Know what you own. If you didn’t have a chance to walk the boundaries of your property it’s never too late to understand where the property lines are. Pull out the plot plan or the metes and bounds description on the deed and walk the boundaries. You may need to bring a compass, depending on how your property is marked and described. If a formal survey was not done at the time of purchase, have your property surveyed and marked with conspicuous marking points, so that you’ll understand what you are responsible for and what resources you hold in the property.
Hire a forester. Many states employ state foresters who will provide a general survey of the species of flora on your property. For a more detailed examination and evaluation, a private forester can be located and hired to assess tree species, health, growth and areas for improvement. If the land has not been cut for many years, an initial selective cutting may be an appropriate step to take before beginning to build. A forester can also identify the valuable tree species for timber harvest, as well as other less profitable species that add other benefits within a forest.
Determine your priorities. How do you plan to enjoy the land? Do you plan to hunt, and if so, what species are you targeting? Is your forest a location for walking paths and hikes by family members? Is the forest an investment in harvestable trees over the course of 20-30 years or longer? Do you plan other activities in the woods, such as cross country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, bird watching, camping, fishing, or other activities? Will you cut firewood to provide heat in your home?
Develop a plan. Gather this information into a coherent plan that lays out priorities and improvements to be made over the coming years. A simple management plan is well worth the investment of a few hundred dollars, says Doak. Some states and local municipalities offer tax and other incentives for developing woodland plans. For example, in Maine a $200 credit is available for creating a management plan for woodlands. Many forest areas can yield quite a bit of income over the years, if managed and harvested appropriately.
Identify and reduce invasive species. Many management plans include some form of thinning and replanting. If your property hosts any invasive species it’s a good idea for the health of your area’s forests to remove them if possible. And, when looking to supplement natural seedlings, select tree species that are native to your area.Many states have a woodland owners association or resources through state or university extensions. The National Woodland Owners Association is a good place to start, and provides a list of resources by region on their website. Doak’s organization, SWOAM, just published a helpful guide, “Small Woodland Owner’s Handbook: A Guide to Owning and Managing Woodland in Maine,” which can be purchased on their website, along with other interesting and educational items.