The Forest Management Plan: What Is It and Do You Need One?
A forest management plan (FMP) is a plan used to assist the landowner in managing his/her forest. An FMP can take many shapes and forms, and contain a wide variety of information. The amount and detail of information is only limited by the landowner's desires and willingness to invest.
The normal "nuts and bolts" of a management plan consists of a cover type map showing the various stand types within a property, a description of the different stands, the stand volumes based on a cruise, and recommendations concerning the management of each stand. This basic plan is suitable for some parcels, but in most cases, a forest management plan will contain significantly more information. For example, my basic FMP contains the above information as well as the value of the timber broken down by stand, an estimate of the timber income if a harvest is recommended, a ten year budget outlining the various incomes and costs should the recommendation be implemented, and a description of the soil types.
Other information that will assist the landowner in meeting his/her land management objectives may also be included in an FMP. Information concerning wildlife habitat management recommendations, non-timber income producing opportunities, various tax options and implications, etc. can all be incorporated in the plan. In reality, the term forest management plan is a misnomer. These plans should be called Land Management Plans, because in most cases they include more than just information about the forest.
Ultimately, the FMP allows the landowner to coordinate his/her activities in a way that is most beneficial to him/her. For example, it is not uncommon for a property to contain a stand of immature timber that could be greatly enhanced if some timber stand improvement (TSI) work were done. However, in most cases that TSI work will not generate an income and more than likely will be an expense. Many landowners will want to conduct the TSI work, but will not have the available cash to get it done. If such a landowner had an FMP, he/she could determine if there might be other activities that could occur that would produce an income to cover the costs of the TSI work. If the FMP were done properly, the recommendations would coordinate and schedule these activities to benefit the landowner.
An FMP allows for long-term management and planning flexibility. The FMP will allow the landowner to make long-term financial decisions not just limited to forestry. Schedules offered in the FMP allow landowners to coordinate forestry income and expenses with retirement, education, real estate, or other investment strategies.
Do you need a forest management plan for your property? I don't know, but I do have some general rules of thumb when discussing the need of an FMP with a client. For small tracts of land, less than 50 acres, a forest management plan is often not necessary. The number of management options on this size parcel are often limited, and the small number of stands eases the coordination of activities.
My 50-acre rule of thumb applies to parcels where the landowner is only concerned about the timber on the property. If the landowner has other interests such as wildlife, recreation, etc., then a written forest management plan would probably be necessary.
For parcels greater than 50 acres, I encourage landowners to have a forest management plan written before they consider any other course of action. It is illogical to manage an asset if you don't know what the asset is. I equate the management of a parcel of land without the uses of an FMP to managing a stock portfolio without knowing what type of stocks are in the portfolio. It would be like selling your stocks at random rather than retaining the high return stocks and selling the poorly performing stocks. It is not sound asset management.
On occasion, clients ask me if they need a forest management plan before they harvest timber. My answer is "no, you don't need a forest management plan to harvest timber. However, it would probably be in your best interest to have a plan prior to harvesting timber. If you choose to harvest without a plan, that is your prerogative, but there is a chance that, over the long-term, you would have been financially better off because you had a plan which provided you with information that might have altered the course of action you are choosing without the plan." An FMP is not required for a timber harvest, but, a landowner's interests are best served when informed decisions are made.
I believe strongly enough in the FMP that I have written them for my own land. It has proven to be very helpful. It has allowed me to coordinate my land management actions so that on the date I project that I will need an influx of cash (when the kids go to college), a number of my timber stands will be at their economic maturity. Because of the age difference in the kids and my own retirement planning, I have multiple objectives. The forest management plan has allowed me to coordinate my actions so that I should be able to contribute to each of these objectives. Without the plan, I would have just been shooting in the dark and hoping that things worked out.
Forest Management Plans are a great tool for active land management. They are not necessary for all tracts, and are not a requirement for harvesting timber, but they certainly allow for more effective long-term management. The majority of landowners today have multiple objectives when it comes to their land management. A Forest Management Plan coordinates all of the activities necessary to meet these multiple objectives in a manner that is best for the land and in the best interest of the landowner.
- Tony Lamberton