Saturday, April 4, 2009

All about management plans

The illustration above shows a woodlot stand map developed as part of a forest management plan by Picea Forestry Consulting. The woodlot stand map results from aerial photo interpretation and the forest inventory completed on the ground. The number of stand units reflects differences in species composition and age classes that have resulted from past disturbances (either harvesting or naturally caused disturbance). The number of stand units also reflects different site and soil conditions in terms of terrain characteristics (i.e., slope) and soil drainage. For instance, on this woodlot map stand, units 11 & 15 are classed as red maple swamps and these areas are wet for most of the year.

Besides outlining the number of stand units, the map also indicates available access to and within the woodlot and where watercourses are located. For this woodlot, a main public road serves as the north property boundary. This not only serves as a good property boundary but also provides ideal access to the woodlot. The woodlot trails, represented by red dotted lines, provide sufficient access within the woodlot in between the swamps, and a bridge was built to cross the brook in stand unit 20.

The woodlot stand map is an ideal reference point to what each stand contains, the priority level for attention (treatment), and recommended activities for the stands.

Questions & answers

A forest management plan can be fairly simple or quite detailed. Generally at a minimum the management plan provides documentation of your forest and tips on what you can do to improve it. If you do plan to do any work in the woods, the management plan will tell you what could be done to achieve your objectives and where to focus your efforts.

Recommendations are not etched in stone but do provide you with direction on where and how to proceed. In this post I'll answer some of the questions woodlot owners frequently ask about management plans.

Why have a management plan done?

Even if your plan is quite simple and you do not plan to do any harvesting in the near future, a management plan will tell you what you have and where it is—including whether you have any unique areas or special management zones (e.g., riparian areas, species at risk), where the best opportunities are for growing high-quality forest products over the long term, and whether you have potential for non-timber forest products, recreational activities, or other benefits of woodland ownership.

Having a management plan may be extremely helpful in coping with tax implications of woodlot ownership. A management plan may help you to qualify for the Intergenerational Land Transfer program, under which you may be able to pass your woodlot on to the next generation without burdening them with capital gains tax. It may also help to ensure that your property continues to be designated as forest resource, with lower property taxes than if it is designated residential. (Tax issues are complicated and depend on individual circumstances, so typically you would have to consult with a qualified professional in order to determine whether and/or how you can derive tax benefits from having a woodlot management plan.)

If you do plan to harvest, having an inventory that includes wood-product volumes allows you to place a current value on standing wood volume. A management plan also can determine an annual allowable cut or sustainable harvest level dependent on land capability and amount of mature (merchantable) trees present. This information will be extremely useful in planning harvesting and silviculture activities and in any negotiations with contractors.

In addition, a management plan may help you to identify stands/areas that are eligible for silviculture funding, which will help offset cost of improvement work. A management plan can also help you to obtain forest certification, which is increasingly important in making forest products attractive to consumers. A forest management plan is a first step towards achieving certification.

How is a management plan developed?

Six main steps are usually required to complete a management plan for a woodlot owner:
  1. Understand the woodlot owner's short- and long-term goals and objectives.·
  2. Obtain and interpret aerial photos to delineate stands and determine the number of stands to assess. Use contour maps and ecological classification maps to help determine forest stands.
  3. Conduct the forest inventory via a field cruise (assessment) of each stand. The forest inventory describes each stand in terms of species composition, age, number of age classes, height, density, vigor, growing conditions, wood product volumes, potential, and so on. The inventory also describes terrain and soil characteristics, soil drainage, number of watercourses and seepages, land capability, environmentally sensitive areas, windfall risk, access, and usually boundary line conditions.
  4. Develop the final woodlot map, calculating stand areas and wood product volumes for each stand and for the entire woodlot.
  5. Write the plan, including both descriptive and prescriptive information.
  6. Have the woodlot owner review the plan and then discuss it one on one.

What does a management plan contain?

Forest managers combine the information collected in a forest inventory with knowledge of your values, experience, and needs to complete the forest management plan. We:·
  • identify priority areas for treatment (where to focus efforts first);
  • recommend appropriate harvesting and silviculture activities, including techniques that aim to reach your objectives;
  • recommend methods of harvest and extraction; timing of activity, access, and operating considerations that aim to limit ground disturbance to ensure long-term productivity and ensure ecosystem health;
  • indicate stands/areas and treatments that are eligible for silviculture funding; and
  • identify areas suitable for recreation activities such as trails, camp sites, and rest stops.

How much does a management plan cost?

The cost of a management plan depends on amount of detail desired, management objectives, acreage and amount of productive land, the variability of stands, and the number of stands to assess. The cost of a management plan for a 100-acre woodlot that is mostly productive with a variety of stands might be in the range of $750 to $2,000. Although a management plan can be considered a significant investment, woodlot owners often find that the benefits are worthy more than the costs.

Note: This article previously appeared in an online newsletter published by the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association.

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