Article #211, July 2014
Forest ecology and management are more complicated than what many people might think. Hiring a professional forester to assist with management and other forest activities will better achieve desired outcomes and prevent many pitfalls.
The timber in a family woodland can easily be worth tens of thousands of dollars; comparable to investments in a home, a set of vehicles, or a retirement portfolio. Many people will seek professional assistance with their high value assets. Why not with timber?
More importantly, to most forest owners, are the non-timber values such as habitat, beauty, hunting, biodiversity, and other non-monetary values. Enhancing all these values are roles of a professional forester and, sometimes, other resource specialists.
Benign neglect, or allowing nature to take its course, will usually not optimize benefits for a forest owner, or the critical needs of society at large. These are the outputs of management, which can become complicated in a hurry. Forest systems are dynamic and ever-changing. So is the social and economic environment in which they exist.
Most foresters work for agencies and corporations. If one happened to be a neighbor, then advice can be helpful. But typically, these foresters work for their employers and not often with private forest owners. On the other hand, consulting foresters are those that help families obtain their desired forest conditions and avoid common pitfalls. Consultants work for a fee, and compared to the values of the forest asset and the increased income from well-done timber sales, these fees are moderate.
Consultants serve every county of Michigan and many can be located by simply typing “Michigan consulting foresters” into a web browser. The Michigan Forest Association can help. Recently, the State of Michigan has funded the Forestry Assistance Program that provides advisory services through the Conservation District network in many counties. Districts are often a local source of information. Michigan State University Department of Forestry maintains a consultant directory. MSU Extension has a bulletin about consulting foresters and has six educators across the state. The Michigan Society of American Foresters offers a bit of advice about why a consultant should be hired.
Foresters will generally encourage a forest owner to develop a management plan, not an uncommon practice for high value assets. A forest owner will want a plan that meets their needs, and is also eligible for a range of other purposes. Some cost-share programs exist to help forest owners with certain forestry practices. A forest management plan is usually required, and there’s even a cost-share program for writing management plans, too. Enrollment in Michigan’s forest property tax laws requires a management plan. A plan can help obtain the most advantageous federal income tax treatment for timber sale income. The Michigan Forest Pathways website can help forest owners sort out many of the services and organizations in the forestry world.
One of the more important considerations in owning forested property is inheritance. The typical pattern is to divide and sell, which has a number of negative consequences all around. Thoughtful planning by current owners will help keep properties intact and in service. However, this rarely happens by default. The Ties to the Land program helps owners walk through this deliberate process.
In addition to benign neglect and parcelization, forest threats include specific exotic invasive species of insects, diseases, plants, and other organisms, as well as our native pests. Heavy browsing by deer has damaged or eliminated forest regeneration of many trees, shrubs, and understory plants – for decades in some cases. Across different regions, deer have altered composition to a point resulting in permanently diminished ecologies. Also, harvest practices that degrade a stand (e.g. “select” harvesting) are avoidable with the use of a consulting forester.
Lastly, the loss of forest industry gradually removes markets that are required to support the commercial operation of forest improvement and restoration, as well as supply vital products to our economy. Knowledge of the available markets, usually through a forester, will help forest owners define management strategies. No markets equates to no management, and that leads to significant economic and environmental degradation.
The largest portion of Michigan’s forest, and similarly across the Lake States, lies in the hands of family forest owners. Management of these resources is critical to our future, as well as achieving the goals of individual owners. Professional forestry and consulting foresters are the experts trained to work with forest owners.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Forest Biomass Innovation 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 email@example.com or 906-786-1575.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last update of this page was 30 June, 2014
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