Forestry consultants: What they do, how they help, where to find them

Forest owners can learn where to find professional assistance to maximize the values of their forest resources.

Forest owners have a diverse set of reasons for holding forest property. Many forest owners have goals that natural processes are unlikely to achieve. Hunting, forest health, wildlife diversity, forest products and ecological services can all be enhanced through forest management and the services of a consulting forester. Forestry consultants are the primary service providers for private forest owners, who own nearly half of Michigan’s forest resource.

Foresters are the professionals with university degrees and years of field experience. They can address forest ecosystem management by blending aspects of ecology, economics and social acceptability. There are different kinds of foresters and specialties.   Forestry consultants work for private forest owners for the benefit of the owner. They are not employed by other interests, such as loggers, sawmills or associations. While some forest owners are reluctant to hire the services of professional consultants, those who do are satisfied. Like most assets, investment pays dividends, both monetary and otherwise.

Consultants can help forest owners navigate through the often complex decision-making process of what might be best for a particular woodland. Habitat management, timber sales, tree planting, recreational design and forest protection are some of the more common sets of forest owner interests. Consultants can help with applications to cost-share and property tax programs, and serve as expert advice with contractors.

Forestry consultants possess various areas of expertise. Like many professional service providers, they espouse different frames of reference and utilize different approaches. Finding the right consultant to best fit your needs is important. Forests represent substantial assets, financial and otherwise. Similar to other large assets, forests deserve the benefits of professional advice and assistance.

At least 120 consulting foresters work in Michigan. Every county is served. There are three on-line directories, as well as lists maintained by many agency offices, such as Conservation Districts and Michigan State University (MSU) Extension. Recommendations of neighbors are also helpful contact sources.

The national Association of Consulting Foresters has a rigorous set of membership standards. A selection from this list would ensure a credentialed forester. However, many excellent consultants are not in this directory or members of the Association.

MSU Extension maintains a large list of individuals serving forest owners. The directory is self-reporting and does not guarantee accuracy or imply endorsement. Listings can be queried by county. Each listing has a set of skills that are checked as individual foresters see fit.

The Michigan Forest Association includes a consultants list among many services to forest owners. Most of the consultants have worked with Association members and are members themselves. This organization has much to offer the forest owner.

Foresters also work in a variety of positions that would not be considered consulting roles. Government foresters usually work on forests owned by the public and managed by either federal or state agencies. Industrial foresters procure wood supply for a particular forest industry, logging contractor, or manage a forest base owned by an investment or real estate group. Industrial foresters work well with many private forest owners and usually provide excellent service. However, they are not consultants.

Foresters also work for universities, MSU Extension, land conservancies, trade and policy groups, non-profit organizations, and other entities that may or may not work with private forest owners. The forestry and natural resources field is broad.

Registered Foresters are professionals who have met eligibilities with the State of Michigan. Certified Foresters are professionals under the more rigorous standards of the Society of National Foresters.

When hunting for a forestry consultant, ask questions. They will be expected. Inquire about qualifications, experience and fee structures. Share your forest goals and objectives. Evaluate how the consultant responds. A good rapport with a qualified consultant will lead to decades of good management, learning and personal satisfaction.

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