Monday, July 20, 2009

Program Spec to Help Small Forest Owners

This is the program I'd like to see... what could be your role in helping to make it happen?

Small family forests constitute a large portion of forest lands in Washington state. Most of those forests are overstocked and unmanaged, which creates a fire hazard to the homes and businesses on and near those properties. Logging on small wooded properties is barely economically viable, if at all, and lately is a money-losing operation. Profitable commercial thinning is often misaligned with the land owner's goals.

The resources are there to help families manage their forests, but it's not easy to find and coordinate those resources.

This "program" helps us as owners of small forests (1 to 160 acres) to make our land healthy and fire safe. The program brings together existing resources for owners, straightening and shortening the path to a well-managed forest.

Here's what the program would do, and the resources it would connect us with...
Realtors -- Tell us, as we look at forested parcels to buy, that there is a program available to help us get overgrown properties under control without giving up the beauty we seek. Hand us a flyer on the program, or point us to the web site. Suggest that we ask the bank about the program when we apply for a mortgage or construction loan. Follow up with us about it -- someday you'll be selling the neighboring properties.
Banks -- Make us aware of the program when we borrow to buy bare land or to build on it. Give us the option of adding a land-equity line of credit specifically for forest stewardship, at time of purchase. Find government programs that provide low-interest, interest-free, or guaranteed loans for ecology practices. Create affordable financing products to help us cover the portion of work for which we are not reimbursed by government/grant funding.
Insurance companies -- When you do a site visit and see thick trees, tell us about the program and the premiums we can save by doing it. Give us a break on our premiums when we have a stewardship plan and follow through with it under the program.
Government agencies -- Find assistance we qualify for, through existing grant and copay programs such as FLEP and EQIP. Counties can get our neighbors to join the program as a group, placing contiguous land into the program and reducing overhead for operations. NGOs are another potential source of funds and related programs for conservation.
University/community college forestry extensions -- Offer your students credit for a project in which they help the Forester, thus creating an upcoming pool of Foresters for the program, and reducing the cost to the each of us.
Landowners -- Those who have been through a process similar to the program (and eventually those who have completed the program) need a formal process to become supporters by speaking to neighborhood groups, hosting field trips, and taking calls when prospective participants have questions.
Media -- Inform us about the program and about managing our forests, especially the risk of losing our trees (and our homes) to fire. Consult with us and guide us through the steps of the program.
We need these resources:

Money --to defray the cost of managing at a financial loss. That includes help with tax treatment for grants and copays, as well as timber excise tax help.

Consulting foresters -- Locate a forester who knows our region and can (a) write a forest management/stewardship plan specific to our property; (b) perform sample plots and cruises as needed for timber practices; (c) manage any thinning and harvesting operations, including the permit process and taxes.
Biologists -- Put us in touch with someone who can advise us about attracting wildlife, protecting riparian, preventing tree disease and eliminating noxious weeds.
Logging operators -- Match our property with a logger who knows the program, is equipped to work on small properties, and is prepared to abide by our goals for the land and forest.
Landscapers -- Connect us with people who have crews and equipment to prune trees, pile slash, haul away or burn debris, and remove brush.
Are you with the program? Do you have ideas or useful contacts?

Let's start this program in a county and blueprint it for others to replicate. I'm in Chelan County and I'm ready to meet. Leave a comment.

7/29/09 Chris e-mailed:
"WOW, this is a large and serious undertaking, impressive. It’s the sort of thing that Kirk Hanson, with DNR’s SFLO Office, was on his way to accomplishing before he left. It is definitely needed and the toughest part, from my experience, is the maintenance and up-keep after a few years. The only comment I have is work closely with the small landowner groups such as Farm-Forestry, Cooperative Extension, NW Pine Assoc., and maybe SAF (to name a few). They may be able to help with information, updates and up-keep."

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