Forest Landowner Frequently Asked Questions
What should I be considering if I’m a forest landowner?
Aldo Leopold, the naturalist and author, once wrote, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” With these words, Leopold began a philosophy now known as the stewardship ethic.
Many forest landowners already practice stewardship on their land by using and caring for it in a way that allows it to remain useful by future generations. This ethic applies when the parcel is large or small or regardless of the type of ownership.
As a woodland owner you are steward of a community of an integrated community of plants, animals, soils and water, not just trees. Your woodland provides clean air and water, wildlife habitat, products and a host of other benefits. So what are the characteristics of a woodland steward?
First, feeling a sense of responsibility.
Second, knowing the opportunities.
Third, being aware of the consequences of actions
Finally, being guided by objectives?
Many landowners have an innate sense of responsibility but they may have to educate themselves about opportunities, consequences of actions, and the objectives that are possible on their piece of land. Woodland stewardship is an ongoing, long-term process but there are educational opportunities available and forestry professionals available to help you, regardless of the size of your property. It is a rewarding process with long-term benefits to you and the land.
“Your woodlot is in fact, a historical document which faithfully records your personal philosophy. Let it tell a story of tolerance toward living things, and of skill in the greatest arts: how to use the earth without making it ugly.”
Where can I find information about tending my woods?
University of Maryland Extension Woodland Stewardship Education helps connect woodland property owners to their land. Links to upcoming events, webinar recordings, publications, Find a Forester link, Maryland Woodland Stewards, Woods in your Backyard, forestry correspondence course, YouTube channel, and don’t forget the free quarterly stewardship newsletter Branching Out.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service is the primary agency that restores, manages, and protects Maryland’s trees, forests, and forested ecosystems. They have a number of available resources and connections to county Forest Conservancy Boards.
Forestry for the Bay has a number of resource tools for woodland owners and hosts some educational events.
What are the benefits of a forest stewardship plan?
A Forest Stewardship Plan is a guide a property owner follows to meet long-term objectives for their woodland. This written document describes the woodland resources present on the property, the landowner's management goals and objectives, and the recommended practices or activities to be carried out over time. In addition, a Forest Stewardship Plan can meet the requirement for reduced property assessment and resulting real estate taxes. For more information, see Fact Sheet 625: Developing a Forest Stewardship Plan - The Key to Forest Management.
Who is the best resource for developing a forest stewardship plan?
Developing a forest stewardship plan with a state Department of Natural Resources forester, a consulting or industrial forester, or another natural resource professional offers an excellent opportunity for landowners to become better acquainted with their property and its potential. The University of Maryland Extension has also created a directory of consulting and professional foresters (available here) who provide services to property owners with 10 acres or less. The forester can help answer technical questions, provide specific information about the various resources present, and also help to focus and better define the landowner's objectives for the future.
State DNR foresters develop forest stewardship plans for a fee, but they may have a waiting list. Consulting foresters in Maryland are private foresters, professionally trained and experienced, who offer their forest management services to represent the best interests of a prospective client. These services are usually offered on a fee, contract, or contingency basis. Some industrial foresters offer management planning services as well.
As when engaging any professional, it is advisable to enter into a written legal service contract or agreement that specifies exactly what is to be done and the results to be obtained from the forester. All foresters in Maryland must be registered, certifying that they have an academic degree, experience, and participate in continuing education. Some states do not have these requirements. Ask for the forester’s credentials as well as references.
How can I pay for planning and management?
There are a number of federal and state programs available that will help defray a significant portion of the cost to implement forest practices. Known as cost-share programs, most are implemented in a similar fashion. The best place to start is to contact your local DNR service forester. The actual application may go through the Maryland Forest Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or the Farm Services Agency, depending on the program. If the practice is approved, landowners complete the practices and pay for the goods and/or services. The local forester will then inspect the practice to ensure proper implementation. Upon approval by the forester, copies of the invoices and payment information are submitted to the forester for processing. The landowner will then receive reimbursement for the percentage of the costs involved in the particular program. More details on the specific program is available at University of Maryland Extension's Woodland Stewardship Education website.
How can the Tree Farm Program help me?
Adapted from the Pennsylvania Forest Association Website. The Maryland Tree Farm Program is sponsored by your Maryland Forestry Association. Tree Farm’s mission is to promote the growing of renewable forest resources on private lands while protecting environmental benefits and increasing public understanding of the benefits productive forests provide.
Nationally, the American Tree Farm System® (ATFS), is a program of the American Forest Foundation, committed to sustaining forests, watershed and healthy habitats through the power of private stewardship. Since 1941, ATFS has educated and recognized the commitment of private forest owners in the United States. Currently, ATFS has 27 million acres of privately owned forestland and 51,000 family forest owners who are committed to excellence in forest stewardship in 46 states. In Maryland there are currently 887 Tree Farmers with more than 126,000 acres certified in the program.
Tree Farmers share a unique commitment to protect wildlife habitat and watersheds, to conserve soil and to provide recreation for their communities while producing wood for America and the world. These individuals hold the key to the kinds of forests, forest activities and forest resources future generations of Americans will enjoy.
Each Tree Farm meets established standards and guidelines to become a certified Tree Farm. Under these standards and guidelines private forest landowners must have a management plan developed for their wood lot and must verify that they are implementing that plan when visited by an ATFS certified volunteer tree farm inspector on a five year cycle.
Water. Wildlife. Recreation. Wood. The four sides of the green and white Tree Farm sign tell the story of sustainable forestry … a thriving forestland that has clean water, a healthy wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
For more information go to Maryland State Department of Natural Rersources.
Where can I find information about the health of my trees?
The Maryland Department of Agriculture Forest Pest Management Division goal is to protect high value forest and landscape trees in urban and rural areas from losses due to insects and diseases. Their webpage will connect you to the most current sources of information on gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, southern pine beetle and other forest pest problems.
What can I do about invasive species?
Adapted From the Penn State Forestry Assoication. Invasive species” are “alien” or “exotic” species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. They are usually introduced by people either accidentally or on purpose and into a region far from their native habitat. In their natural range, these species are limited by environmental conditions, pests or diseases, keeping these species in balance within their ecosystem. When introduced into an area where these limitations are absent, some species have the ability to become invasive. These are the species we are concerned about in conservation.
Invasive plants grow quickly and aggressively, spreading and displacing other plants. Insects and diseases are the most destructive agents affecting woodland and shade trees in Maryland. Some of the more far reaching ecological and economic impacts of invasive forest pests and diseases include:
Chestnut blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) virtually eliminated the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) in the early 1900’s.
Currently destruction of the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) by the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae).
Current demise of ash species (Fraxinus spp.) caused by the advancing front of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis).
Managers can reduce the risks and incidence of insect attack by maintaining healthy and vigorously growing stands and trees. Research is being conducted to determine what conditions are conducive to forest insect outbreaks. This research may lead to improved control measures.
Recognition of the problem of invasive species are growing at the same time as damage to native ecosystems is mounting. Identifying invasive plants, pests, and diseases and understanding the potential damage they can cause is essential to slowing their spread and protecting native vegetation. In short, invasive species infestations can be extremely expensive to control, as well as environmentally destructive.
Identifying invasive species in your woods has become an unfortunate part of owning Maryland woodland. Your local county extension office or your MD DNR Service Forester can help you with species identification. Online identification resources are available at the University of Maryland Home and Garden Center . An excellent federal publication is the Invasive Plants Field and Reference Guide: An Ecological Perspective of Plant Invaders of Forests and Woodlands by Huebner, Cynthia; Olson, Cassandra; Smith, Heather (2005), USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry, Northeastern Area.
Control: There are a number of ways to manage undesirable vegetation: mechanical, cultural, biological and chemical. Integrated vegetation management (IVM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) use a combination of these techniques. Unfortunately, many of mechanical or cultural techniques like cutting, pulling, and tilling don’t do enough to slow the spread of many invasive plant species. Biological control is defined as “the reduction of pest populations by natural enemies and typically involves an active human role.” Generally, biological control is very expensive and extensive research must be conducted before a new organism or natural enemy can be introduced into the United States. Chemical control is usually the most desirable form of control, but can be costly and a certified herbicide applicator is suggested for the application of many chemicals required to effectively control invasive plants.
To help you address invasive species problems in your woods you may want to download the following resources:
Penn State Natural Resource Extension publication: Herbicides and Forest Vegetation Management, Controlling Unwanted Trees, Brush, and Other Competing Forest Vegetation.
Is leaving my woodland alone the best for wildlife and forest health?
Leaving your forest alone may not produce the optimum wildlife habitat and forest health. Most forms of wildlife require varied types and ages of vegetation for food and shelter. In an unmanaged forest, overcrowding often retards tree growth, makes forests more susceptible to disease and insect damage, and reduces the diversity of wildlife habitats. Selective thinning provides more growing space and nutrients for desirable trees, which in turn reduces the stress on trees and improves forest health. Other management techniques that regenerate forests, such as shelterwood, clearcutting, and group selection, can also be used to create the needed wildlife habitat diversity. These forest practices would be included in a forest stewardship plan.
Wildlife and woodland management webinars are available at the University of Maryland Extension Woodland Stewardship YouTube channel and many wildlife publication are available in the publications library.
Why does an overabundance of deer reduce biodiversity?
An overpopulation of deer results in overbrowsing of the forest understory. This reduces the habitat of many other species of wildlife, thereby, reducing the biodiversity of the wildlife populations. Increased browsing by deer alters the forest understory thus depleting populations of small woodland mammals and forest interior dwelling birds which use the groundcover for shelter and food. For information on methods to control deer see, University of Maryland Extension Bulletin 354, Managing Deer Damage in Maryland.
How do I go about arranging a harvest on my land?
The harvest of forest products can generate income but it is also can create and modify wildlife habitat, alter species composition, promote vigorous growth of the remaining trees, and create better access for recreational purposes. Most landowners will only harvest forest products commercially a few times in a lifetime so it should be carefully planned and executed. Most landowner lack the knowledge to market their own timber. The best results occur when the following three people are involved in a timber sale: the landowner, a licensed professional forester; and a professional Master Logger. There are six basic steps to ensure a successful timber harvest:
Develop a forest stewardship plan.
Interview, select, and enter into a contract with a consulting or industrial forester.
Conduct pre-harvest planning activities—mark and tally the timber and lay out roads.
Solicit competitive bids on the timber.
Select a logger and sign a written contract.
Oversee the sale until logging is complete
The publication “Marketing Forest Products: Understanding the Sales Process - Extension Bulletin #367” is intended to guide the woodland landowner through the timber marketing process. It provides sample contracts and details the various steps.
When I’m considering the financial implications of a timber harvest and other management practices, who can help me with the tax issues?
Some Certified Public Accountants and professional foresters have experience in this area but you need to ask. Regardless of who you hire, obtain a copy of the USDA Forest Service's Agriculture Handbook, “Forest Landowners’ Guide to the Federal Income Tax,” and provide it to your tax preparer. The publication and other resources on timber taxes is available at the National Timber Tax website.
How can I conserve my forest for the future?
Adapted from the Pennsylvania Forest Association. Planning for future generations requires good estate planning. Finding good legal counsel and involving family members is essential. Minimizing transfer taxes tends to dominate discussions of estate planning, but this is only one aspect. Other considerations include support and care of a surviving spouse, the needs of children, and helping favorite charities, among many others. A good resource of information on estate planning is the National Timber Tax Website.
Many woodland owners are also concerned about what will happen to their land after they die. The forestry community tends to discuss the intergenerational transfer of timberland in terms of continuity of forest management. While it’s not possible for a timberland owner to literally “rule from the grave” there are options available to increase the likelihood that the land will not be converted to housing subdivisions, second home sites, or malls and parking lots.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit land trust or governmental entity that permanently limits the uses of the land in order to protect specified conservation values. It does this by restricting the amount of development and activities that can take place in the future. Since the development value of the property cannot be realized, the market value of the property may be reduced to that of “open land”, i.e. the value of the land for agricultural or forest uses. Future owners are also bound to the easement’s terms and conditions. Easements are purchased or donated.
For more information on donated conservation easements contact the Maryland Environmental Trust.
For more information on purchase easement programs contact the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.
Other purchase easement programs are available from county governments.
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