By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension – Benton, Linn and Polk Counties
A local meeting of professional foresters last month focused on how forest management practices reflect the objectives of the owners. That sometimes creates challenges for the managers, since owner and manager are often not synonymous when it comes to forests and other natural resource lands. Some objectives and corresponding management practices are very well defined and developed, and others much less so.
For example, lands managed for stockholders and other investors are often planted as even aged stands on fairly short rotations, since it is an efficient way to manage risk and provide a return on investment while also providing some additional benefits to society. There is good understanding and a pretty straight line between those objectives and managers activities, both of which have remained reasonably steady over time. Their management practices have been developed through applied research, so these managers are generally quite successful in meeting their objectives.
Anyone reading the news in Oregon realizes that managers of public lands (both State and Federal) often have not benefited from a clear or consistent message of owner objectives. Public lands management objectives tend to be broad if not poorly defined or even contradictory and have often shifted dramatically over the years. The owners (who are of course the public: a fickle group at best and unlikely to change) variously wants things including jobs for vibrant local economies and pristine wild habitats. Resources and funding for these agencies are often very limited. So public managers use a bunch of different management systems including long rotations and uneven age management, hoping to obtain some desired results on the cheap, but since there is little agreement on objectives, it is pretty hard to say how successful they are.
Family forest landowners often look to the larger private and public landowners for examples of management practices to apply to their lands. You can easily find folks shadowing the large private managers’ planting, spacing and weed control practices, although I commonly find people planning to extend the rotation lengths on their property. And you can find people wanting to grow mature forest structures more reminiscent of Federal lands practices. This approach of management by mimicry can be problematic for family forest landowners. Why? Their stakeholder group (the owners and their family) is very different from large private or public stakeholders, as are the economics and cash flow patterns on small properties (erratic at best). So family landowners’ objectives are rarely the same as those of the big private or public landowners they look to for ideas.
Standard silvicultural approaches used by professional foresters are often not well matched to the family landowners’ situation, and should be adopted with caution and modifications. For example, many intensive management practices used on private lands are helpful to landowners struggling with invasive weeds and needing to re-establish a forest stand. But these practices often lead to conditions that are not as visually appealing to many family landowners as what they desire, since many live on the property. Likewise, habitat-oriented harvest approaches such as patch cuts can provide income without visual heartburn, but without further actions may not deliver the desired mature forest structures that were inspired by the family camping trips in old growth on the national forest.
Both of these examples’ limitations can be addressed: by early thinning in the first case; by patch size, species selection and thinning in the second case. But both require some additional understanding of tree growth behaviors, actions and investment beyond the observations that inspired the action. The challenge is to be sure these practices can reflect the landowner’s objectives, can fit together coherently over decades and match the local biological and physical processes.
Now I realize that family forest landowners are a very diverse group of people, and one which certainly cannot be accused of having a collective and clearly defined group of management objectives. Probably each of the thousands of private landowners in Oregon (and members within the same family) have a unique take on why they own forestland, and what benefits they want from their woods. This is one reason you see such a variety of woodland practices and so much woodland diversity across private family forestlands, often in contrast to other categories of ownership. It certainly makes my job fun and interesting.
If you are a family landowner you can, you must make efforts to make sure you and your family’s objectives for owning and tending your property are clear. Clear objectives help achieve clear results. And I do not mean to imply that you cannot look at and copy other landowners’ actions. But you do need to make sure they will lead towards your objectives for your property, and be willing to learn and make necessary adjustments to keep on track.
For help and information on developing clear objectives for your property, visit the Oregon Forest Planning Website and walk through the steps of Woodland Discovery.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to the Marys Peak Chapter of the Society of American Foresters for organizing the conference “Silviculture by Objectives: Options and Outcomes” held in Albany. Thanks also to the speakers from OSU, BLM, FS and the other speakers representing various ownership types for their presentations which helped spur the observations and reflections above. BW-R.