Angela Wells, Director of the American Tree Farm System
During this time of major social and economic disruption, when many people are affected by the stress of a looming health threat, financial uncertainty, or simply the deviation from treasured routines, I have felt the privilege of being a resident and steward to a piece of forestland even more acutely. This is my family’s first spring living on our family forest in Western Montana, and we feel daily gratitude for the fortuitous timing of our move “out of town” to a place where we find both safety and freedom to venture outside the confines of our house. We are also finding time – made available by forgoing the daily commute into the town office and all the associated errands, not to mention canceled social engagements – to check things off the long list of forest stewardship to-do’s. In this issue of the ATFS Network News, I’ll share a few activities we’ve found immensely satisfying in our time of social isolation that you might enjoy as well.
First off, I finally completed our management plan! This means we now officially meet the eligibility requirements for Tree Farm certification. According to the guidance that goes with the ATFS Standards of Sustainability, management plans must be consistent with the size of the forest and the scale and intensity of the forest activities. Since our parcel is on the small side and a harvest was completed recently by the previous owners, most of our activities are related to either improving forest health, wildlife habitat or monitoring. Our plan is a streamlined 6 pages plus an addendum for soils information and maps and features a set of long-term goals and objectives as well as a schedule of activities for the next 5 years. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a look at your own plan, you’re not alone. It’s easy to let forest management plans sit on a shelf. ATFS Standards of Sustainability require plans to be updated regularly to evolve with changes in the landscape and evolution of landowner objectives, so my intention is to revisit our plan in early spring every year to check progress against our scheduled activities and adapt accordingly.
With a plan in hand, we’re now set for the final step of having a Tree Farm inspector examine it and verify with a site visit that it conforms to a reasonable set of objectives for our property. Did you know that site visits for new inspections and re-inspections can be completed with or without a landowner (or their representative) present, provided that they are followed by a phone interview with the owner and a process to acquire an official landowner signature on the form? Our Tree Farm inspector happens to also be a friend and neighbor living just down the road who has visited our property and discussed management objectives and options with us on several occasions. He is in the process of reviewing our plan, and we’re expecting to sign on the dotted line before the end of the month using the electronic signature feature on the electronic 004 form. If you’re due for a reinspection, rest assured that options exist for moving this process forward that do not violate social distancing guidelines, and your state Tree Farm leadership as well as the staff at ATFS are here to help you explore those.
Before the ink on our plan was even dry, we were already starting to implement priority activities for 2020, one of which was tearing down an old barbed wire fence bisecting our woods. While I am all in favor of fencing as a tool to keep relations civil between neighbors and the cows out of the creek, abandoned and decrepit barbed wire fence is an unfortunate feature on many landscapes across the West. It’s also a major hazard to young deer and elk, which are two of the desired species highlighted in our management plan. It can be easy to feel like there’s too much to do and not enough time when it comes to forest stewardship, so it was important to us to start with a project that would reap quick benefits in terms of aesthetics (the fence was within sight of our kitchen window) and habitat improvement and also be realistic to accomplish on a few sunny afternoons. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the to-do’s in your plan or the aspirational nature forest management in general (where success is often measured in decades or generations) I encourage you to break your goals, objectives, and schedule of management activities down into smaller sets of attainable tasks that you can tackle a little bit at a time.
It’s a double bonus when these jobs are also a source of enjoyment, such as in the case of our family’s regular walks in the woods which also constitute the regular monitoring recommended for Tree Farm properties. We’ve been taking advantage of our forest “adventures” (as our kids like to call them) to make notes of observations we make along the way or as soon as we get home. Of late, these have included top damage in a pine tree close to the house (porcupine), a couple of patches of spotted knapweed that will need to be mapped later this summer for scheduled eradication in 2021, and visible deer beds in thickets of conifers that are used regularly for thermal cover and will be marked on our Tree Farm map and protected during future management activities. These notes can be added to our management plan in the form of an attachment and used to document changes over time, while the walks in the woods – at least in theory – are a time we can model to our young children that forest stewardship isn’t just a job but a source of enjoyment and connection between people.
On that note, in the coming weeks and months, I hope you’ll take advantage of some of the opportunities the American Tree Farm System and state Tree Farm programs are providing to connect landowners remotely. These include video-conference meetings, virtual tours of Tree Farms, e-learning opportunities, and more. If you have an idea for a virtual offering for the Tree Farm network, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your idea and a few bullet points on how we can help. And until we can meet again face-to-face, take care of yourself, and take care of your woods!
Angela Wells, Director of the American Tree Farm System