The last couple of weeks, we’ve been teaching our Learn About Your Land classes for landowners in the southeast part of the state. Most of these landowners enjoy their woods, but haven’t thought about it from a management perspective. For some this is a family property they visited as a kid, or land where they go to hunt a few times each year. It doesn’t seem like something that needs management. However, once we start having conversations about wildlife habitat, invasive species, insect problems, or firewood, they realize that they would benefit from the help of a resource professional, most often a forester.
Luckily, this state has a wide variety of foresters you can contact including DNR foresters, private consulting foresters, and industrial foresters. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently reorganized their forestry staff to provide more first-timer services to landowners. Due to this group of dedicated staff available to landowners for free, I’m going to focus my article on them. However, most of what I write about applies to a visit with a private consulting or industrial forester as well.
Your first step is to find a forester who works in the area where your land is located. One of the more comprehensive lists of foresters is on the DNR website. Visit dnr.wi.gov, and there is a search box near the top. Search the word “forester”, and it will take you to an assistance locator. On that page, you will select the county of your property. The list will provide a variety of foresters that work in that county. Near the top of that list, you will find “DNR Service Foresters”, followed by various private consulting and industrial foresters. Phone numbers and email addresses are provided.
Once you found the forester(s) you want to work with, it’s time to contact them. You should be ready to answer a few questions in the phone call or e-mail. Have on hand some basic information about your property: the county and township, acreage of both the property and woodland, and the best way to contact you. In your first conversation, it would help them greatly to think about and have answers to these questions ahead of that conversation:
- Why do you own the property?
- What activities do you do on the property? (E.g. hunting, hiking, fishing, skiing, ATV/snowmobile, collecting, cutting firewood, etc)
- Have you done any work in the woods before? (E.g. planted trees, built trails, removed invasive plants, harvested trees, etc)
- Was there a specific reason you wanted to talk to a forester? Do you have a concern? Did you want to do something in your woods, and didn’t know where to start?
The forester will schedule a visit, also called a walk-through, with you and your property. Most foresters prefer to visit the property with you, the landowner. However, if you don’t live on your property, and you can’t get there for a visit, the forester should be willing to walk your woods and follow-up with you later. This first visit will be a general overview of the property, focusing on overall forest health and composition. They will also look at your woods with your interests in mind. All those questions you answered above inform the forester about things to look for. Examples include habitat for the various wildlife species you want to see or hunt, trees that would be good for firewood, whether there are tree species that might be affected by a present or impending forest health concern. They will also bring along some informational pieces related to those same answers above. At the end of the visit, the forester will summarize what you talked about during the visit.
Once the forester returns to the office, they have a few more job duties. You will receive a letter with a written summary, same as you discussed at the visit. The letter will provide you with some type of action plan, whether it is a few items for your to-do list or a basic management plan outlining activities for your woods. They will also include other resources that you talked about, maybe educational pieces, a list of resource professionals, or a list of cost-share options, to help with your to-do list and plan. There is no requirement that you do anything with this following a visit with the DNR forester, but the hope is that they provided the information you needed to do what you want in your woods. In many cases, the forester will contact you several months after this visit to see whether you need any more help or other resources.
Your first step to working with a forester is to visit dnr.wi.gov to find your local foresters. Search for “forester”, and click on the county of your woodland. If nothing else, it is worth walking your woods with a professional to learn just a little more about your investment.