Forest Management Plan: The Key to Cost Share Funding Receiving a 106 Forest Management Plan
by Brian Kruse
How hard is it to build a skyscraper without a construction plan designed by an architect? How difficult is it for a substitute teacher to manage a class without a lesson plan from the teacher? How tough is it to plan out a retirement without a retirement plan from a qualified retirement professional? The answer, very difficult. So why would a woodland owner manage their woods without a Forest Management Plan from a professional forester?
What is a Forest Management Plan?
A Forest Management Plan is simply a plan with a specific statement of the objectives you have for your land, followed by a series of activities that will take place in order to meet those objectives. In essence, your plan is a “road map” to guide you from where you are to where you want to be. It can enable you as a landowner to make educated decisions concerning the future of your forest, keep you from making costly forest management mistakes, and help qualify you for cost-share and other financial incentive programs.
What information in included in a Forest Management Plan?
A Forest Management Plan will include an inventory of the forest resources such as tree species, size, density, and volume. The plan will also include a description of the forest soils and their productivity for growing trees. Additional inventory information will depend on your objectives for wildlife, timber production, invasive species, water quality, or any other wide variety of natural resources. The plan will also identify existing or potential problems dealing with soil erosion, water quality, air quality, tree/plant health, and animal habitat. (Natural resource professionals like to call these problems “Resource Concerns.”) The plan will outline management recommendations to help you meet your goals and solve the identified resource concerns, along with a yearly schedule of activities (or conservation practices) for the next 5 to 10 years. Examples of activities might include thinning trees (Forest Stand Improvement), timber harvesting, wildlife habitat development, invasive species control, and erosion control associated with a timber harvest. Lastly, all this information will be identified on a map so that you will know exactly how much work to do and where.
How do I get a Forest Management Plan?
If you are interested in having a Forest Management Plan written for your property, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides funding to help you hire an approved forester who will develop such a plan. Funds for forest management plans are only available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
NRCS continually strives to put conservation planning at the forefront of its programs and initiatives by giving top priority for funding Forest Management Plans and other similar conservation activity plans through EQIP. A Forest Management Plan is also a requirement to receive additional EQIP funds to implement the recommended conservation practices in your woods. Because a Forest Management Plan is required before you can receive funding, the process often takes two years: one year to get a plan written and another year to start implementing the plan’s recommendations.
When can I get a Forest Management Plan through EQIP?
EQIP is a continuous sign-up program that allows landowners or operators to apply for financial and technical assistance for specific conservation practices. Applications can be submitted at any time, however, specific application cut-off dates are set to consider applications for funding. If you apply after the application deadline, your application will automatically be deferred to the next funding period which may be the next year. Contact the USDA service center in the county in which you own or operate land.
What is the application process like?
Once you come into a USDA service center to apply for EQIP, NRCS will likely directed you to work with a partnering agency called the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The FSA will help you establish or update your farm records by filling out some paperwork and looking at your deed. This paperwork will help determine if you are eligible for EQIP. Typically, the majority of forest owners are eligible, however, policy requires NRCS and FSA to check and document.
Once you receive approval and funding, the local NRCS office will direct you, from a list or internet site, to contact a Technical Service Provider (TSP) who will write your plan. TSP’s are qualified private professional foresters that will help you apply conservation practices to your land according to NRCS standards. Since NRCS does not staff field foresters, TSP’s and other agency foresters, such as Indiana Department of Natural Resources District Foresters, are essential in this process.
How much does it cost?
There are some important information you need to know when working with a TSP. TSPs must negotiate directly with you for their services and their costs. When the technical services are completed, the TSP provides the documentation and invoices both you and NRCS. You will pay the TSP; then NRCS reimburses you at a set payment rate according to the EQIP contract with the USDA. The TSP can charge more or less than the payment you receive. You will receive a set payment from NRCS regardless of the amount billed by the TSP.
Communication is essential when working with a TSP. Give the TSP as much information as possible. The more detailed information you provide, especially regarding your forest objectives, the better the product and planning. Make sure that you and the TSP agree about expectations and what services are being provided. Additional services that are not typically covered in a Forest Management Plan, such as estimating merchantable board foot and value, may be an additional cost.
If you have any questions, please feel free to stop in at your local USDA service center and speak to a NRCS employee. Our goal is to help you help the land.
Brian Kruse is a forester with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service at the Indiana State Office.