Forest management assistance

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 help achieve desired outcomes and prevent many pitfalls.

Professional foresters can provide a wide range of advice.
Professional foresters can provide a wide range of advice.

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 not usually optimize benefits for a forest owner, or the critical needs of society. These are the outputs of management, which can quickly become complicated. 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:

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 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 is 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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