s your forest all it could be? Do you have a plan to
manage your forest? Those are questions posed in a publication called Forest Health-Community Wealth: A Landowners Guide for Enhancing Western North Carolina Forests. Created with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and through a partnership between the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and the N.C. Forest Service, the guide is intended to help forest landowners by educating them in the basics of forest management.
Forest Health-Community Wealth shows that the key to forest management is having a plan, based on the knowledge shared between landowners and forestry professionals.
Explains Rick Hamilton, Extension forestry specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the guide will tell owners how to recognize ways to use and preserve their land and where to turn for help. A knowledgeable landowner implements the process and then calls upon the professional, he says. We have many publications, but this is the first effort that seeks to empower a landowner through a self-assessment, before seeking professional advice.
The purpose of the guide is to prepare landowners to perform an individual self-assessment of their forest. It provides what landowners need to know before they move forward with help from forest professionals. My hope is that this and an eastern North Carolina version will be out by early June, Hamilton says. We plan to use this to train county agents, to hold stewardship workshops and as part of an educational initiative to reach forest landowners.
The publication comes at a time when the number of forest landowners is growing, Hamilton says. The average ownership in North Carolina is 32 acres. If we can demonstrate this works, well help the rapidly increasing number of small owners in this and other states.
The guide gives those who have recently acquired forested acreage, as well as those landowners who have never considered the potential of their forest, some lessons in enhancing their property. This planning guide has been developed for forest landowners who may want multiple benefits from their land, such as natural aesthetics, recreational opportunities, attracting wildlife, forest health, growing trees and income, the text reads.
Landowners learn how to assess what kinds of forests they have (young, middle-aged, mature) and their management options, as well as key terminology: stand, silviculture and reforestation. The guide outlines the types of timber harvesting, from partial harvesting to clear-cutting, as well as proactive protection strategies. Landowners learn the basics of shaping and creating open spaces and of managing the forest edge for beauty, diversity and wildlife benefit. For creating native wildflower meadows, the guide provides lists of native plants common to old fields and forest edges and for moist meadows and stream margins.
One section of the guide delineates the responsibilities of the forest landowners, such as protecting water resources in their forests. Best management practices and the sensitive areas where those practices are crucial are clarified for the reader.
With this guidance, the landowner can see not only that land management has its own unique challenges, but also that expert assistance may be needed. The when and where are answered in the Getting Help section, which directs the reader to the Cooperative Extension Service, N.C. Division of Forest Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, as well as other nongovernmental sources. These agencies and groups provide assistance ranging from educational materials to workshops to technical assistance and on-site planning advice.
The guide is a way, right up front, of putting the landowner in charge of what is happening on his or her land, Hamilton says. He places particular emphasis on the her of that statement, because, he adds, We think demographically about 40 percent of the wooded land in the state is owned by women. So they are a special audience for this, from my standpoint.
And they are part of a vast audience. In North Carolina we have approximately 18 million acres of commercial timberland, Hamilton says, and roughly 72 percent is owned by individuals. There are 500,000 owners of 10 acres or more, and that number is increasing daily.
Therefore, he says, We want to get this guide into the hands of realtors and others who handle land transactions to disseminate to new owners.
What separates this guide from other forestry publications, he says, is that its more likely the landowners will actually read it: Weve seen many non-industry landowners who dont use existing publications. We hope that by giving them in this publication a means to do a confidential self-assessment, combined with the educational information, they can better assess where they are and set goals and objectives for their property; at the same time they can be empowered through a level of knowledge to be comfortable speaking to a professional.
With this guide, he says, Were not just saying, You need to clear-cut this or do that. Were getting them to work in partnership with a professional to get the best values out of their forests.
Its essentially a softer, gentler way for managing your woods one that many partners, including some environmental interest groups, are backing, Hamilton says.
Hamiltons western North Carolina guide derives from a national Forest*A*Syst prototype that he developed; other states programs have spun off from his national version, as well.
Tennessee and Alaska have guides published, Georgia has one in process, New England is developing a Forest*A*Syst model for the region, and Kentucky and Hawaii have them in the works, too, he says. We hope soon to have many states with their own Forest*A*Syst programs.