Forests are critical parts of the north woods economy and ecosystem. Forest landowners can take steps to ensure their lands are healthy and remain forested for the long run. Forests are the natural cover for most of the region, providing a sponge which moderates water flow, provides habitat for wildlife, and provides a diversity of products.
One of the region’s primary resources is water. Its quality in our rural landscape is often impacted by forest roads, through erosion and increased runoff which landowners can mitigate by employing road management. Along rivers, lakes, and wetlands, forests provide habitat which landowners can conserve or improve. At the landscape level, our forests make up the headwaters of our streams, moderating water flows to lakes and rivers.
Research has documented that rivers can more than double flood volume if over 60% of a watershed's forests are cleared. Where a given forest fits in the overall landscape makes a big difference on the ecological impact on the larger landscape. Forests are an ecosystem with plants and animals dependent upon landscape and site-specific habitats.
A major change in our forest is increasing fragmentation of ownership as large blocks are broken into parcels. Landowners today can take steps to see that their land is
kept intact for the future with good estate planning or conservation easements.
Forest management can reduce fragmentation by restoring forest types, reducing
clear-cuts, and closing roads.
This flow chart identifies qualifying features that characterize your forest lands and the incentive programs for which you may be eligible. Contact your local land conservation department for additional county-specific programs and your local land trust to discuss conservation easements.
In many cases, landowners find they can receive financial benefits from managing their forests. Timber harvests may both meet landowner conservation goals and generate income. Government programs may provide cost sharing for activities which benefit both the landowner and the landscape – such as an improved road crossing of a stream which improves the value of the land and reduces negative impacts on the watershed. Easements or government programs may reduce taxes while allowing continued enjoyment of the property. Landowners have a range of resources to draw upon to conserve their land and provide good long term stewardship of the land.
Stewardship and Conservation Incentive Programs
Spending time and money on your forest is a long-term investment. Conservation easements provide permanent protection for land, meeting a landowner’s goals and potentially providing tax benefits. Landowners spending money to plant trees today will not see a financial return on their investment for many years. For this reason, and recognizing the value of sustainably managed forests to all of society, a variety of cost-sharing grant programs are offered by federal, state, and local agencies and some private conservation organizations. In addition, land rent programs pay a cash rent for taking qualifying, marginal cropland out of production and putting it into conservation practices. Cost-share grants and land rent programs are considered just compensation for landowners, paid for by beneficiaries of sustainably managed forests: the American citizens. To find a comprehensive summary of federal and state cost-share programs and contact information for the government agencies that administer them, click here.
Many types of conservation projects may be eligible for cost-sharing grants. A partial listing includes:
• Development of a long-term forest stewardship plan – often the key to receiving additional funding • Conservation easements • Timber stand improvement work to encourage growth of valuable timber • Tree planting to reforest open areas and stream sides • Planting wildlife food plots and wildlife shrub and grass habitats • Rehabilitation of eroding forest roads and trails • Fencing to keep livestock out of forest and streamside areas • Development of springs and watering holes for wildlife • Restoration or new construction of wetlands • Installation of wildlife brush piles and nesting boxes • Construction of rural windbreaks. • Other forest, water and wildlife practices
Many cost-share programs have limited funding. Demand for cost-share funding routinely exceeds the amount of money available. Planning and acting early is essential as landowners may have to wait several years to get funding for certain types of projects.