Land Use Planning for New Landowners - Charlie Mowatt

New York Forest Owners Association, Allegheny Foothills Chapter. Franklinville, NY


So, how do you get started?

My first advice is to relax, step back, take in the wonder of it all.

I'm reminded of one of the first walks though our Golden Hill Tree Farm soon after its purchase in 1967. We were walking in what I choose to describe as a somewhat unfamiliar section of the property. I gave a few furtive glances at the map, the compass, the sun, brother. He said something about our being lost. I said nothing, while my tiny Forester brain raced to deny our slight disorientation. He suggested we sit a spell. While we did, he observed, "We're somewhere on the back section of our property, right?"

I was quick to assure him that we were.

"...and we're lost, right?" I didn't answer.

After a brief pause, he exclaimed, "Doesn't that feel great?"

It surly did!

So do not lose the bigger picture in your search for knowledge about management options and silvicultural strategies to apply to your property.

Four Strategies

With that in mind, the new owner should spend some time in four areas:

a) become familiar with your property. Maps, aerial photos, tree and flower identification books are helpful aids. Soon you will discover that discovery is unending, but maddeningly compelling.

A part of your familiarization process must include knowledge of your property boundaries. If you are at all unsure of your boundary locations, get help immediately; your deed, your lawyer, your neighbors (this is a good excuse to get to know your neighbors), your Forester, and, when all else fails, hire a Surveyor.

b) become familiar with your management options. For this, you should seek advice from many sources. Many of those sources have spoken to you today. They are Master Forest Owners; Gov't agencies; NYFOA, with it's 800 phone number (1/800/836/3566), it's Woodswalks, it's Statewide magazine, "The NY Forest Owner," and it's Chapter newsletters; private consulting foresters; wildlife biologists; soil scientists and a whole host of specifically focused organizations, like The Ruffed Grouse Society, The Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, and The Audubon Society. Consult your copy of today's proceedings for names, addresses and phone numbers of information sources. Also look in the list of reference material that will assist you in becoming familiar with management options.

There is a ton of printed research available and worlds of on-line information at the College of ESF, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and other sites, for you computer buffs.

c) the sources of information are almost too great. For this, and other reasons, you may find it helpful to develop a set of goals. Document your dreams, objectives, reasons for purchasing the property in the first place, in a written statement. You cannot expect to develop a management direction for your property if you don't know where you are headed or can't focus on just what you need to know to get there. A goal statement need not be elaborate or etched in stone. All objectives are subject to change as you learn more about your property and your management options. By way of example, let me read the goal statement for our Golden Hill Tree Farm.

Landowner Goals for Golden Hill Tree Farm (Cattaraugus Co, NY)

The 150-acre property was purchased in 1967 as an investment. Returns on the investment are expected in both monetary and non-monetary forms. Management efforts and returns are expected in three interrelated areas:

1) The property is intended to be a place to which the owners and others may go to engage in a number of hobbies, recreational, and sporting pursuits. These pursuits may include silvicultural applications and experimentation, nature observation, contemplation, hiking, skiing, picnicking, camping, and hunting.

2) Sustained, renewable forest crop production, with emphasis on maximizing high quality hardwood sawtimber, is a major goal of management. The scheduling of timber harvests are to be varied over time and space so as to produce diverse habitats and periodic income. Other forest crops may include fuelwood, Christmas trees, and wildlife (both consumptive and non-consumptive). Wildlife management practices will focus on white tailed deer, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, woodcock, and gray squirrel as well as diverse songbird populations.

3) Environmental sensitivity will be observed in all management efforts. Disturbances necessitated by any use or silvicultural practice, such as timber harvesting or road building, shall be kept to a minimum and will be mitigated in a timely fashion.

These goals are not very elaborate, but they lead to the fourth and last area of effort that I strongly suggest for you and your rural property:

d) develop a plan for achieving your goals. You may seek the advice of a Forester or others to help you develop your own plan or you may employ a Forester to develop a comprehensive plan that has your goals as targets. Either way, your plan will have some short-term elements and some long-term elements; some one-shot projects and some repetitive or maintenance projects. In any event, a plan will help you set priorities for your management activities. It will keep you from having too many shotgun efforts that show little progress toward your goals at the end of the year, or the end of the next ten years.

We have found that preparation of a yearly "wish list" helps to further focus efforts on priority areas and serves as a year-end record of accomplishment, or lack thereof. I have with me a copy of our 1994 wish list. I'll not read the whole thing, but will select a few items that will give you the gist.

A section in your plan notebook should be reserved for record keeping and photographs. Record keeping should include monetary considerations, such as costs, income and taxes. It should also have a section on what projects you carried out on your property and when you did them.

You may remember that our goal statement said that we purchased the property as an investment. Records are necessary to help determine returns on the investment. Considering all costs, taxes, income and property value, our annual return on investment was just a shade under 10% as of the end of 1994. Of course, we would have to sell the property in order to realize the return in hand, but, then, that's no different from owning stocks or mutual fund shares.

Photographs are an excellent means of keeping track of conditions/events on your property. Be sure to make note of dates and places depicted.

So those are some of the suggestions for getting started in managing your rural property:

* get to know your property and the things that grow there and what they require.
* become familiar with your management options.
* develop a written set of goals.
* work from a plan.
* keep records, take pictures.



The New Handbook of Attracting Birds. Thomas P. McElroy, Jr. 1985. 258 pgs. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.. 500 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10110.

Trees, Shrubs and Vines for Attracting Birds: A Manual for the Northeast. Richard M. DeGraaf and Gretchen M. Witman. 1979. 194 pgs. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA 01002.

Timber Management for Small Woodlands. Gary R. Goff, James P. Lassoie, and Katherine M. Layer. 1994. 57 pgs. Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 147IB180. Cornell University Media Services. 7 Business and Technology Park, Ithaca, NY 14850

Understanding Forest Ecosystems. Wanda E. Richberger and Ronald A. Howard, Jr. 1980. 41 pgs. Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H Leaders’ Guide L-5-13. Cornell University Media Services. 7 Business and Technology Park, Ithaca, NY 14850

Working With Your Woodland: a landowner’s guide. Mollie Beattie, Charles Thompson, and Lynn Lerine. 1981. 310 pgs. University Press of New England, Hanover, NH 03735.

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