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Newsletter Stories

Monday, 12 December 2022
The Importance of a Forest Management Plan

By: Tom Kain

A forest management plan is one of the most underrated documents for private forestland owners in the United States. Required to become FSC certified, the purpose of a forest management plan is to provide landowners with a roadmap of activities to accomplish over time to achieve their goals.

This fall, I had the opportunity to visit several FSC-certified managers. A typical landowner in the South has 50 acres of mostly planted pine with hardwoods along creeks and waterways. They own the property for a variety of reasons, including as a refuge, for family recreation and as a place to watch wildlife. Many landowners do not have a management plan and do not think one is needed, which is a common misconception. As the years go by, forests continue to grow. Often landowners start to notice less wildlife on their properties. If they contact a State wildlife ecologist, they commonly hear that the forest no longer provides the habitat needed. A typical recommendation: work with a forester to develop a forest management plan.

Landowners can be reluctant to hire a forester due to misperceptions about harvesting trees, which they think could lead to ruining the property. One solution is to find a forester who is a group manager for a Forest Stewardship Council Forest Management (FSC FM) Group. FSC FM group managers are committed to providing landowners long-term planning and advice for the properties under their care. The group manager is audited by an independent 3rd party annually, via a surveillance audit, with a full audit every five years.

Most landowners are not professional natural resource managers; therefore, they do not necessarily understand the complexity of a forest management plan. In this example, the landowner is not seeing wildlife because the forest has changed over time to favor other species. A healthier condition for the pine stand can include removal of 50-60% of the stems in a pine plantation. The thinning prescription typically calls for removing the worst performing, sick, damaged, or poorly formed trees to allow the remaining healthy trees access to more light, nutrients, water, and room to grow. The thinning allows more sunlight to reach the ground causing a flush of herbaceous growth. Now that the stand density has been reduced, more diverse food sources are available for the wildlife to grow and thrive, as well as healthier trees. After thinning, the landowner is likely to see deer, turkey, and songbirds that may have gone missing.

FSC forest management plans go well beyond wildlife alone. The plan identifies measures to prevent wildfires or reduce their impact, such as thinning. The plan can also call for installing fire lines, including maintenance they will require annually. The plan can also identify areas to protect and cherish, such as old home sites, perennial streams, springs, rare plants, or old cemeteries.

Forests are living breathing organisms that can be improved through management activities. Over time, management activities can include doing nothing; at other times active management may be required to maintain a diverse set of habitats for a healthy functioning ecosystem. The FSC FM standard is a valuable road map to help landowners and natural resource managers in the maintenance of healthy resilient forests and the communities that depend on them.

Tom Kain is the Senior Manager for Forest Management Certification Markets at FSC US. He can be reached at