Programs for private forest landowners
The U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program (fia.fs.fed.us/) provides a wealth of information about forests in our country. For instance, FIA data describe how forest ownership patterns differ geographically.
West of the Mississippi River the vast majority of forests are in public ownership, with Federal lands predominating. In the eastern United States, conversely, forest lands are predominately in private ownership, with scattered areas of public lands.
In Michigan, a state that is 60% forested, changes in ownership patterns exist between the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula. In some parts of the eastern Upper Peninsula, for instance, there are considerably more acres of public forest lands than private forest lands. The wealth of public forests is the result of lands reverting back to public ownership after the Great Cutover of the early 20th century.
Public forests in Michigan are managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as local governments. Here, in northeastern Lower Peninsula, most forest land is privately owned, with public lands primarily managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Because economic, social, and environmental issues impact many forests, regardless of ownership type, planning and management are important. For the non-industrial, private forest landowner (the professional term for people like you and me) there are a number of programs to aid in planning and management.
The Forestry Assistance Program (FAP) is the primary program and point-of-contact for private forest landowners in Michigan. FAP is administered at a county-by-county level by local Conservation Districts with funding through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
The mission of FAP is to: “Support family forest owners in realizing the economic, social, and ecological sustainability of their forests.” In achieving this mission, FAP foresters provide no-cost assistance to landowners in a number of ways, including answering forest and wildlife questions, providing site visits and evaluations, and facilitating interactions with other programs and professionals.
As stated above and in previous articles I have written, planning is a critical component of long-term forest conservation and should guide forest management actions. FAP foresters can assist private landowners in obtaining funding for conservation planning and introduce landowners to professionals that write forest management plans and who may conduct follow-up management.
Two programs, both funded by Federal dollars, can help pay for a forest management plans: the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (a bureau of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and the Forest Stewardship Program. FAP foresters can provide information on both these programs and put landowners in contact with associated professionals.
For many private forest landowners in Michigan, the Qualified Forest Program (managed by MDARD) is also of interest because of the reduced property taxes that result. The Qualified Forest Program requires a 20-year forest management plan drafted by a certified professional, often using the programs discussed above to offset the cost for planning. At some point, maybe not even within the 20 years covered by the plan, forest management must include a commercial harvest. Where, when, how, and why a commercial harvest occurs depends on the goals of the property owner. These important specifics of a forest management plan are developed by both the landowner and the plan writer in a collaborative manner.
Forests provide a wealth of benefits to society and the environment. The diversity of forest ecosystem types, owned and managed by different landowners with different goals, provides the mosaic that we see on a daily basis. To conserve these lands into an uncertain future FAP foresters, and the other programs and professionals they work with, are here to assist forest landowners in multiple ways.
Greg Corace is the forest and wildlife ecologist for the Alpena-Montmorency Conservation District.