I got home from work the other day, and sat down to take off my work boots and put on my play boots. This led me to start whistling a familiar childhood song. (That would be Mr Roger’s neighborhood theme, for those that haven’t caught the reference.) With that tune came this month’s article topic, and just in time for a hike in the woods where I do my best work.
This month, we’re going to talk about the many reasons why it is a good idea to get to know your woodland neighbors. By this, I do actually mean people, not the wildlife in your woods. Your neighbor(s) can be a great resource, and there are good reasons to start your relationship with them on friendly matters.
Let’s talk about neighbors as a resource, first. If you’ve followed our articles over time, you know we encourage every landowner to work with a forester. Unfortunately, we don’t know all the foresters out there. A good place to start the search for a forester is to talk to your neighbors. This applies to wildlife biologists, loggers, and forest health folks as well; essentially your neighbors are a great place to find references for any professionals you might work with in your woods. This isn’t to say they know all of the professionals, but they are likely to have first-hand experience with a few.
While you are on the subject of asking for names of professionals, it’s a good chance to check in on what types of projects or goals they have for their woods. There may be opportunities for you to work together with neighbors to achieve shared goals with bigger impact. Since I think this is the biggest advantage to talking with your neighbors, let me give you a couple of examples. If you have a mutual interest in a particular animal (deer, turkey, grouse, etc), often working across property boundaries will expand the opportunities to attract that wildlife. This might mean providing water, travel corridors, greater variety of food, more space, etc.
Another example may be the awareness of the threats to forests in the form of insects, disease, and invasive plants. If one landowner notices something amiss, it can be a chance to catch something early before it spreads too far. For example, oak wilt doesn’t care about property boundaries, spreading through root systems underground; knowing oak wilt is in the vicinity can reduce its overall impact. In the case of invasive plants, you may consider working together to control them. Your individual interests may not even be the same, but a common link may still be present. For example, if one is interested in hunting and another in controlling invasive plants, there may be mutual benefits to controlling invasives to improve hunting.
A timber sale can be another opportunity for you and your neighbor to work together to achieve both your goals. Sometimes the area you wish to harvest isn’t big enough or the trees aren’t valuable enough to attract a logger. By combining your timber sale with your neighbor’s, you will get more interest from loggers and maybe make more money. This doesn’t mean you have to sell your timber in one contract, but putting out requests for bids at the same time can attract more loggers.
Even if doing a harvest at the same time isn’t possible, it is still good to communicate when timber sales are planned. Walking the boundaries of your or a neighbor’s property and marked sale, prior to the harvest starting, can prevent costly errors down the line. Cutting timber from a neighboring property is considered timber theft and comes with a hefty price tag. On a more positive side, there is a chance that either you or a neighbor could benefit from each other during a sale. Access to property, through a neighboring old logging road would save on the costs to one’s own sale. Or services can be contracted with a logger, while they are near you, to improve trails or roads. We just revised our “Conducting a Successful Timber Sale” publication; check it out for more details on all of this.
Walking property boundaries expands beyond holding a timber sale. Interestingly, there is a law on the books about fencing property, so it is not uncommon to find fences in woodlands. If there are questions regarding a boundary, talking to neighbors up front is a better practice than finding out 20 years down the line (when it may be too late). Unfortunately, fences and other line markers may not always be accurate indicators of property boundaries. It is good practice to know your boundaries, and to make sure that someone doesn’t take ownership of a portion of your land (adverse possession) due to a misplaced boundary fence that has been in place for longer than your ownership.
The other benefit of making practice of walking boundaries with your neighbor, particularly for those who don’t live on their property, is having an extra set of eyes on your land. I recently had a gentleman in a class who was interested in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). He and his neighbors all want to hunt deer, and none of them live on the property. He thought that working together in a DMAP group would provide the opportunity for neighbors to make a practice of keeping an eye on each other’s woods.
I really like this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that really speaks to this topic, “Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape.” Although owning woodlands is an individual endeavor, ultimately nature occurs at a much bigger scale. Getting to know your neighbors, and understanding common interests, may make nurturing your own woodland a little easier and more fun.