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Staff members at New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) receive a number of questions about how we practice forestry on NEFF Community Forests, as well as questions from landowners who are considering working with a licensed forester. Please read the FAQs below to see if they answer any questions you may have, and visit the Our Process webpage for a step-by-step description of NEFF’s forest management process. Landowners will find additional information about hiring foresters and a host of other information on our Conservation Resources webpage, and foresters will find information about NEFF’s particular approach to sustainable, climate-smart, regionally tailored forestry in the Exemplary Forestry section.
Through forest management and forestry, a person or organization takes a thoughtful, considered approach to the long-term stewardship of a forest’s natural resources to meet specific goals. Goals can vary widely depending on the management project, and may include wood production, improving wildlife habitat, and protecting the forest’s interconnected waterways. Forest management and forestry are conducted by licensed foresters, and are umbrella terms that encompass many different ways of treating a forest.
A private licensed forester, not affiliated with a mill or government agency, helps a landowner meet their objectives for the land and the forest. Using their knowledge of silviculture, wildlife habitat, and harvesting operations, a consulting forester can recommend a course of action to best meet a landowner’s goals.
The concept of sustainable forestry has existed since at least the 18th century, but exactly what it entails has evolved. Foresters first defined it as management that ensured a forest could sustain itself and its timber yield over the course of years and through multiple harvests; over time, this primary focus on timber broadened to include a forest’s ability to sustain a wide range of functions, outputs and values, from keeping water clean and preserving biodiversity to offering spiritual and psychological values. While the concept continues to evolve, to this day, almost none of the standard models of sustainable forestry account for whether or not they harm the climate. It’s time to for that to change.
Most landowners will harvest timber from their woods no more than once every 15 to 20 years—perhaps only once or twice during their lifetime. As a result, they are less knowledgeable about silviculture, timber volumes, stumpage values, local loggers, state and local regulations, and harvest administration. Consulting foresters bring considerable knowledge and experience to the table when working with landowners, thereby providing their clients with an advantage when it comes to administering and negotiating a timber sale. They also work with landowners on their long-term goals for the land, which allows them to design each sale so that it provides not only short-term economic and ecological benefits, but also protection of the long-term health and investment of the woods. Research shows that landowners who use a consulting forester receive more income from their timber sales than those who do not.
The best place to start is by asking neighbors, friends, or local organizations that have used foresters on their lands. You can also check with your state to determine which foresters are licensed. For tips on how to choose a forester, visit NEFF’s Conservation Resources for landowners section.
A management plan includes an inventory of the land’s resources, assessment of the landowner’s objectives, and a strategy to reach those objectives over time. They outline a specific plan of action over time with both short-term and long-term goals in mind. Ideally, these plans should be updated regularly, which provides landowners with an opportunity to reevaluate their goals and to keep their strategies up to date by incorporating advances in forestry and ecology. Though a management plan is not required as part of a harvest, it is highly recommended so that landowners can evaluate their goals fully and implement them strategically over time.
If someone contacts you to propose a harvest on your land, it is possible it is a legitimate introduction from a local forester or logger. However, all too often people receive the unexpected knock on the door or a letter from someone who is working on a neighbor’s land, who will be in the area for another couple of weeks, and who would be happy to harvest your land at the same time. You may be courted with claims of free assistance, the exceptional value of your woods, future markets crashing, the loggers’ limited availability, and more. They may even draft and present you with a contract outlining their contact information, a stipulation about the size of the trees to be harvested, and a price. However, if it sounds too good to be true, or if there is any pressure associated with their pitch, we recommend that you do not work with them. In these cases, when landowners receive unsolicited pitches or feel like they must make a hurried decision, the results can be disastrous both for the land and the landowner. A successful harvest can take a bit of time to plan and implement, and landowners should expect to be an active partner in the process. Anyone promising you money for no real effort or decision-making on your part likely would not be someone to whom you can entrust the ecological, economic, and aesthetic value of your woods.
As a general rule, NEFF does not replant following a harvest, as frequently the issue is having too many rather than too few seedlings. In New England, the combination of fertile soils and temperate climate provides excellent growing conditions for trees. We work carefully with our foresters to anticipate the conditions that will be created in the forest after each harvest, which will allow species to regenerate naturally. This work is deliberate, and the decision-making process about how to structure each harvest involves an assessment of local topography, potential patch size and location, water and nutrient availability, and sunlight. With these factors in mind, we can work to arrange a set of desired conditions that will likely lead to natural regeneration of desired tree species, making replanting an unnecessary step.
Clearcutting is not a practice that NEFF generally uses; rather, we favor partial harvests to achieve specific objectives. However, despite information to the contrary, clearcutting is a valuable tool in forest management. It can help “reset” a woodlot that has been damaged by poor forestry practices in the past, and can provide excellent habitat for a wide variety of early successional species, including but not limited to Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica), and New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis). Though it is not necessarily a common practice at our forests, we have employed clearcuts when we deemed them appropriate to tackle the ecological issues facing a particular property.
Knowing when and how to harvest appropriately requires thinking through what you as the landowner or manager are trying to accomplish, e.g., benefiting a particular species or group of wildlife, improving timber quality or growth rates, the landscape context where the property exists (e.g., is it missing particular habitats), and the conditions of the property. NEFF staff members work with our consulting foresters to develop a plan for each forest that incorporates both our goals and the set of conditions present at each property. These management plans differ for each forest, and require an assessment of many factors, including wildlife habitat and biodiversity present, forest cover type, species composition, basal area, stumpage values, future yields, the size and configuration of a property, and rates of return. Knowing precisely when to harvest or what type of harvest to implement is a function of these analyses, and something that we decide with our consultants in consideration of both the long-term ecological and economic aspects of the forest.
In some cases, it’s best to remove large volumes of slash, such as from around buildings or from areas that receive heavy recreational use. In these cases, slash can either be lopped to lie close to the ground or chipped and broadcast on the forest floor. Limbs and tops may also be chipped during the operation and trucked to plants to provide energy for heating or, in some cases, air conditioning. However, in most cases this material is strategically left behind. This slash or coarse woody debris has an important ecological function: it reduces soil erosion, provides nutrients back into the soil during decomposition, and provides a refuge for small species of wildlife. It also can protect seedlings from heavy deer browsing. We understand some people may view this material as messy or unkempt, but in some instances, leaving it out is the most ecologically appropriate strategy for our woodlands.
They are important for a variety of wildlife species. Our foresters and the loggers who NEFF contracts to do the work follow all applicable best management practices and abide by all species restrictions as required by state and local regulations to minimize impacts to ecological features like vernal pools.