Woodland Stewardship Online helps landowners make sense of forested land

The Woodland Stewardship interactive website offers detailed information and advice for both experienced and novice family forest owners.

Michigan is rich in its size and variety of forested land. Of the state’s 19 million forested acres, about 9 million is owned by private or family forest owners. These ownerships can range from a farmer’s “back 40” of oaks and hickories in southern Michigan, to a family’s hunt camp of jack pine in the northeast Lower Peninsula, to an elderly couple’s 640 acre tract of maple-beech forest in the Upper Peninsula. All of these types of forest owners may have different goals for their land, but they all share a need to understand their land’s current conditions, and have a clear picture of how that land can continue to fulfill its economic, social and ecological potential for the future.

For many forest landowners, knowing where to start in this process can feel overwhelming. Finding the right professionals for advice and knowing what to ask can be a mystery. A great source of information to use as a starting point can be found at the Woodland Stewardship website. This site contains an electronic, interactive version of the textbook “Woodland Stewardship: A Practical Guide for Midwestern Landowners,” developed as a joint project among the Extension branches of the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University (Baughman, M.J. et al., 2009). Hard copies of this textbook can be found through the University of Minnesota Extension bulletin system.

The Woodland Stewardship website visitors can explore its content in many different ways. If there is a specific interest in mind, chapters on different topics such as forest types, wildlife species, timber or nontimber marketing can be accessed directly. If the site visitor isn’t sure where to begin, there is a helpful set of directions under the “new woodland owner” link that offers helpful hints — regardless of whether the visitor is a new owner or just new to thinking about his/her forest.

The most important place for any forest owner to start is to have a stewardship plan written for the property. A plan will include an owner’s specific goals for the forest, an inventory of the soils, forest density and species mixes, potential wildlife living on the property (including rare or endangered species), and possible pest, disease or weed threats to the forest. It will also provide recommended management activities that will lead to the stated long-term goals for the property. Although the landowner should specify those goals, other parts of a stewardship plan should be prepared by a professional forester. They are trained to understand how trees grow and respond to environmental changes, and how to manage those trees to meet specific goals. Foresters typically serve as private consultant businesses, so they can be located in the local yellow pages.

After a forest owner has a stewardship plan written, the Woodland Stewardship site can continue to provide advanced information, including on-site activities that can be done together with all members of the family. Now is a great time to get outside and wander through the woods — and learn about this great family resource.

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