Members of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation and other stakeholders received a briefing on Landscape Management Plans, which will be developed and implemented in Virginia in with a year. Annica McGuirk for ATFS lead the briefing followed by Leigh Peters, who developed and implemented a successful plan in Alabama.
References are online – https://www.forestfoundation.org/landscape-management-plan-pilot-results
These are my notes/takeaways from the briefings.
The basis of ecology, and why it is so endlessly fascinating, is the study of relationships. As a landowner, I am interested in the relationships in the biotic communities on my land and their relationship with the physical forces and topography. It is holistic, but not holistic enough if I do not also consider my land’s connection with the rest of the ecology. What I do makes a big difference to those around me and what those around me do affects me.
Looking at the bigger picture
Landscape management plans (LMP) by the American Tree Farm System looks at this bigger picture and create plans by which landowners can know what to do with their land to make sure it is in harmony with the environment in general and with land of other owners in particular. This is the part I like the best. I can also appreciate the practical aspects.
LMPs have been successfully deployed in Florida & Alabama.
Most conservation done on private lands
Most conservation is done on private lands, especially in Virginia. In Virginia 57% of our forest lands are “family owned,” i.e. relatively small tracts of land in private hands, not owned by large corporations of timber investment management organizations.
Family forest owners face a set of challenges different from the big land owners, corporate land owners or people who just have a suburban lot with some trees. They are too small to justify the expense and auditing requirements of a big forest certification plan, like those offered by Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Most family owners are interested in their the beauty of their land, the wildlife it supports or they just treasure it as a place where they live or have a cabin, but they also want to know that they are caring for their property in sustainable and regenerative ways and most do an occasional timber sale. The only thing practically available to small owners who want to certify their forests is through the American Tree Farm System.
Even ATFS can be a challenge. Writing a forest plan is easy for those who know how to do and fun for those who like it, but ordinary people tend not to like or be able to do it well. They just do not do it often enough. An analogy is doing your taxes, assuming they are more complicated than one income and the short form or writing a will. You can do it yourself, but it is not something most people feel fully competent doing or do for fun. A landscape management plan will simplify the planning process.
LMP makes it simple to do it right
As I understand it, once the LMP is in place, all tree farmers need do is consider the factors and sign onto them. The LMP obviates the need for a specific plan for the tree farmer’s land. Another big plus is that LMP takes into account the bigger picture, as above, and it is easier to perceive needed changes and adapt to them. This latter consideration also has an admin advantage. The LMP can change w/o requiring editing of hundreds or thousands of individual plans.
Of course, we assume that all landowners would have plans for implementing the work on their land, but these could be in any format and more flexible. I have my own plans in a notebook, hand written, and in lots of separate maps and notes. Last time I was inspected, I a lot of work to assemble all those things. I know what I am planning to do, but it is hard to demonstrate that. No doubt tree farmers would talk about these plans with foresters, local officials and tree farm inspectors. I love to talk about my forests with anybody who has the inclination and perseverance to listen to me. But the more complicated plans they would not be a required part of the tree farm certification.
Certified wood versus certified land
Speaking of certification, I think it important to make a distinction between certified wood and certified land. Strictly speaking, we do not certify wood. We certify that the land where that wood originated in managed according to sustainable principles, using best management principles in accordance with robust land ethics. Certified land can produce certified wood. The distinction not trivial. It means that the care for the land comes before and goes beyond the harvest and why we are not enthusiastic about people who want to certify their wood because they want to sell it.
Loose & tight oversight
It seems to me that LMP simultaneously provides loose and tight oversight, in that key factors that affect the overall ecosystem or the bigger tree farm and certification programs are firmly set, but in a way that allows for adaptive management, while individual tree farmers are free to make all the decisions about how to implement the key factors on their land and free to set and achieve a wide variety of goals within the framework.
I found everything to like in the LMP, with two caveats only tangentially related. One is that the studies for the LMP in Virginia should be conducted over the whole eastern part of the state, i.e. east of the Blue Ridge. Practically this would include all counties touched by or east of Route 29. The current plan calls for a study of this area but only those countries south of the James River. We have requested the wider study. The second is that we are very concerned the LMP be written in such a way that tree farmers can use them as stewardship plans required for many conservation or cost-share programs or things like Virginia riparian tax credit. Both these things require attention but are not difficult.
One thing we need to do now is get the word out about LMPs. It is not too early. Although the Virginia plans will not be available until next year, it is good that people know what is coming. If you are a forest landowner not currently certified, I suggest you think about getting certified. It will help with lots of cost share programs, Virginia tax credits and may help you sell timber, as more and more firms are favoring or even requiring certified timber.
I see only advantages to LMPs. I will sign up my land as soon as I can. I asked a lot of questions about my independent decision making. Some people think that I am stubborn and ornery when it comes to my land, and it is certainly true that I dislike being told what to do. On the other hand, I welcome general principles and good advice. It seems to me that LMP will give me both these sets, with the tight & loose factors mentioned above.
Our task as Virginia Tree Farm Foundation now is to cooperate with the studies and get this done. ATFS will chose a consultant to collect data, reach out to landowners and draft a plan from September to December 2019. Review of the plan should be done by the end of January 2020. We expect to train inspectors, facilitators and foresters from February to April 2020 and implement the plan from May 2020. After that, the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation will “own” the plan and be responsible for its maintenance and promulgation.