- Where can I find information about tending my woods?
Penn State Natural Resources Extension has a wealth of easily accessible information on private forest land ownership. Links to News, Events, the History of Penn’s Woods, Tools, and Resources, Tending Your Forest, Pennsylvania’s Woodland Owner Associations, the Forest Stewardship Program, and the Timber Market Report on all on this website. You will especially want to sign up for the free quarterly newsletter, Forest Leaves, and read the series of 15 short publications on Forest Stewardship which include subjects from planning to terminology, harvesting to watershed management, beauty and enjoyment to estate planning.
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry is the primary Bureau of Forestry webpage for private forest landowners. You’ll also want to investigate their information about wildfires, wild plants, insects, and diseases from this page. United States Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service:
Useful information for the Northeastern United States is available at the USDA Northeastern area forest service site including stewardship publications, sample stewardship plans, forest health publications, and Silvics of the United States, a two-volume set describing the biology of tree species growing on US forest lands.
The PA Forests Web Seminar Center provides web-based educational programs and materials for forest owners, extension educators, and natural resource professionals. The center’s goal is to offer “live” seminars on forest resource-related topics. A listing of scheduled seminar topics and dates is available on the Upcoming Seminars link. You can view previously recorded seminars and educational material by clicking the Previous Seminars link.
Cornell University’s ForestConnect also provides excellent webinars every month; both current and recorded presentations and their associated files are available.
- Who can help me manage my forest?
Your DCNR Service Forester:
Service foresters work for the PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry and provide private landowners with advice and guidance on how to manage their forested lands. These foresters can visit and walk your land with you at no charge; they are one of a forest landowner’s most valuable resources; they can provide you with:
- Forest management technical assistance
- Cost-share assistance
- Assistance in obtaining Forest Stewardship Plans
- Forestry and Water Best Management Practices advice
- Information and Education programs
- Tree Planting Information
- Riparian Forest Buffer restoration
- Urban and Community Forestry management
- Regional planning advice
Your Service Forester is just a phone call/email away. Each Service Foresters works out of one of the state’s 20 Forest Districts on the county level to encourage sustainable forest management. Find the service forester for your county.
Selecting a Consulting Forester/Natural Resource Professional:
Choosing a private forester to assist you in managing your woodlot is an important process in addressing the challenges you may face in sustaining multiple benefits and resources from your forest. A trusted professional forester can be utilized for the life of your ownership to carry out management planning on the property, implement recommendations within the plan, and assist you with other important aspects of your forest, such as tax planning and estate planning.
Currently in Pennsylvania, anyone can legally claim to be a forester or forestry consultant, regardless of training, certifications, or experience. Therefore, the decision you make today in hiring a forester to assist you in managing your property can either positively or negatively impact your ability to reach set goals and interests for your forest.
Choosing a private forester to assist you in managing your woodlot can be done in five easy steps.
1. Contact your local DCNR Service Forester
to obtain an up-to-date of foresters that do business in your county. You can also access this list here.
This list will provide contact information, services offered, and any professional certifications the forester has obtained. By law, your service forester cannot recommend any individual on the state list
2. Contact several foresters on your list.
Ask them about:
- Professional Certifications-Membership in the Association of Consulting Foresters, Society of American Foresters Certified Forester Program, or Pennsylvania Council of Professional Foresters. These organizations promote high standards of professionalism for members along with a code of ethics.
- Education-Foresters should have at the minimum a 2-year degree in forestry and be able to provide documented proof of this degree upon request.
- Work experience-The forester should have documented experience of carrying out the types of services you wish to carry out in the management of your forest. Ensure the forester always is representing your goals and interests first and foremost.
- Local references-The forester should be able to provide at least three references for forest landowners they have done business with in the past. Contact these references, ask them if they were satisfied with the job that was done and, if possible, consider touring the properties where the work was completed. Ask these references if the project was carried out according to a professional forest management plan, such as a Forest Stewardship or Tree Farm Plan.
3. Join a local Woodland Owners Association
Pennsylvania has twenty-eight local and regional organizations made up of woodland owners who are informing themselves about sustainable forest management. Many of these landowners will be able to advise you on foresters that will represent your best interests in the local area.
4. Discuss the fees charged for the type of work in which you are interested.
If there are no fees, be sure you understand who pays the bill and how that might affect the professional’s recommendations.
5. Secure a written, legal work contract, with fees, services, obligations, terms, and principal parties clearly identified.
You may wish to ask an attorney to review the document before signing it.
- Where can I meet other forest landowners who are managing their land?
Join a Pennsylvania Woodland Owners Association:
Providing educational opportunities to Pennsylvania’s private forest landowners is an important objective for the 29 local and regional landowner associations in Pennsylvania; most use meetings, field demonstrations, tours, seminars, and newsletters to provide information about forests and sound forest management to their members and to people in the local communities. In addition to exposure to the latest forest stewardship and management principles from forestry professionals, the associations provide a wonderful opportunity to meet and share woodland experiences with other woodland owners in your community.
Joining a local association dedicated to forest stewardship is an excellent way to learn about our forest resources and our forest landowners.
Pennsylvania Forest Stewards: The Pennsylvania Forest Steward Program (PaFSs) trains volunteers in the principles of forest stewardship so they can share what they learn with forest landowners throughout Pennsylvania. PaFSs initially receive 40 hours of classroom and field training in forest ecology, wildlife science, environmental resource management, and other subjects related to forest stewardship from the Penn State Natural Resources Cooperative Extension and from DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry. In exchange, they invest a like amount of their time relaying what they have learned to help and motivate forest landowners in their communities. More than 500 strong, these individuals donate tens of thousands of volunteer hours, reaching over nearly 20,000 clients each year. PaFS volunteers will be happy to discuss woodlands with you and assist you in finding answers to your questions.
You can find their website at http://extension.psu.edu/paforeststewards; contact them at E-mail: RNRext@psu.edu or Phone: 1-800-235-WISE
Women and Their Woods: Throughout Pennsylvania, women are increasingly responsible for the stewardship of private forestlands. Women landowners require accurate information and relevant knowledge about available options for managing their properties. Women and Their Woods is a dynamic, fun, and informative program that teaches women to effectively care for their lands. Women and Their Woods emphasizes hands-on activities, knowledge-based decisions, conservation stewardship, and the value of intact forestlands and it instills in women landowners a sense of confidence in their abilities to meet the challenges of forestland ownership. The program is administered by Penn State Natural Resources Extension and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy with additional support from the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program, the US Forest Service at Grey Towers, and the PA DCNR Department of Conservation and Recreation. For additional information please contact the Delaware Highlands Conservancy at (570) 226-3164 / email@example.com Penn State Natural Resources Extension (814) 865-3208 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Pennsylvania Forestry Association welcomes all landowners to participate in our educational programs, informative outings, and meetings and to enjoy our useful publications. You’ll find a warm reception from our members, and you can investigate our calendar of events, find interesting books, and always get a quick answer to your questions from our experts here on the web or from the PFA office.
- Where can I find information about the health of my trees?
If your woodlot or forest land shows signs of pest or disease damage contact the DCNR-Bureau of Forestry service forester for your county.
DCNR protects Pennsylvania’s forests, both public and private, from harmful insects, diseases, and other destructive agents. The Bureau of Forestry promotes programs to improve and maintain the long-term health and biodiversity of forest ecosystems (including urban forests). The Bureau of Forestry’s Forest Pest Management Division evaluates factors affecting the health of trees and woodlands, utilizes integrated pest management techniques to mitigate the effects of destructive agents, and promotes forest health to the public. The bureau maintains a webpage to help forest landowners learn about various forest pests and diseases This page links to information about insect pests, diseases of forest trees, and reports on the current status of forest health in Pennsylvania. Excellent additional sources of information can be found at the US Forest Service, Northeastern Area Forest Health site.
- What’s a forest management plan?
A forest management/stewardship plan is a working guide that allows you as a landowner to maximize a mix of forest benefits, including wildlife, timber, recreation, aesthetic value, and other benefits. Because many changes to a forest are seen over time, a plan is essential to guide the future of your forest land.
A good plan combines the natural and geographic characteristics of your woodlot with your interests and objectives to produce a set of forest management recommendations. PA Forest Stewardship Plans, Tree Farm Plans, and National Resource Conservation Service CAP106 Plans are now comparable. You will need to hire a plan writer trained by the DCNR Bureau of Forestry or a Technical Service Provider trained by NRCS to complete a full plan; you may also wish to look at the simple Forestry for the landowner can complete online.
The basic components of a forest stewardship plan are:
- Goals and Objectives – The plan begins with a statement of your goals and objectives and is meant to express what you desire for the future of the land. Few landowners have goals that seek to maximize timber production, but many landowners are interested in timber harvest activities that enhance wildlife, recreation, forest health, and other forest benefits.
- Maps – The maps denote your property’s location, boundaries, forest stands, and soil types.
- Inventory – Examples include a timber inventory complete with fill volume, stocking, and species information; an inventory of critical areas and/or endangered species; biological inventory; descriptions of geological features, cultural features, ecological communities, and soil data. The intensity of the survey can vary depending on your interests.
- Activities – This part of the plan provides detailed action steps to meet the mentioned goals and objectives. This includes a chronology of activities that will be done each year over the next 10-year period.
Plans are typically written for a 10-year period but should be updated about every 5 years.
More information about the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program.
- What should I do if a wind company approaches me?
Pennsylvania is unique with its complex topography and geographic position. The ridges of Pennsylvania are oriented in such a way that when prevailing winds strike the slopes of the ridges during fall and spring, updrafts are produced which result in optimal soaring/gliding conditions along the ridges for migratory birds. Tens of thousands of raptors and songbirds cruise along the ridges and the Allegheny Front in their migratory movements along the Atlantic and Appalachian Flyways. Logically, many targeted wind development sites are lands located on these ridges along key raptor migration corridors. These ridges also currently comprise large intact forest blocks that support a diversity of breeding interior forest songbirds. Siting wind turbines on “brownfields” (post-industrial sites) rather than large, intact forest blocks would minimize such fragmentation and reduce impacts.
In addition to birds, several species of mammals, especially bats, and reptiles, particularly rattlesnakes, may be impacted by wind turbine farms. Bats are particularly vulnerable to atmospheric pressure changes near the turbines rotating blades. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has signed cooperative, voluntary agreements with companies developing wind energy in Pennsylvania to avoid, minimize and potentially mitigate any adverse impacts the development of wind energy may have on the state’s wildlife resources. Brokered with substantial input from wind energy industry representatives and assistance from the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative (PWWC), the Game Commission’s “Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement” provides guidance and consistency, in the absence of compulsory regulations for private lands, for the development of wind turbines sites, which have become one of the state’s fastest-growing industries.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Minimization efforts from Wind Turbine Cooperators include the following:
- Reduction of overall project size to minimize wildlife impacts.
- Additional evaluation and/or elimination of project areas within ten miles of known hibernacula containing the federally protected Indiana bat.
- Avoidance of existing forested landscapes and use of disturbed lands to the maximum extent possible.
- Placement of turbines on reclaimed strip mine lands to avoid land clearing.
- Elimination of planned turbines on ridge tops near raptor flyways.
- Turbines set back 50 – 400 m off escarpments to minimize potential raptor collisions.
- Movement of turbines 30 – 100 feet away from potential woodrat habitat.
In addition, the PA Audubon Society suggests that lighting of turbines is to be avoided, so as to not attract nocturnal migrating bird flocks. Similarly, adjacent communication and meteorological towers should be lit using rapidly pulsing white strobes to avoid attracting nocturnal migrants into wind farms. Guy wires at turbines and adjacent towers increase mortality risk, and should be avoided. Similarly, power transmission lines should be run underground.
You’ll want to check out: Ridgetop Important Bird Areas, Raptors and Wind Turbines (Audubon) and the PA Game Commission’s Wind Position Papers.
Also helpful are the current wind power guidelines of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
- What should I do if a gas company approaches me?
Marcellus Shale Development Information:
Leasing forestland for natural gas exploration can be profitable, but before signing a lease on your forestland, there are many things to consider to protect your interests. Building roads, installing pipelines, and clearing drilling pads will affect many forest values. Understanding these issues and your options is important in making the right decision for you and your forestland. Educate yourself, talk to your neighbors, and prior to signing a lease, have an attorney experienced with gas leases review its content and seek advice from a qualified natural resource professional!
It is in your best interest to have a forest management plan for your property before leasing your land. As a rule of thumb, use your consulting forester and work with the gas company to minimize disturbance to your forestland
Considerations for Leases on Forest Land
- Permanent and temporary right-of-ways should be clearly marked before executing the lease agreement so that the exact extent of the impact is known.
- Loss of existing timber should be appraised exclusively by your Forester, and not left open to contention by the leaseholder.
- Cleared timber should be harvested by conventional logging methods (not pushed out by heavy equipment) and left neatly sorted and piled in accessible designated areas if to be later sold or utilized by the owner. Otherwise, the timber should be chipped or hauled away. Burying the debris will cause unnecessary soil disturbance.
- You can exclude surface rights (no activity) on your property while still leasing your subsurface (gas) rights, but this may decrease the value of the lease. This may not be an option for coalition leases.
- If currently enrolled in the Clean and Green Tax Program, conversion penalties should be paid by leaseholder.
- How will temporarily impacted areas be restored? (topsoil conservation, revegetation with desirable plants, restored surface, and sub-surface drainages, erosion control structures, restoration of wildlife habitat, etc.)
- What penalties and provisions are there for non-compliance, such as failure to revegetate temporary worksites, damage to unmarked trees, delays in completion, erosion damage, spills, etc? You should require a performance bond and your Forester should be the final authority on compliance.
- The location of all drilling sites, roads, pipelines, and temporary structures should be approved by you or your Forester to minimize surface, visual and noise impacts.
- What measures will be taken by the leaseholder to prevent trespass problems on right-of-ways and access roads?
- Will you be allowed to use new access roads created on your property?
- You should require the leaseholder to construct at least one permanent crossing in a designated location if you expect to cross the pipeline with heavy equipment, such as a future timber sale or pond excavation.
- Are there unique wildlife habitats or sensitive areas on your property? If so, you should exclude surface rights on these areas.
- How will you be compensated if development activity conflicts with a primary ownership goal, such as hunting?
- What measures will be taken to reduce the establishment of invasive plant species near disturbed areas, such as planting tree screens along cleared edges?
- If noise will be a concern, exclude the right to maintain a permanent compressor station on your property.
- If water for drilling will come from your property, you should be compensated for it, and limits should be set that protect the source. Drilling fluids should be stored in tanks, not lagoons, and disposed of off-site.
- Do not allow access to your property for any activities without first receiving a copy of an executed lease. Even seemingly harmless activities like seismic work can become a nuisance and liability if not controlled through a sound lease.
Modified from the Cornell University Publication: Brett Chedzoy, CCE Schuyler County (email@example.com) with assistance from Kevin Mathers, CCE Broome County; Jim Ochterski, CCE Ontario County, and Peter Smallidge, NYS Extension Forester. http://downloads.cas.psu.edu/naturalgas/pdf/LeasingPointersforForestOwners.pdf
Penn State’s Marcellus Shale website
The following publications from that website will be useful:
Forest Landowners and Natural Gas Development
Forest Landowners and Natural Gas Development: Timber Resources
From the Northern Tier Hardwood Association:
Natural Gas Exploration: What will happen to your timber?
The PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry website has extensive information about the DCNR leases and the implications of drilling on State Forest Lands.
- What can I do about invasive species?
“Invasive species” are “alien” or “exotic” species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. They are usually introduced by people either accidentally or on purpose and into a region far from their native habitat. In their natural range, these species are limited by environmental conditions, pests or diseases, keeping these species in balance within their ecosystem. When introduced into an area where these limitations are absent, some species have the ability to become invasive. These are the species we are concerned about in conservation.
Invasive plants grow quickly and aggressively, spreading and displacing other plants. The known ecological impacts of invasive species include loss of threatened and endangered species, altered structure and composition of terrestrial and aquatic communities, and reduction in overall species diversity. Some invasive species are hazardous to human health. Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a species threatening Pennsylvania lands, is currently on the Pennsylvania and Federal Noxious weed lists. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring, and blindness. Contact between the skin and the sap of this plant occurs either through brushing against the bristles on the stem or breaking the stem or leaves. Invasive plants tend to appear on or near the disturbed ground like hiking trails, rights-of-ways, and roadsides. The most aggressive can actually invade existing ecosystems. Invasive plants are generally undesirable because they are difficult to control, can escape from cultivation, and can dominate large areas.
Insects and diseases are the most destructive agents affecting forest and shade trees in Pennsylvania. Tree roots, stems, limbs, needles, leaves of healthy or weakened trees, or logs waiting to be sawed into lumber are all subject to attack. Insects are by far the most numerous animal life inhabiting the forest. They have become well-adapted to their surroundings and occupy a wide variety of ecological niches. Although the majority of insect species are either beneficial or innocuous, some are exceedingly harmful. Insect outbreaks that cause economic damage to forests vary greatly in frequency, size, and duration. Fortunately, most outbreaks are small and short-lived and usually consist of one or a few spots in a stand or region. Others, however, may expand and encompass hundreds or thousands of acres and can last for several years.
Some of the more far-reaching ecological and economic impacts of invasive forest pests and diseases include:
- Chestnut blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) virtually eliminated the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) in the early 1900s.
- Currenlty destruction of the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) by the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae).
- The imminent demise of ash species (Fraxinus spp.) was caused by the advancing front of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis).
Managers can reduce the risks and incidence of insect attacks by maintaining healthy and vigorously growing stands and trees. Research is being conducted to determine what conditions are conducive to forest insect outbreaks. This research may lead to improved control measures.
Recognition of the problem of invasive species is growing at the same time as damage to native ecosystems is mounting. Identifying invasive plants, pests, and diseases and understanding the potential damage they can cause is essential to slow their spread and protect native vegetation. In short, invasive species infestations can be extremely expensive to control, as well as environmentally destructive.
Identifying invasive species in your woods has become an unfortunate part of owning Pennsylvania forest land. Your local county extension office or your DCNR Service Forester can help you with species identification. An excellent federal publication is the Invasive Plants Field and Reference Guide: An Ecological Perspective of Plant Invaders of Forests and Woodlands by Huebner, Cynthia; Olson, Cassandra; Smith, Heather (2005), USDA Forest Service, State, and Private Forestry, Northeastern Area and available online at <URL>. While there are many ﬁeld guides available about invasive plants and their identiﬁcation, the purpose of this particular field guide is to give a scientiﬁc synthesis of what is known about the behavior of such species in managed, disturbed, and pristine forested systems in addition to key information for accurate identiﬁcation. Such information will be helpful when choosing the best control strategies. You may also view the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States to find helpful species information, photos, and additional resources. To view photos, information, and additional resources about invasive pests and diseases, view the National Agricultural Pest Information System (NAPIS).
PA DCNR has excellent webpages with links about invasive plants and pests and diseases and their control. Penn State Extension has additional Pennsylvania Invasive Species sheets.
There are a number of ways to manage undesirable vegetation: mechanical, cultural, biological, and chemical. Integrated vegetation management (IVM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) use a combination of these techniques. Unfortunately, many mechanical or cultural techniques like cutting, pulling, and tilling don’t do enough to slow the spread of many invasive plant species. Biological control is defined as “the reduction of pest populations by natural enemies and typically involves an active human role.” Generally, biological control is very expensive, and extensive research must be conducted before a new organism or natural enemy can be introduced into the United States. Chemical control is usually the most desirable form of control but can be costly and a certified herbicide applicator is suggested for the application of many chemicals required to effectively control invasive plants.
If you discover that your woods have been invaded by undesirable species, you may want to download the Penn State Natural Resource Extension publication: Herbicides and Forest Vegetation Management, Controlling Unwanted Trees, Brush, and Other Competing Forest Vegetation.
Please consult your local service forester or a certified herbicide applicator before exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals.
- How do I go about arranging a harvest on my land?
Timber harvesting is a vital tool in renewing or enhancing and improving the vigor, diversity, and beauty of a forest while providing benefits to society. Although timber harvesting accounts for only a small portion of our working forests’ life cycles, how and when timber is harvested plays a major role in determining the character of the forest far into the future.
Consider this: A mature timber tree may take 80 to 120 years to grow, so knowing what and when to cut is critical. To avoid costly mistakes, the assistance of a natural resource professional trained in forest management is invaluable. Done properly, a timber harvest can improve wildlife habitat, protect water quality, allow for future harvests, and establish regeneration while also increasing your income. Without sound guidance, a single harvest can degrade your land and decrease its value for generations. Rather than stripping your forest of its best assets, a good timber harvest leaves your forest in a condition to continue to provide financial and natural benefits down the road.
Unless a landowner is very well versed in timber sales, the services of a professional forester with management expertise, market knowledge, experience with loggers, sale oversight, and retirement capabilities are invaluable.
Here are seven suggested steps to a successful timber harvest:
- Mark boundaries, both your land and the sale boundaries and identify the trees to be cut
- Appraise the value
- Locate roads, trails, and landings
- Solicit bid and select the winning bid
- Prepare timber sale contract
- Monitor the sale
- Complete post-harvest administration and activities to properly retire the site.
And some valuable hints:
- Learn the difference between Lump Sum versus Scaled Product sales; know the tax implications of each
- Select a professional and careful logger/operator; check their training, experience, references, and proof of insurance
- Key elements of your contract should include liability and responsibility; type, terms, and dates of sale; property and sale descriptions; terms of payment; utilization standards; notification and permit responsibility; bonding requirements; and end-of-sale requirements.
- Know the permits you will need; as the landowner, you may be responsible for violations!
You’ll find excellent step-by-step information in the University of Wisconsin publication, Conducting a Successful Timber Sale, A primer for landowners. You should also obtain a copy of Best Management Practices for Pennsylvania Forests which has sections on Forest Management Basics, Best Management Practices and Regulations Affecting Forest Management.
- How can I pay for planning and management?
The Natural Resource Conservation Service, a branch of the US Department of Agriculture, works with landowners through conservation planning and assistance designed to benefit the soil, water, air, plants, and animals that result in productive lands and healthy ecosystems. Using Farm Bill funds, the NRCS provides federal cost-share funding to private forest landowners for a variety of resource concerns through the following programs:
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to forest landowners through contracts up to a maximum term of ten years in length. These contracts provide financial assistance to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and for opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air, and related resources on non-industrial private forestland.
Owners/managers of eligible land in forest production who have a natural resource concern on the land may participate in EQIP. In Pennsylvania, EQIP is also used to provide support for Forest Stewardship (CAP106) Plans. Applicants for EQIP funding for management practices are more likely to receive funding if they have first obtained an approved forest management plan (a Forest Stewardship, Tree Farm, or NRCS Cap106 Plan).
Wildlife Habitat Improvement Fund (WHIP) is a voluntary program available for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat on agricultural land, non-industrial private forest land, and Indian land. WHIP is a voluntary approach to improving wildlife habitat. The Natural Resources Conservation Service administers WHIP to provide both technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitats. PA NRCS has the following priorities:
- Establishment of native grasses and forbs
- Improvement of wetland habitat
- Stream Habitat and Stream Corridor Management, including dam removal
- Early Successional Habitat Development
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) encourages land stewards to improve their conservation performance by installing and adopting additional activities and improving, maintaining and managing existing activities on agricultural land and non-industrial private forest land.
If you plan to apply, you may find the Headwaters RC&D site helpful.
Your DCNR Service Forester and the National Resource Conservation Service can help you navigate the application process for any of these programs. NRCS maintains offices across the state as part of the USDA Service Centers, single locations where you can access the services of NRCS, the Farm Service Agency and the Rural Development agencies. Find your local NCRS office address and contact info.
- How can I conserve my forest for the future?
Estate planning is a very personal process involving legal counsel and family members. Timberland is usually a “highly appreciated asset,” that is, the fair market value of the property on the date of death of the decedent is much greater than the basis of the property. This “built-in gain” is why timberland is a “wealth creation vehicle,” but this adds a challenge to the estate planning process, albeit a nice one to have. The challenge is to pass this wealth to lineal descendants or other beneficiaries without incurring an income tax liability on the built-in gain and minimizing any estate taxes. Aside from federal estate taxes, the federal gift tax can also be included in this category if a gifting program is part of an estate plan. A less dramatic catch-all term is “transfer taxes.” Pennsylvania also has an inheritance tax program to deal with.
Minimizing transfer taxes tends to dominate discussions of estate planning, but this is only one aspect. Other considerations include support and care of a surviving spouse, the needs of children, and helping favorite charities, among many others. Many timberland owners are also concerned about what will happen to their timberland after they die. The forestry community tends to discuss the intergenerational transfer of timberland in terms of the continuity of forest management. While it’s not possible for a timberland owner to literally “rule from the grave” there are options available to increase the likelihood that the land will not be converted to housing subdivisions, second home sites, or malls and parking lots.
Any estate plan must of course start with the goals to be achieved. The next step is an assessment of the assets available to achieve these goals and whether these assets are adequate to do so. Once the fair market value of assets is tallied it’s possible to deal with the question of whether or not your estate will potentially be faced with a Federal estate tax liability. If a majority of your assets will pass on to a surviving spouse you most likely do not have an estate tax issue. This assumes that you place very limited, if any, restrictions on what your spouse can do with these assets. But, if significant wealth is involved, the estate tax issue must also be considered for the surviving spouse’s estate, frequently the bigger challenge. For additional information go to the National Timber Tax website.
Our Pennsylvania landscape is changing and forestland continues to be broken into smaller parcels and converted into housing developments at an astonishing rate. Although Pennsylvania ranks 48th in population growth, only 4 other states lose more open land every year to development; we convert nearly 300 acres to urban sprawl every day. If you and other forest landowners want to ensure that your forest stewardship efforts extend beyond your tenure and your forest is available for future generations to use and cherish, you must act responsibly and take charge of the direction and long-term future of your land. The question is how to assure that your property is managed responsibly.
Concept of conservation easements, how they work, and some of the benefits:
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit land trust or governmental entity that permanently limits the uses of the land in order to protect specified conservation values. It does this by restricting the amount of development and activities that can take place in the future. Since the development value of the property cannot be realized, the market value of the property may be reduced to that of “open land”, i.e. the value of the land for agricultural or forest uses. Not only do conservation easements protect open space values such as wildlife habitat, ecological diversity, and forest beauty, but they can also protect the economic and community benefits that arise out of the forest’s production of forest products, goods, and services. Future owners are also bound to the easement’s terms and conditions.
A Working Forest Conservation Easement (WFCE) may be your ideal answer. All forests “work” by providing wildlife habitat, clean air, clean water, beautiful surroundings, etc., but a “working forest” is one that is actively managed using a forest stewardship plan as the roadmap or guide. This is in contrast to an easement that is commonly called “forever wild”, where forest harvesting is prohibited so that nature can take its course. It is also different from an easement with no harvest restrictions at all. Working Forest Conservation Easements (WFCEs) do more than restrict specified development rights on a property. WFCEs can protect forest values by assuring sustainable forest practices and encouraging long-term land stewardship, all in accordance with the goals and objectives of the easement Grantor (the donor or seller of the easement). And, WFCEs can enable landowners to continue to derive economic value from the land through the harvest of forest products, goods, and services, to support the ongoing costs of ownership and stewardship.
Excellent additional info on WFCEs can be found in Working Forest Conservation Easements: a Primer for Forest Landowners, a publication of the Maryland Cooperative Extension. You can find contact information for many of Pennsylvania’s Conservation Land Trusts at the Pennsylvania Association of Land Trust (PALTA). You’ll also want to read the information on the website for the Working Woodlands program of the Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania. A broad list of recommended experts, including attorneys, can be found at conservationtools.org (http://conservationtools.org/experts)
Forest Legacy Program:
The Forest Legacy Program (FLP) is a partnership between individual states and the USDA Forest Service to identify and help conserve environmentally important forests from conversion to non-forest uses. The main tool used for protecting these important forests is a conservation easement. Participation in FLP is entirely voluntary and limited to private forest landowners. To be included in the Forest Legacy Program, a property must lie partially or entirely within a designated Forest Legacy Area. To qualify, landowners are required to prepare a multiple-resource stewardship plan as part of the conservation easement acquisition. The Federal government may fund up to 75% of program costs, with at least 25% coming from private, state or local sources. In addition to gains associated with the sale or donation of property rights, many landowners also benefit from reduced taxes associated with limits placed on land use.
In Pennsylvania, the FLP is administered by the Department of Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry in cooperation with the state’s Forest Stewardship Steering Committee, which is composed of private landowners, professional resource managers, and representatives from conservation organizations, higher education, industry, and government.
Visit the Forest Legacy Program website.
- How can I manage my woods for wildlife?
Wildlife is an integral part of any healthy forest community. Forests provide food and shelter for numerous wildlife species. In return, many of these species aid in seed dispersal, forest pest control, and many other ecological tasks that perpetuate healthy forests. Stewardship involves managing your forest so that populations of native species of wildlife persist for future generations. No matter how large or small your forest is, you can make a difference. Penn State Extension offers a free publication that describes in detail what landowners can do to manage their woods for wildlife.
- Walk in Penn's Woods