At one of the classes I recently held for woodland owners, a couple approached me looking for some guidance for the property they recently purchased. This was the first forested parcel bigger than an acre they owned and were understandably unsure as to where to start. They had all kinds of ideas for things they would like to do and wanted some kind of plan for making efficient and productive use of the limited time they had.
Their goals were wide ranging from bird and deer hunting to motorized and non-motorized recreation in the summer and winter. They were open to new trail building, timber harvesting, and habitat improvement projects, such as tree planting. Their property was fairly large, so they could find ways to address all their interests.
We compared the goals they had with the forest types on their property. From this we identified a number of realistic activities they could undertake, both short-term (i.e. this year) and long-term (i.e. over the next 20 years), towards achieving their goals. The list was long, but always something they were happy to see happen, and even some they could accomplish themselves.
We then set about calculating how much of their resources (time and money) they could devote to each activity and each year. They quickly realized that many of their projects would take years to complete on their own and/or require work done by contractors or loggers. They also realized that there is a seasonality component to some of the activities they wanted to undertake (e.g. tree planting), and that complicated things even further.
It was pretty easy to see that there were activities that needed to be completed before they could start on a separate but related project. For example, the roads and trails were not where they wanted them to be nor were they in good enough shape to handle what was going to be asked of them. Their sugar bush couldn’t get up and running until the trail work was done.
Additionally, it was easy to see that there were opportunities to address many of their goals at one time through certain activities. For example, they could arrange for the logger they contracted with to not only remove some of the trees to make room for their favored trees, but to also improve on their roads and trails. This would give their maples more space so they could become dominant trees and produce more sap, and make it easier to haul that sap to their cook house. Income from the timber sale would help to pay for the other projects they have on their list.
The final thing we did was to take all the activities and assign a date for each of them. We started with activities that would take place this year and the month when they would be accomplished. We made sure that there wasn’t too much in this year, and if we found there was, we would push some to the next year. Each consecutive year would get assigned some activities until we knew when all would take place. The timeline for these could be within the next 5 years, or 10 to 20 years down the road.
I stressed that the key to their success is their diligence in reviewing and accomplishing the tasks they identified each year. They may also need to make adjustments to their schedule if something happened they didn’t plan on, like a windstorm hitting their property and knocking down some of their trees. The last thing I told them is something I tell all landowners I work with. Namely feel free to reach out to foresters and other professionals now and into the future for assistance. Wisconsin DNR Foresters offer free advice to woodland owners and can connect them to financial assistance programs (grants and cost sharing) that can help make projects much more affordable.