EQIP Financial Assistance for Woodland Owners

Managing your forestland often involves implementing some type of work. Common practices in your woods may include timber harvesting, thinning, controlling invasive species, building or repairing forest trails and landings, edge feathering, and sometimes pruning and tree planting. With the exception of timber harvesting these practices are often associated with a financial cost to the landowner. Since these practices fix or prevent damage to the environment and help deliver environmental benefits, the US Department of Agriculture offers various financial assistance programs to help defer these costs.

One of the most common and successful financial assistance programs is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP. Since 1996, the EQIP program has provided financial and technical assistance aimed at promoting production, environmental quality, and optimizing environmental benefits. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is the principal agency in charge of distributing the EQIP program.

The two main EQIP forestry practices are Brush Management used to control invasive plant species and Forest Stand Improvement used to thin out or around trees within the woods. This article is intended to help forest landowners understand these two practices within the EQIP program and guide them through the EQIP process.

Controlling Invasive Plant Species:

Indiana NRCS has targeted the following 17 woody invasive plant species to be controlled through the EQIP program on forestland: Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven), Amur Cork, Bush Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, Burning Bush, Callery Pear, Glossy Buckthorn, Japanese Barberry, Japanese Honeysuckle, Japanese Knotweed,  Kudzu, Multi-Flora Rose, Oriental Bittersweet, Paulownia, Periwinkle, Siberian Elm, and Winter Creeper.

These non-native woody species are fast-growing, prolific, hardy and widespread throughout Indiana. Previous control methods have been successful and are economically feasible for these species. For fiscal year 2018, Indiana will adopt three scenarios with the following payments.

•    Light infestation ($72/acre): Light removal of invasive woody understory is based on sites with less than 10% cover.

•    Medium infestation ($102/acre) assumes 10-50% cover.

•    High infestation ($430/acre) used on sites with 50-100% cover. This high payment rate allows for the shredding or chipping of plants with machinery like forestry mowers, fecon mulcher, hydro axe, brush cutter, etc.

Experience from Indiana’s professionals indicates that repeated treatments of chemical and mechanical (mowing, cutting) or management (Prescribed Burning, Prescribed Grazing) methods are required for successful control of invasive plants.

Indiana’s approach to controlling invasive woody plant species relies on the following schedule:

•    Pre-Treatment - Through conservation planning, identify the resource concerns caused by invasive plants, including the species present and their current infestation levels.

•    Year 1 - Apply an appropriate level of mechanical or management plus chemical treatments (i.e. – heavy treatment on mature populations; lighter treatment for recently-established populations); For heavy infestations mechanical or management treatments are required in the initial year to set back mature individuals to a level that chemical treatments are more-effective, and to allow for easier access for subsequent treatments.  Plus, mechanical or management treatments alone are often not sufficient to adequately control these species at a heavy infestation, so chemical treatments are also required in this initial year.

•    Year 2 – Apply chemical treatment at the next-lower treatment level as a result of the initial treatment setting the population back or allowing for easier access to residual plants. In the second growing season following sufficient first-year treatment, the target species should be suppressed.  The amount of labor and materials is less than the initial treatments since the large, mature individuals should no longer limit site access, and the re-sprouts and germinated seedlings are easier to treat.  The cost for this treatment are significant, yet less than the initial treatment.

•    Year 3 – Apply chemical treatment at the next-lower treatment level. In the third growing season, materials are less than second-year efforts since the number of re-sprouts and germinated seedlings is lower yet.  At this point, the resource concerns caused by the invasive plants should be adequately treated.  The cost for this treatment remain high because more labor is expended searching for residual plants, yet are less than the second-year treatment.

•    Years 4 and beyond – Provide technical assistance to the producer to monitor and maintain any re-colonization of the target or other species. The expectation is that natural regeneration of favorable species will colonize the site to further limit re-infestations, but it is critical that producers monitor and are ready to treat any individual plants that establish themselves while they are still young and easier to control. The costs for monitoring and maintenance at this point are real, but typically manageable by most producers.

The planner (often a DNR District Forester, NRCS staff, or a NRCS Technical Service Provider) will determine which scenario is appropriate in years 1, 2 or 3 as necessary, based on a site visit.  For example, a heavily infested area of bush honeysuckle might be planned for High in year 1, Medium in year 2 and Light in year 3. This approach would achieve the best control in terms of ensuring that most plants are killed and that re-sprout or re-seeding is also controlled.

Forest Stand Improvement:

Forest Stand Improvement (also called Timber Stand Improvement) is one of the most commonly prescribed practices to implement in your woods. This practice involves the manipulation of species composition, stand structure, and stocking by cutting or killing selected trees and or understory vegetation. The purpose of this practice is to help meet landowner’s objectives while improving forest products, forest health, wildlife habitat, and a variety of other resources. For the purposes of the EQIP program, this practice is generally non-commercial and should be kept as separate as possible from commercial harvests.

For fiscal year 2018, Indiana has two main Forest Stand Improvement scenarios throughout the State (Light FSI and Temporary Forest Openings). A few other rates are available in select locations in southern Indiana.

•    Light Forest Stand Improvement ($92.31/acre) will reduce basal area by at least 10 square feet per acre. This can also be described as cutting and/or killing at least 100 trees per acre, or releasing at least 10 crop trees per acre and/or killing any vines growing on crop trees.

•    Temporary Forest Opening ($155.63/acre) often called group openings, are essentially small clear-cuts created in a forest in order to provide early successional forest habitat for wildlife or to regenerate the forest stand. Temporary openings provide sunlight to the forest floor resulting in a tremendous amount of sprouts, shrubs, grass, and herbaceous vegetation. The resulting thicket provides high quality food and cover for a large number of wildlife species, especially neotropical songbirds, wild turkey, ruffed grouse and whitetail deer. In addition, foresters often use group openings to help regenerate shade-intolerant trees such as oaks. Temporary forest openings are created with a chainsaw or small machines by cutting and dropping all trees and brush in an area one-fourth of an acre to 10 acres in size, primarily in large blocks of forest.

EQIP Process:

•    Planning: To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land. NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Often a professional forester is utilized for writing a Forest Management plan and site inspections. These plans may be a Forest Stewardship plan written by a DNR District Forester, a plan funded through the EQIP written by a NRCS Technical Service Provider, or another plan meeting specific requirements by a private professional forester. EQIP policy requires a forest plan be written when forest related conservation practices are implemented on forestland. Both Forest Stand Improvement practice and the Brush Management practice will first need a forest plan in order to be eligible for EQIP and to plan out the practice details.

•    Application: NRCS will walk you through the application process and help you fill out the necessary forms. The main application form for all NRCS programs is the CPA-1200 Conservation Program Application form. Applications for EQIP are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re processed and considered only once a year. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.

•    Eligibility: As part of the application process, NRCS will check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring: An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID) a property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and a farm and tract number. A farm and tract number, can be obtained from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office.

•    Evaluation of your application: Once your application has been filed and both you and your land are determined to be eligible for EQIP, the local NRCS conservation planner will have a one-on-one consultation with you to review your forest management plan and the practice(s) you are interested in applying for. The NRCS conservation planner may even present you with other a conservation practices or systems to help address your concerns or management goals.

      Once you have chosen the practices to apply to your land, your application will be evaluated in the national, state, or local funding pool in which you have applied.  Funding pools allows NRCS to target funding to specific natural resource concerns, locations or operations.

•    Ranking: NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants. Applications for conservation practices and systems that will result in greater environmental benefits for national, state, and/or local natural resource priorities will receive a higher score and higher priority to receive an offer for a financial assistance contract.

•    Implementation: If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done. Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, with a specified amount of time to implement. All work must meet NRCS standards and specifications. Once the work is implemented and meets inspection, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work.

      The participant is responsible for see that the work gets done. Participant can do the work themselves or hire it out. Keep in mind using a chainsaw and restricted use herbicides can make this difficult for the majority of landowners. NRCS does not keep a list of contractors however many SWCD or District Foresters can help direct you to contractors.

•    Payment: You will not be paid more than the amount in your EQIP contract. After the work is completed, the payment typically goes directly to you. If you are not doing the work yourself you can arrange for the payment to go directly to the contractor. It is up to you to contact a contractor and makes arrangements for the services to be provided, payments, and schedule for completion. In addition, it is your responsibility to negotiate the bill, as well as establishing when and how the payment will be made to the contractor.

For more information about the EQIP process contact your local NRCS office. Office locations and phone number can be found on the Indiana NRCS website at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/in/ and clicking on “Contact Us” on the top of the page. Or at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/contact/local/.