It can be challenging to sustainably manage family-owned forests. That’s why the Alliance is here to help. Woodland Stewardship Networks are designed to connect and provide resources to neighboring, forest landowners who work together towards sustainably managing their forests.
Non-commercial treatments like controlling invasive species or thinning competition can be investments in future forest health that don’t pay off for decades. On their own, small-to-medium properties may not hold enough potential for a contractor to conduct intermediate or commercial management. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where a vast majority of forests are privately owned, these barriers pose a risk to the future of our region’s ecosystems. A general lack of sustainable management leads to a forested landscape that is less diverse, less healthy, and less useful to wildlife and humans alike.
To counter these issues, we have developed a new approach: Woodland Stewardship Networks, where landowners simultaneously work towards their own management goals to improve the success of their fellow network members. The approach doesn’t involve pooling resources, sharing profits, or necessarily working across property lines, but by simply pushing toward sustainable forest management at the same time, neighboring landowners increase their ability to attract forestry contractors at reasonable rates and increase the health of the wooded landscape. The current status quo is a relatively homogenously-aged forest that is hardly managed, but a group of neighbors working towards their management goals will result in a mosaic of diverse stand ages. This increases the health of the landscape and provides habitat for wildlife species that require young forests, like golden-winged warblers, American woodcock, and ruffed grouse, or mature forests with vigorous understory growth, like cerulean warblers.
The Jacksons pose among regenerating trees in a clearcut that was prescribed to create both Golden-winged Warbler habitat and a new generation of trees. The Jacksons are “Keystone Landowners” in a Woodland Stewardship Network, meaning they help to recruit neighbors and help mentor those to whom forest management is a new adventure (Photo by: Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson/Chesapeake Bay Program).
All members of a stewardship network receive a free forest management plan that is compatible with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), so they can immediately apply for forestry cost-share through the USDA program. This helps speed up the forestry process; EQIP can cost-share the writing of management plans, but the process can result in an extra year or longer that a landowner must wait before conducting management, and plan writing and management activities don’t always get funded the first time a landowner applies. Once the forest management plan is written, landowners are assisted in applying for EQIP funding for management implementation and also receive a voucher that reimburses them for costs of implementing activities recommended in the plan. The voucher is based on the amount of acres that a landowner contributes and the total amount of acres in the network, to incentivize more neighbors to join. It typically doesn’t add up to a huge amount, but allows landowners to continue to manage past what EQIP will fund, like purchasing a backpack sprayer and herbicide to keep up with infestations of invasive species.
The Woodland Stewardship Network Project began as a pilot in Pennsylvania in 2017, and has grown to include Networks in Maryland and Virginia. We are not only helping stewardship-minded landowners to get more done in their woods, but are bringing their neighbors, who have no forest management plans and conduct little to no management, into the fold. Woodland Stewardship Networks are proving to be an effective, efficient way to increase management of privately owned forest lands, which will eventually result in a healthier forest landscape that is more resilient, enjoyable, and valuable for all.
As of December 2020, we have created 10 Woodland Stewardship Networks, which include 53 landowners and cover 5485 acres of forest in total.