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Engaging Natural Resources Professionals

Posted: April 17, 2014

Forest landowners need to know there are lots of resources out there for help – from people who can give advice, write up plans, to doing the work for you.

“What should I do? And who can help me?” These are often the first questions I get from forest landowners reaching out for help in caring for their forest land. Some of these questions come from landowners who are new to owning forestland. Some of these questions come from people who have been landowners for a long time, but only recently had an event or heard something that triggered the thought, “maybe there is something I could be doing…”

Forest landowners need to know there are lots of resources out there for help – from people who can give advice, write up plans, to doing the work for you. As a forest landowner, the first step in the process is something only you can do. You have to reflect upon your land, your relationship to your land, and what’s most important to you about your land. Going into conversation with folks who can help, having a strong understanding of what you value, what you will not give up, and what you hope to happen, incredibly helps those there to help you.

Painting the profession with a broad brush, and as a natural resources professional myself, oftentimes our first interaction with a landowner can be a bit cerebral. Our first question is usually (and what we’re taught in school), “What are your objectives for your property?” That’s all well and good for some landowners. It fits their reasons for owning forestland. But, many landowners struggle to put their relationship to the land, their reasons for owning, and their hopes for the future into objectives. In the 2010 Pennsylvania Private Forestlands Study, we asked landowners their top reason for owning forestland. Number one and number two in the results were “solitude” and “enjoyment of owning,” followed by “hunting,” “wildlife,” “an estate to pass on,” “other recreation,” and “land investment.” Some of those reasons lend themselves very well to concrete objectives and actions for caring for the woods. For the others, it’s a little more difficult.

So the first thing is a landowner’s job. Reflect well on your land. Draw a map and note those places that stand out to you, be they the place your granddaughter shot her first deer, the place where you watch the trillium bloom in the early spring, the place where you see the forest declining and you’d like to know what to do to help. The exercise of noting what stands out to you ensures that those places are given full consideration when you engage a natural resources professional. Write down what you love about your land; write down what you’re concerned about on your land; write down what you hope for the future of your land. This foundation will serve you well as you care for the land and reach out to others for help.

So who is out there to help you? There are myriad natural resources professionals available for help. Each Pennsylvania county has a Service Forester, employed by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry, whose job it is to help private landowners by giving advice, answering questions, and helping landowners find resources for help. Service foresters have listings of consulting foresters (those available to hire to write plans and/or do work on your land – from timber harvest to generate income and help the woods better meet your goals to designing roads that allow better recreational access to managing invasive species) who work in your area. These listings note who has had stewardship planwriters’ training, who is authorized to write CAP 106 Management Plans (currently one of the only ways to get a cost-shared plan for your land in Pennsylvania), who is a Tree Farm Inspector, a Society of American Foresters Certified Forester, and who is an Association of Consulting Foresters member.

Also available are wildlife biologists. Similar to service foresters, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has six regional wildlife diversity biologists who work primarily on private land, helping landowners get plans written, addressing wildlife habitat concerns, attracting wildlife, and advising on threatened and endangered species. And, then, there are professional wildlife habitat consultants who can do much of the work – creating early successional habitat, designing harvests to create a habitat structure for your desired wildlife species.

There are many other types of natural resources professionals: forest industry advisers, fisheries, botany, and recreation consultants. The type of person you hire should reflect what you hope to accomplish on your land.

What Penn State Extension, the Bureau of Forestry, the Game Commission cannot do is make recommendations on who to hire. So once you’ve reached out to someone who can give you advice, give you lists of professionals who can do the work for you, another responsibility arises for the landowner. You have to seek out others who can advise you on who will do the best job.

Starting from a list of available resource professionals in your area, we often recommend contacting several people and talking with them about what you hope to do. If they’re willing to work with you, ask for references – landowners they’ve done work for who you can contact to get a sense of how it all went. If there is a local woodland owners association in your area, attend a meeting. Get to know the landowners and ask for their advice. These peer networks are one of the best resources for landowners looking to gain education and recommendations on who best to ask for help.

Educate yourself about the system that is the forest – from the trees and wildlife to the soil and herbaceous vegetation. That education will strengthen your relationship to the land, and help you think through questions you may have about what is possible. There are many resources online and in hardcopy. A simple search or a simple question will help you find what you need.

Natural resources professionals got into their profession because of a love of land and natural resources. They want to do well by the land and help others do well by the land. It’s about helping people be good caretakers. But there is also a living to be earned. Landowners will have to expect to pay (except for the public agency advice-givers) to have work done on their land. Sometimes the work is best done in conjunction with a timber harvest that will provide some income and offset the cost of hiring a professional. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, and there may be out of pocket expenses. This is another question for the public agency advice-givers. They are the repositories of information about government cost-sharing for certain practices. As you are planning and activities start to take shape, be sure to ask about financial resources available to help.

So, as a landowner wanting to take good care of your newly acquired woodland or as a long-term landowner responding to a concern or hope, there is help for you. But you are an integral part of determining what work gets done.

  1. Reflect upon your land, what you love, what you hope, what you worry about.
  2. Reach out to the service forester or wildlife diversity biologist to ask for their advice and lists of professionals.
  3. Contact professionals, engage in conversation about what you hope for, and ask for references.
  4. Reach out to other woodland owners who have done things and get their recommendations.
  5. Educate yourself and work to understand the woodland system you love
  6. Hire a professional who you feel comfortable working with and trust.
  7. Work together to be good caretakers of the forest resource.

The goal for us in this field is caring for the resource that we all love. Our aim is to be good stewards of what is there, helping to leave it better for those who come next.

By Allyson Muth, Forest Stewardship Program Associate, Penn State Department of Ecosystem Science and Management

Contact Information

Allyson Brownlee Muth, Ed.D.
  • Forest Stewardship Program Associate
Phone: 814-865-3208