviewing new technology for forest inventory or recreational use.
Early Communication is Key
A common thread in all of these relationships is regular communication with a forester who can provide the assistance you need to manage your land well. Frequent communication helps avoid unforeseen problems or missed opportunities. It is important to consult with a forester sooner rather than later to produce optimal results for your land.
One of my clients came to me after a chance meeting in a local store. They asked if I could help them because tax season was approaching and although they were sitting on assets in their land and timber, the local zoning laws and their relationship with local decision-makers had made it impossible to harvest their timber for many years. In the meantime, the timber had grown past the optimal time to harvest. What they needed was a forester who could act as their agent, secure the necessary permits for a timber harvest operation, as well as see the project through to the end. The situation with their land made it difficult for them to act for decades. Hiring the right forester long ago would have allowed them to receive regular income and to have a healthier forest.
Another example is a landowner who bought land without seeing the need to generate regular income from it. Of course, the land was not in a state to produce income in the short term, but he had the forethought to hire a forester to assess the lot, write a management plan and be the contact for potential recreational users on the property. This landowner now has the basis for establishing the value of his timber assets, a timeline for when timber management can become a regular part of management, and has contracted with American Forest Management to provide a wide-range of services. This contract allows periodic conversations with the landowner about what has been happening on his land and what services he feels he needs.
The last example is a small landowner who had regular small harvests on their land until recently. Their need for income changed suddenly. They contacted their forester to discuss how they could meet this new income need. That conversation resulted in a plan that didn’t strip the land of value, but it shifted the frequency of harvest. As a landowner, it is best to have goals to guide your management. Sometimes, as this example shows, a landowner’s needs change over time and goals need to change with them.
Starting with concrete objectives for your land allows you the best chance and most flexibility to achieve them. Having a long-term relationship with a forester who has experience with all of the aspects of managing forest land will help you develop these goals, plan the optimal time to carry out the specific activities, and be able to adjust when your needs change.
Written by Bill Haslam, a licensed Maine forester at American Forest Management. With over 16 years experience in the industry, he works with public, private and institutional landowners who own anywhere from five to hundreds of thousands of acres. Based out of the Farmington, Maine office, Bill provides advice on how to maximize timber earnings and incorporate the variety of other goals of ownership.
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