by Sally Colby

If you own wooded forest land, consulting a forestry or natural resource professional is one of the first steps to take prior to making plans, but owners can also make some goals prior to meeting with a professional.

Dr. David Clabo, assistant professor of silviculture outreach at the University of Georgia, defined a goal as deciding what you want to do with woodlands and determining the overall strategy for your land.

“The overall strategy for your land to achieve the goal might be to have several different age classes present on your property,” said Clabo. “Objectives are the tactics to implement your strategy – what do you have to do to get there, and what are the necessary steps to reach your management goals, and what approaches can you use to meet your goals?”

Landowners should consult with a professional forester, natural resource professional or wildlife manager to determine broad yet focused objectives and how they can determine goals prior to developing a written plan. If objectives are not identified early in the process, management decisions may be relinquished to a professional such as a consulting forester or logger.

Objectives might include protecting forest property from insect and disease damage, minimizing wildfire risk, reducing invasive plant populations through active management, establishing genetically improved tree seedlings following timber harvest or creating a variety of different age classes and forest types throughout the property on suitable sites.

Objectives can be further defined by quantifying or deciding what kind of action will be taken.

For example, “protect forest property from insect and disease damage by thinning pine stands in a timely manner – once they reach a basal area and/or live crown ratio to where trees are stressed and competing intensely with one another.” Clabo said adding a quantitative component to objectives provides a better roadmap of what needs to be done.

Determining woodland management objectives involves learning the land use history of the property and what other landowners in the area have done. Objectives aren’t necessarily based on biological and resource components such as timber or wildlife. Objectives can be developed for human benefit, such as income production, personal fulfillment and satisfaction, long-term investment or passing the land to the next generation.

Basic facts about the property should be noted, including past land use management, location and size of the property, land and vegetation description (tree species, ages, sizes, health and condition), terrain and soils, special features (caves, sinkholes, streams, ponds, wetlands), vegetation that’s beneficial for wildlife, tree condition and tree harvest history.

The management plan compiled by a professional will include details about the owner, property name and address, acreage and the date the document was created. The plan will also include a list of any federal or state financial assistance programs incorporated in the plan. “There will be a legal description that shows property boundaries – a plat survey, corners, latitude/longitude, tax information and coordinates for access points,” said Clabo.

Stands are also defined in the plan, which Clabo described as “a group of trees that are sufficiently uniform in age class distribution, composition and structure, growing on a site of sufficiently uniform quality to be a distinguishable unit.” Soil characteristics throughout the stand are similar. “Some wildlife biologists might call it a cover type,” said Clabo. “Collective management of stands is known as forest management. A larger property might have several stands. Stand descriptions offer qualitative, quantitative information that can help guide objectives.”

The stand description includes natural disturbances (such as windstorm damage), vegetation, man-made features such as trails or hunting blinds, water features, special features such as geological features, and lists risks such as insect, fire or disease.

A description of terrain and soil is also included in the stand description, beginning with parent material (such as bedrock) and down into the soil. “Soil characteristics will affect vegetation productivity and species suitability,” said Clabo. “This might include soil profile thickness (depth to parent material), rock volume, soil texture (sand, slit, clay), drainage, pH, fertility and impermeable layers where water doesn’t infiltrate soil easily.”

Terrain and topography are important because they influence management decisions. Steep terrain makes forest operations more difficult. A topography description includes percent slope, aspect and elevation range. Describing bottom lands includes minor and major river bottom features such as floodplain, terrace, slough, swamp or ridge that can affect species composition and management.

Special features include archeological sites, historic structures, threatened and endangered species habitat and unique geological features. “These areas are hands-off in terms of management,” said Clabo. “They almost always have a ‘preserve and protect’ policy and may be under federal and state law protection.”

Details regarding streams and bodies of water are included in a plan. Stream classifications are described as perennial (water year-round with well-defined channel and aquatic life), intermittent (water present 40% – 90% of the year) or ephemeral/wet weather conveyances (no aquatic life, may be filled with forest litter and leaves).

“Information on water features is important for timber harvest and BMPs,” said Clabo. “Streamside management zones (SMZs) are hands-off in terms of timber harvest and moving machinery through them.”

Land use history is included because previous land use can greatly impact future forests and management strategies. In one example, Clabo explained that there will be vegetation differences between row crop acreage and forested land. “With a former forested stand, there will be root systems of trees and other plants that were present, or seeds in the seed bank that can sprout and form a new stand of timber. On heavily managed former ag fields that might have been in crops for many years, that biological legacy may not be present. In addition, soil fertility is different. Usually ag fields have a history of fertilization and those soils will be more fertile than sites that were never in ag production.” Areas such as hay fields and pastures may have compacted soil.

Assessing vegetation requires a forest inventory, which includes age of the stands and trees per acre. In an even-age stand, all the trees are roughly the same age. In a stratified stand, two or more species are growing at different rates. There’s usually a mention of regeneration potential, which is important for timber objectives such as hardwood harvest.

“If you have a wildlife objective,” said Clabo, “there might be information on wildlife species observed and beneficial plants and cover for wildlife species.” A stocking density chart estimates available growing space and can aid in making harvest and thinning decisions.

Any constraints – limitations to potential management activities – are listed in the plan. For example, a conservation easement may prohibit additional structures on the property. Steep topography may also limit certain management aspects.

Economic opportunities should be considered in woodland management objectives. “With pine, the price is typically reported per ton,” said Clabo. “But the value is going to be based on defects and stem form, and the diameter class to a given length and local mill dimension requirements for different products.” (For pine, pulpwood is the least valuable product and poles are the most valuable product.)

“Sometimes doing nothing can meet management objectives for a period of time and can save you money,” said Clabo. “Just because an area has trees on it doesn’t necessarily mean they are suitable to meet your needs.”