By Mike Beacom
Bruce Brown always wanted a tree farm. There was something appealing to him about walking among wildlife; seeing the land transform through the seasons. He also has forestland stewardship in his blood. In 1993, Bruce and his wife purchased 40 acres of hog pasture near the Brown family farm in southern Illinois. “You can’t imagine a more hilly 40 acres,” he laughs. “Absolutely no top soil.”
There was plenty of work to be done, but it began with a visit to his local district forester and the creation of a Forest Stewardship plan. That plan provided guidance, and it opened doors to programs and contacts that would help carry out his vision. More than 20 years later, Brown is now working with his fourth consulting forester and the land is barely recognizable.
“There used to just be hard, yellow clay,” he says. “Now I can walk through my trees and watch the squirrels nesting in them.”
Brown planted 7,000 trees the first year, then replanted nearly half of them after locusts struck the following year. He prunes his trees meticulously, uses controlled burns as a management tool, and controls the spread of invasives like bush honeysuckle and autumn olive. “When you compare my forest to my neighbor’s there’s a marked difference,” he says proudly. “I’m seeing regeneration of oak and across the way all you see is bush honeysuckle.”
Much of the thinning, exotic weed control, and pruning work has been done without cost-share dollars (Illinois and EQIP do not allow a landowner to receive cost share for doing the same work on the same acre). Not long after completing his first Forest Stewardship plan, Brown developed a plan for the 244-acre farm he manages with his sister and brother. Much of the property is pasture and tillable acreage, but the forest is now well kept. Consulting forester Chris Wittom said “Both properties have seen phenomenal forestry benefits. Bruce understands that if you have a home, car or other possession we try to take care of it and maintain it as well as possible… the forest ownerships should be given the same respect and effort.”
When Wittom began working with Brown in 2008 there was a heavy mid-story of undesirable hardwoods. There was very little herbaceous growth and virtually no desirable seedlings or advanced regeneration present. Today there is varied herbaceous growth throughout, along with desired tree seedlings. “The increased vegetation in the understory has resulted in increased cover, habitat, and forage that whitetail deer and wild turkeys really seem to like,” says Wittom. Brown enjoys it as much as the wildlife. “I’m absolutely thrilled with the path I chose 22 years ago,” Brown says. “Someday my nieces and nephews are going to appreciate the work we’ve done.”
Here are a few examples of how conservation districts have helped to promote the Forest Stewardship Program:
MARYLAND Representatives with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forest Service approached Allegany Soil Conservation District (SCD) about restoring a stream bank on a local’s property. DNR Forest Service secured funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and constructed a Forest Stewardship plan with the landowner (Allegany SCD provided a portion of the cost for each management plan). As part of its bioengineering work, the district hired a contractor to remove the dike and put rock veins back in the stream to restore the natural channels. The district then buried willow fascines along the stream bank walls (the bundles included streamco willow, black willow and red osier dogwood). After the district’s work was finished, the Maryland DNR Forest Service planted a buffer next to the stream consisting of sycamore and black locust trees.
MINNESOTA The Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District created a partnership with neighboring St. John’s Abbey to expand a district-led forest certification program. Thanks to the district’s efforts, north central Minnesota landowners have an advantage when marketing timber harvested from their lands. To qualify for the program, landowners must have at least 10 acres of forestland and a Forest Stewardship plan; the district has helped landowners prepare plans since the mid-1990s.
OREGON West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Forestry Specialist Michael Ahr encourages landowners with 10 or more acres of forestland to consider a Forest Stewardship plan. West Multnomah SWCD has been actively managing forest invasives and reducing the threats posed by wildfire; stewardship plans help those efforts. Ahr uses a template designed by representatives from Oregon State University Extension, the Oregon Department of Forestry, NRCS, and the state’s Small Woodlands Association. The uniform template satisfies NRCS requirements to apply for cost-share, and allows the landowner to become certified through American Tree Farm System. “And with a few additions it should get them certified under FSC standards,” he adds.
PENNSYLVANIA & NEW JERSEY A few years ago, conservation leaders from the Upper Delaware River watershed – including those from several conservation districts – came together with a mission to improve jurisdictional communication and collaboration to support sustainable communities and working landscapes throughout the watershed. The project – Common Waters – assists forest landowners in the region in managing their lands, which in turn will preserve the water that flows downstream through the Delaware River. There are four categories that qualify for funding: Forest Stewardship plans; forest management practices related to water quality; conservation easement assistance; and portable timber bridge construction or purchase by loggers.
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