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Owning Land

Forest Management Plans: Why You Need One

May 5, 2022

No less than fifty-six percent of the 751 million acres of forest land in the United States is privately owned (source: Forest Service). In the last few years, there has been a steady increase in interest in sustainable land management among many of these landowners, meaning more and more landowners are adopting forest management plans to take care of their land. Landowners want to be responsible stewards of their forest land not only because it serves the environment, but also because land that has been managed well is worth more dollars than land that has suffered neglect. In our experience, this could mean even up to a 50% increase in price. 

Landowners who want to manage their forest land in sustainable ways will need to first acknowledge that there are many things involved in upkeeping their land, and often they do not have the knowledge or skills to handle everything themselves. Actually, they probably do not even have an exhaustive view of all the species that grow on their land. After this humbling insight has sunk in, landowners will do well to contract a forester who can draft a forest management plan for them. 

Forest Management Plans Are Foundational

The forest management plan will lay out how over the next few years—the plans typically cover a horizon of 5 to 10 years—the landowner will tend the land in a sustainable way. Of course, whatever land management measures will be taken will depend on what the landowner plans to do with the land in the first place. The plan is written to accomplish the landowner’s goals which could include objectives such as commercial harvest, improved wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, scenic enjoyment, forest health, ecological sustainability, and even watershed protection.

Many times, several goals must be balanced and prioritized to accommodate the needs of the landowner. For instance, someone will buy a 100-acre tract of land and will want to use two or three acres for pasture for a horse and maybe also have two houses built on the land. There are many ways to do this wrong, but there are also many ways to do this right if you take the time to understand the current opportunities and constraints. In this scenario, a forester will provide great value in identifying which areas of the property are most sensitive and need the most protection or which threats create risks to forest health, and that information can then inform the design and layout of where the pasture and the houses will be located.

Landowners should budget anywhere between $2,500 and $5,000 for a detailed forest management plan, which is—given the impact that sustainable development has on the value of the land—an investment that is poised to yield great returns.

Functions of a Forester

The first thing any forester will do for a landowner is walk the property and take stock of the trees growing on the land. This is often referred to as a timber cruise. The forester will examine what trees grow on the land, how old those trees are, and what species of shrubs and trees grow on various areas of the land. They will consider soil types, sun exposure, water availability, and decide what trees will grow best in which areas given specific conditions. The forester will then use this field research on the site to educate the owner on the land and integrate such information into a plan that details the steps necessary to achieve the landowner’s objectives in an environmentally responsible manner. 

Forester looking at Forest land for a Forest Management Plan

For example, an owner might want to help an understory of slow-growing oak trees, because they provide forage for wildlife. An overabundance of faster-growing poplars might overtake and shade out the oaks, so the forester may in this instance advise a selective harvest of the poplars and allow the oaks to thrive. Another very common part of forest management plans consists of measures against non-native invasive species, where it will often be necessary—if any of those species have already entered the land—to take action immediately to control these invasives since they can damage and destroy native species.

The examples listed above are far from exhaustive since we have not yet even brushed the many uses of controlled burns. We’ve also kept our example of selective cutting limited to the issue of overgrowth, even while other factors including economic conditions, disease, or other issues could necessitate cuts. Additionally, trails and access are something that foresters may cover in forest management plans to help landowners efficiently monitor their timber and forest health while providing for enjoyable use of the land.

Finally, a forester will typically oversee the execution of any of the actions laid out in the forest management plan. This may take the form of quality control on the work done by other contractors, whether we are talking about a selective cut, a controlled burn, controlling non-native invasives, the replanting of certain areas of the forest, or any other important component of the forest management plan.

A quality forest management plan is critical to achieving any landowner’s goals and the sustainable management of forest land because it educates landowners every step of the way. Foresters are well-positioned to not only draft the forest management plans but also help supervise the work of contractors who are called on to execute the plan. Any investment in a forest management plan is certain to create great value in terms of protecting the environment, educating the landowner, and bolstering the market value of the property.

If you’re looking to better manage your property, then contact one of our experienced Land Professionals here at National Land Realty. Our Land Professionals have excellent connections to local foresters, surveyors, and any other service you might need!

About the Author
Pat (he/him/his) is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, active Rotarian, and manages Western NC land brokerage for National Land Realty. Clients hire him to help them navigate difficult land transactions, which he does through a consultative team approach. This includes research, analysis, and collaboration with trusted vendors and experts, all executed with skillful project management to keep transactions on schedule. Pat was ranked #9 out of over 21,132 regional REALTORs in total Land Sales for 2021 and ranked #12 in the nation for National Land Realty brokers that year. For Seller Clients: Pat invests in every client with unmatched national advertising tailored to appeal to the most likely buyers with a team of professionals who ensure properties have the best exposure. For Buyer Clients: He devotes time to educating and empowering them to make decisions based on market trends, conservation, timber, land use, legal concerns, and other factors important to land buyers. Pat is a Certified Negotiations Expert, REALTOR Land Institute Member, and on the board of directors of the Rotary Club of Asheville and EcoForesters (a non-profit focused on sustainable forestry practices and protecting the native Appalachian landscape). View Pat's Listings and Reviews on