What should I be considering if I’m a forest landowner?

“Those of us with land of any kind are blessed with a privilege and responsibility. The privilege is to have in our hands for a while a piece of land – and a chance to enjoy and perhaps gain financially from it. We are the envy of millions. With this privilege comes a responsibility. This is to use the land wisely, to protect it while it is under our temporary stewardship and to pass it on as a wooded, natural heritage…”
~James R. Fazio. The Woodland Steward: A Practical Guide to the Management of Small, Private Forests. The Woodland Press, Moscow, Idaho. 211 pp. 1979

Aldo Leopold, the naturalist and author, once wrote, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” With these words, Leopold began a philosophy now known as the stewardship ethic.

You may not be aware of it, but as a forest landowner, you may already practice stewardship on your land: the use and care of your land so that it remains fruitful and healthy for future generations. The practice of stewardship is not limited by the size of a woodlot, the type of ownership, or even the boundaries of the property. The stewardship ethic can be employed by any landowner, and by landowners with a wide variety of ownership.

Forests are more than just trees — they are an integrated community of plants, animals, soils, and water. As a forest owner, you are more than just a guardian or investor but also a steward who pursues personal goals by caring for and using the forest today while sustaining long-term forest health and continuity.

Forest Stewardship can be represented by these seven principles:

  • Maintain or improve plant, animal and tree diversity in the forest and landscape
  • Maintain or improve forest productivity for diverse values
  • Maintain or improve forest health and vigor of the forest and its landscape/watershed
  • Improve water and soil resources
  • Manage forests for growth and energy storage
  • Manage for community and cultural resources
  • Comply with laws and Pennsylvania Best Management Practices

Becoming a Good Steward

Forest stewardship is an ongoing, long-term, and adaptive process — you learn from your actions, investments, and even inaction as each decision is manifest on the land. Progress can be complex since variables such as climate, soils, and the interaction among its trees, plants, and animals govern a forest’s health and vigor. These often make progress subtle, intermittent, and difficult to gauge. Taking the time to consider what efforts, events, milestones, or accomplishments you might use to track your plan’s success can help focus your work and avoid surprises, as well as maximize satisfaction and returns on your investment.

Forest stewardship is as challenging as it is rewarding. Like most other worthy undertakings, you measure successful stewardship both as steps along the journey as well as in reaching your personal goals. It is a commitment to paying at least as much attention to the forest that remains as is paid to harvests. It is discovering that forests respond to the science and practice used in their stewardship. It is rewarding for all the above, as well as for the pleasure of working and enjoying time in your forest. The work you do and the expertise you access from other sources when shaped by standards, plans, and indicators are key to sustaining your forest and its long-term benefits.

Forest Stewardship Principles for Landowners

“Your woodlot is in fact, a historical document which faithfully records your personal philosophy. Let it tell a story of tolerance toward living things, and of skill in the greatest arts: how to use the earth without making it ugly.” 
~Aldo Leopold