Five things every woodland owner needs to know

Based on input from our readers and others, our readers’ suggestions, here’s our list of the five things every Minnesota woodland owner needs to know:

5 things screencapRather listen than read? This content is also available as a recorded webinar, about 45 minutes in length, recorded in January 2010.  Click here to watch the recorded webinar (make sure your computer speakers are on!).

1. Know your–and your heirs’–vision for the land.

People in the woodsWhen asked why they own woodlands, most people talk about caring for the land, leaving it in better shape than they found it, improving wildlife habitat, and just enjoying the quiet and privacy that the land provides.

As they watch their trees grow and change, many landowners want to guide that growth in one direction or another:  better wildlife habitat, more big trees, a quiet refuge, ski trails, a source of income, or something else.

There’s a common saying in forestry: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”  Developing a vision for the future of your land allows you to start planting those trees now.

To succeed, your vision needs to be based in reality, both in terms of local ecology and also your family’s long-term interest in owning and caring for the land.

What to do: Write down your vision for the land.  If you hope or plan to pass the land down to your kids or grandkids, you need to involve them in the land now, and make sure you understand their vision.  If they don’t see value in your plan, they’re not as likely to follow it through.

2. Know your land.

The health, productivity and growth of your woods depend on the soils, climate, and management history:  No two woodland stands are the same.

Whatever the site conditions, woodlands are constantly changing. Trees grow, trees die, wind and ice take trees down, insects come and go, climate changes…. All of these changes can affect not only the future of your woodland, but the value of your land and timber.

Aldo Leopold preparing journal note at the shack, 1946. (c) Aldo Leopold Archives. Click for original.
Aldo Leopold preparing journal note at the shack, 1946. (c) Aldo Leopold Foundation. Click for original.

Aldo Leopold, a key figure in modern land conservation, is famous for his careful observation of the ecology of his Central Wisconsin woodland.  Leopold’s decades of careful observation, recorded in his journals, gave him intimate knowledge of his family’s land.

This kind of knowledge is the foundation of sustainable forest management.  Planting trees well suited to the site, thinning out poor performers and cleaning out insect and disease problems are three simple things you can do to improve the health and productivity of your woods.

What to do: Get to know your woods well.  Watch carefully for which trees are dying, which trees are taking their place, what insects are present, which stands are overcrowded, and so on. Other landowners or forestry professionals can help you turn your observations into plans to make the best of your woods better.

3. Get a Forest Stewardship Plan for your property.

Forest Stewardship logoForest Stewardship Plans are prepared by local professional foresters. Your plan will include a detailed inventory of your wooded property, including species, ages, stand histories, and more. You’ll also get information about the ecology of your landscape.

Your plan will include specific recommendations for each wooded stand based on your unique objectives. Every plan is specific to the property and the landowner. Whether your focus is wildlife, recreation, big trees, timber, or something else, the plan will recommend ways to get more of it, faster.

Though as of December 2009 landowners are required to pay a portion of the plan’s cost, in most cases those costs will be recovered quickly through enrollment in one of Minnesota’s property tax and incentive programs.

What to do: To sign up, contact your local Minnesota DNR Forestry Area Office. Learn about the cost of a Stewardship Plan here.

4. Know where to find financial and professional help.

landowners and foresterLocal professionals can tell you about cost-share opportunities (to help pay for wildlife habitat improvement, tree planting, woodland improvement, and more). They can help you interpret changes in your land, tell you how wood products markets are changing, and more.

A local professional forester can plug you in to programs like the Sustainable Forests Incentive Act (SFIA), which provides incentive payments to promote sound forest stewardship and keeping land forested. A local professional can also help you enroll in Minnesota’s new (2008) 2c Managed Forest Land tax class, which has a 35% lower property tax rate than 2b timberland.  Read more about these programs here.

Finally, if you choose to sell timber, a professional forester can help ensure that you receive top dollar, and also that you’re happy with your woods after the harvest.

What to do: Read about some organizations that may be available to help you, or read about different sources of professional help.  Look for an interactive map with contact info for Minnesota forestry professionals on this site soon.

5. Get to know other local landowners.

Minnesota has at least 20 local private woodland committees, councils, forest landowner co-operatives, and local chapters of the Minnesota Forestry Association (MFA).

Landowners in the woodsYou should also know about the Woodland Advisor program. The program offers between 50 and 75 classroom and field workshops every year for family forest owners. The program is managed by Extension, the Minnesota DNR, MFA, and numerous other private and public partners.

Workshops are offered in partnership with local organizations. These events can be an excellent opportunities to meet local landowners and professionals and get answers to your questions.

What to do: For a list of local woodland organizations, visit MFA’s website and click “chapters” on the left.  You can see a list of many upcoming woodland-related events on our upcoming events page.

Add your thoughts!

What resources have you found most helpful? What have we missed? Leave a comment to help others learn from your experience.

Eli ‘s work addresses Minnesota forest ecology & management. He’s based in St Paul.

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  1. Dear Sir/Madam;
    I just clicked on “MFA website” and got a bunch of Japanese? Any idea what gives?
    thank you,

  2. Hi Eli,

    You should probably correct #3 as stewardship plans are not free any more.