Forests in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range are being stressed by many factors that put them at risk. High-severity wildfire, drought stress, insect outbreaks, disease, and a backdrop of changing climate are a few. A significant portion of Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade forests are owned and managed as small parcels (10 to 100 acres) by nonindustrial private landowners. To assist these landowners, CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station have recently released the ‘Forest Management Handbook for Small Parcel Landowners.' This step by step guide is an additional resource designed to help small, private forest landowners gather the information needed to begin developing a California Cooperative Forest Management Plan, including determining what, if any, management actions need to be done, and where to obtain technical and financial support.
“California's small private landowners need access to tools and technical assistance to help them manage their forest lands to maintain forest health,” said Stewart McMorrow, CAL FIRE's wildfire resilience staff chief. “Forest landowners do not always have the knowledge or skills to get started with a management plan, which is why the handbook was created.”
Four important areas are addressed in the handbook including:
- Defining your forest management objectives;
- Assessing your current forest conditions;
- Recognizing threats to the health of your forest; and
- Evaluating possible treatment options.
A California Cooperative Forest Management Plan (CCFMP) can be simple or complex based on a landowner's management goals and objectives. For those ‘do-it-yourself' landowners, the handbook provides worksheets that can help guide you through basic management activities. For landowners with larger parcels, multiple goals, complex management activities, and a desire to participate in cost-share programs (i.e. CFIP or EQIP), a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) is required to complete and submit your management plan. However, the handbook can be used as an important first step to assist landowners and guide conversations with their RPFs.
Join handbook authors Stewart McMorrow, CAL FIRE (Stewart.email@example.com), Steve Ostoja, USDA California Climate Hub (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Peter Stine, Pacific Southwest Research Station (email@example.com) for a webinar on April 26, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. to learn what the handbook offers and to get connected with programs and resources.
For landowners who would like more assistance in understanding and developing a California Cooperative Forest Management Plan, consider signing up for an upcoming Forest Stewardship Workshop series hosted by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The nine-week online workshop covers:
- Forest management objectives and planning
- Forest health, insects and disease
- Forest and fire ecology, wildlife, watersheds
- Fuels reduction and forest resource marketing
- Project development & permitting
- Getting professional help and cost-share opportunities
The in-person field day covers silviculture, forest inventory and mapping activities. Participants who complete the workshop will be eligible for a free site visit with a California Registered Professional Forester.
For private forest landowners, the decisions of if or when to harvest trees can be confusing. Understanding costs and revenues is important, even if a landowner only wants to reinvest everything back into the land. Bill Stewart, Cooperative Extension Specialist in forestry at the University of California Berkeley, says landowners should consider harvesting trees as just one piece of their forest management plan. Landowners should ask themselves: Why do I own forest land? What goods or service might I want to sell? How willing am I to invest money now for future benefits? Most trees will grow, some will die, but which products will go up or down in value?
Q: Can forest landowners harvest trees to help address their management goals?
A: Yes. Remember that trees are always reproducing. In forests today, there are often too many trees per acre (300 – 500) which is too high for the water resources available. This results in smaller, less healthy trees. If you thin to ~60 trees per acre, then those remaining trees will grow bigger, faster, and be more resilient. Thinning out excess trees may also help fund other work you'd like done such as masticating brush or other practices for fire hazard reduction.
Q: Why is the price of timber so variable?
A: The price of wood is very volatile and varies depending on several factors such as:
- The species of trees you are harvesting – Historically in California, redwood has greater value than fir or pine. However, species prices can vary by region.
- Home construction - The more houses being built, the greater the demand for lumber which means higher prices for timber.
- The number of sawmills in your area – if you live in an area with numerous wood processing facilities, that will increase the competition and mills may bid higher for your timber. However, if a mill owns their own forested acres, they will often use their own timber and not buy from outside sources. The Asian export market out of the Port of Oakland can be very competitive for forest landowners near the port, though demand has been going down in recent years.
- Timber size - The competition to bid on, and the price for, smaller diameter trees for products such as paper or pulp is not as high as for larger diameter trees used in home construction. Trees measuring 20” diameter at breast height (dbh) or higher will often fetch a good price. For trees measuring between 10” and 12” dbh, they could still be valuable as saw logs, depending on the market. Trees measuring under 10” dbh, have a much smaller market, mostly as wood chips, and are often not as valuable.
You might also consider working with neighbors to increase the potential number of trees for harvest, which in turn, could help in increasing the overall bids for your projects. It is not necessary for neighbors to be on contiguous properties, but is helpful if they are on the same road systems and have the same species of trees.
Q: Can you sell diseased or dying trees? What about trees that have been blown down?
A: Yes, so long as the wood quality is still there. However, dead, dying and/or diseased trees, in many cases, have already decomposed and so do not have the monetary value that green trees do. Because blown down trees are dead, you have to determine if it is worth hauling them out or leaving them. Do you have enough to fill up a log truck? If so, it may pay for itself. If you only have a few down, then consider leaving them as the cost would be too high to remove them. If the blow down or burn has been widespread, there is often a glut of this material and mills will often prioritize processing logs off their own lands rather than buying additional logs, making the market weak.
Q: Who do we need to hire to fall the trees and haul them to a mill?
A: You typically have several forestry professionals working on your management projects. Start with a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) that you hire. The average rate for an RPF is ~$75 - $145/per hour and will vary by location. Some RPFs work for mills or forestry companies. You want an RPF that works only for you, and who will work to serve your legal, economic and aesthetic interests. The RPF will help plan the management activities based on your management goals and objectives. The RPF will then recommend a Licensed Timber Operator(LTO) to fall the trees. A truck driver/ log hauler will need to be hired to take the trees to the mill.
Q: Can I sell timber as woody biomass?
A: Possibly, though only if it doesn't have to be hauled long distances to a biomass facility. Since it is low value it is harder to make it ‘pay its way' out of the woods. Biomass electricity is currently a small player in California electricity markets. However, biomass could eventually replace much of the coal and natural gas we use from out of state sources. Currently, there are limited biomass facilities in California and there are no current plans to build additional, state-of-the–art industrial scale bioenergy plants.
Q: I have yet to see the results of logging look lovely. Can this be minimized?
A: Yes. Logged areas can look ugly for a few years. Soil disturbances often look better after a year or so depending on the amount of rain or snow the next winter and how fast vegetation grows. However, you will still have broken branches and stumps to look at. If you are harvesting within the view-shed of your home or business, you may want to consider spending more money on cleanup practices to improve the overall look of the logged area.
Q: What permitting is needed to harvest trees?
A: If a forest landowner decides to harvest and sell timber, either a Timber Harvest Plan, Non-industrial Timber Management Plan, or an exemption must be submitted and approved through Cal Fire. Forest landowners should work with their RPF to ensure they are in compliance of all harvest and environmental rules and regulations. Additionally, exemptions for removal of fire or insect damaged trees that lose value the longer they are left in the forest are much quicker and easier to complete than a full timber harvest plan and can be prepared by RPFs who would also manage the harvest.
For more information on timber harvest considerations, please see Forest Stewardship Series 21: Economic Considerations in Forest Stewardship, Publication 8251.
With over 7,600 wildfire incidents and 2.2 million acres of forestland burned in California as of early September, it is understandable how some private forest landowners might feel both paralyzed and spurred into forest management activity at the same time. Yet even in these times of extreme weather and fire behavior, it is important to consider managing your forest, both before and after wildfire effects your forestland.
We know that California forest are fire-adapted systems. However, issues such as decades of fire suppression, the conversion of shrub habitats to conifer thickets, and the reduction and loss of both mountain meadows and more open forested habitats, have led to a huge build up in forest fuels and more severe fire behavior. Increased stress from drought and increased competition for water also leaves trees more vulnerable to insect and disease. Susie Kocher, Forestry and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Advisor for the Central Sierra, and a registered professional forester, discusses why it is important for private forest landowners to develop a management plan and how a plan can lead to activities that could mitigate some of the negative impacts facing forests today.
Susie Kocher, Forestry and Natural Resources Advisor and registered professional forester
Q: What is a forest management plan?
A: A management plan outlines the goals and objectives a landowner has for their forestland. It describes the current condition of the forest, makes note of past management activities, identifies important natural and man-made features, and summarizes the landowner's vision for the future of their forestland. A plan can demonstrate your commitment to forest management for financial or tax purposes. A plan can be a guide to your heirs in continuing management activities you deem as important. Also, a plan helps you learn more about your forest.
A plan can be as simple as a list written by the landowner or as complex as a completed California Cooperative Forest Management Plan (CCFMP) that has been finalized and signed off on by a registered professional forester. It all depends on the goals and objectives of the landowner.
Q: Why should a private forest landowner have a plan?
A: Owning forestland comes with both benefits and responsibilities. Though landowners may enjoy their land immensely right now, they also need to protect the health of their forest for the future, including the water that runs through it, and the animal and plant habitats that are there. Landowners who live on the land, must also consider protecting their families and homes from wildfire and other natural disturbances. It is much harder to accomplish all of this without knowing what is on the landscape, what has been done to manage it before, and what still needs to be done to achieve these goals. A management plan gathers all of this information in one place and helps to chart next steps.
Forest landowners who work with a registered professional forester and have a completed CCFMP, can apply for cost-share programs (California Forest Improvement Program through Cal Fire or Environmental Quality Incentives Program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service). This funding can be applied to many of the activities landowners might be considering such as fuels reductions, habitat improvement, culvert and road improvements, or reforestation.
Q: What are the first steps a forest landowner can take to develop a management plan?
A: There are several first steps. First, a landowner should examine what they want for their forestland. Do the fuels need to be reduced? Are there post-fire activities like removing dead trees that need to be done? Write down and prioritize your objectives. Don't forget to consult with others if you own the property jointly. Knowing this before you contact a forester or other resource professional can help move the process along more quickly.
Next, contact your local Resource Conservation District (RCD) or Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office. Staff at both RCD and NRCS offices can help you connect with forest professionals, draft a management plan, or apply for cost-share money.
You may also consider attending a Forest Stewardship workshop though the University of California Cooperative Extension. The goals of these workshops are to help private forest landowners draft a CCFMP, connect with local RPFs, and to learn basic forest ecology and forest stewardship skills and information.
Forest Stewardship Workshop participant discussing his plan with Mary Mayeda, Forest Program Manager, Mendocino County RCD
Q: Are there costs for developing a management plan?
A: Yes, though this depends on how detailed a plan you want and need. A landowner who is not looking for cost-share money, or who simply wants to clearly communicate their desires for their property to others, can get by with a plan they develop using their own time and resources. If a landowner is working with an RPF to develop a plan, they will be paying an hourly rate or an overall fee to the RPF. EQIP and CFIP cost-share funds can be used to reimburse landowners for these plan development costs. Check with the local NRCS or Cal Fire office for the specific costs.
There is much work to be done in California to restore the health of our forests. Whether you are a forest landowner who has had wildfire on your property or not, addressing the effects of wildfire, or preparing for the eventuality of it, is going to take time, planning and resources. Having a forest management plan is a critical piece in this work. Don't wait.
For more information on Forest Stewardship, please see Forest Stewardship Series 2 A Forest Stewardship Framework, UC ANR Publication 8232.