Many owners of small forest tracts don’t understand the connections between healthy forests and a healthy Bay. In fact, some of them may not think of themselves as forest owners at all. And many think of forest management in extremes—either maximize timber production or do nothing at all.
In fact there are many management options for small tracts. The challenge for landowners is finding the assistance needed to effectively manage their woodland. In some cases, forest agencies don’t have the staff to seek out the hundreds of thousands of individual landowners in need.
“States have been grappling with this for decades because they just don’t have the resources,” said Sally Claggett, U.S. Forest Service liaison to the Bay Program.
Help is coming from a new program, Forestry for the Bay, which was developed by the Bay Program’s Forestry Workgroup and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of small forest land owners and help them understand forest management options.
“We all know that forest lands are the best land use for reducing nutrient and sediment loadings to the Bay,” said David Bancroft, president of the Alliance. “One of the challenges is the growth in land ownership in the 10-acre and below category.”
Forestry for the Bay, which is slated for launch in early 2007, is a web-based program that guides landowners through a checklist of management practices aligned with forest stewardship principles. The program does not compete with existing efforts. Rather, it is envisioned as an “on ramp” for information to direct participants to programs where they can get assistance aligned with their forest objectives.
They will also get information about any incentives, such as tax breaks, that may exist for certain management actions. Also, by performing certain tasks, participants can become a certified partner in the program, and get recognition through awards, signs and other means.
The overall goal is to increase the number of landowners who are managing their land. People with no such information may fall prey to “high grading” timber practices—derided by foresters as “cut the best and leave the rest”—in which the largest, most valuable trees are cut, leaving the poorest quality trees behind, a practice that greatly diminishes the future value of the property.
Right now, only about 20 percent of small forest landowners have plans to meet whatever management goals they may have. “Healthy forests make for a healthy Bay, and managed forests make healthy forests,” Bancroft said.