By Stephen Cole
With financial support from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (NSWOOA) undertook a woodlot site visit project in 2012. In this, the second of a two-part series, we look at some conclusions that can be drawn from the project.
About 72% of all landowners visited during the project were over 50 years of age. The major of the rest were 40 to 50 years old. This brings up some interesting issues related to management.
Good forestry is a long-term venture. If a landowner pre-commercially thins his or her woodlot, the waiting period to merchantability is typically 15 to 20 years. A partial harvest aimed at removing poor-quality growing stock and improving the remainder will take 15 years before another entry is required. Sometimes, it takes two entries to yield measurable results.
Many of the older generation are wise enough to invest in improving their woodlots even though they are unlikely to see the full benefits of their labours. It almost makes more sense for forest improvement to be a young person's job, but very few young people own woodlots. Some work with their parents or grandparents on lots that will someday be theirs, but many do not. Good stewardship, and good public policy, would consider how to attract more young people to own or manage woodlots and learn from the experiences of the older generation.
The vast majority of woodlots we visited were less than 100 acres. This can represent a challenge in today's forest sector. Depending on the circumstance, most contractors want (as a rule of thumb) at least 20 acres (or 1000 cubic meters of wood) to cover the cost and time of moving in (often called floating) a machine. For many landowners, this could be a quarter or a half of the volume on their woodlots, and such heavy cutting may not be acceptable to them.
Good policy would help to increase the level of communication among neighboring woodlot owners, giving them an opportunity to find ways to work together and provide more options to a contractor. This will increase the number of lots that could feasibly be managed.
STATUS OF USE
About a third of the woodlot owners visited during the project are already managing their woodlots for forestry-related objectives. Another third are interested in starting or returning to active management. The remaining third appear to be unlikely to engage in commercial harvesting, largely because their primary reason for owning forested land is recreation or personal consumption of firewood, maple syrup, or other products for home use.
Woodlot owners that we visited who are currently managing their land are not doing so for financial reasons. None of them relied on their woodlots to pay bills, and only some derived any amount of income from them. All had another source of money - a job or pension. Furthermore, none had recently purchased their woodlands. They had either owned them for a long time or inherited them.
The woodlot owners who were interested in returning to active management of their woodlots had several reasons for not doing so already. The most common were low stumpage prices and an inability to do the work themselves. If market conditions stay relatively good, a big issue for this group - as well as for the owners who were interested in beginning active management for the first time - will be finding contractors who can manage the way they want.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The three most common objectives of woodlot owners visited during this project were:
1. Sustainably manage for the future (80%)
2. Periodically harvest timber (70%)
3. Perform silviculture (50%)
These percentages include both engaged and disengaged landowners. They are simply stated goals and are not necessarily being fulfilled. These results reinforce the notion that most landowners want to participate in forestry. Forty percent included improving forest health and/or bio-diversity in their list of goals and objectives. Other goals were recreation only, Christmas trees, and no specific goals at all.
The goals and objectives of many woodlot owners are forestry-related and could potentially lead them to start or continue active management, but landowners will only participate under their own terms.
RESULT OF OUTREACH
The goals of the 2012 project were to reach out to landowners and interact with them to determine the status and needs of their woodlots. Some 50% of participants were already engaging in some management activities, and these individuals were encouraged and supported by informing them of markets, harvest techniques, and silviculture programs. [Note: These landowners received visits because they were having trouble implementing their plans or achieving their goals.]
Another 33% of landowners have become engaged because of the project, and have either sought out further professional guidance (23%) or are still searching for their next contact (10%). The remaining 17% were interested in knowing more about their woodlot, have been informed, and have made the decision not to participate in the forest sector at this time.
INTEREST IN ALTERNATIVES TO CLEAR-CUTTING
As mentioned previously, one significant factor that has discouraged many landowners is the sight of clear-cuts on lots near them or around the province. That was made very clear by landowners during the entire project. As a result, 82% of them expressed interests in alternatives to clear-cutting. This can mean a shelter-wood harvest, group retention, commercial thinning, or selection harvest.
In some cases where disease or wind have damaged a stand, or where the entire lot is in poor condition, some landowners are more willing to consider a salvage operation, which could include a clear-cut. Other landowners indicated that - even in this situation - they preferred to let it fall down on its own.
Since many landowners see clear-cutting as a barrier to practicing the kind of forestry they want to see on their own land, good policy would increase support for programs that move harvesting away from clear-cutting.
INTEREST IN ACCESSING SILVICULTURE FUNDING
Of all the landowners visited, 82% of them were interested in accessing silviculture funding after the site visit. The most popular programs were: fill planting, pre-commercial thinning, commercial thinning, and all three Category 7 treatments. Landowners and contractors recognize that silviculture is a worthwhile investment and a way to improve the quality of the future forest. Most of the current programs are well received by woodlot owners, although there are many who have been unable to access them due to insufficient funds in some years.
INTEREST IN MANAGEMENT PLANS
Sixty-four percent of landowners expressed interest in having, maintaining, or updating a management plan. Approximately 23% of the landowners already had management plans. That means only 13% had no interest in a management plan whatsoever. This indicates that landowners recognize plans can be a significant, contributing document to the successful management of their property. Several of the landowners expressed interest in participating in some of the government-funded management plans and were given the appropriate contacts to do so.
The results of this project indicate that there are some common issues arising from the management of private woodlots in Nova Scotia. All landowners see their land as a valuable asset, regardless of its timber value. They recognize that forestry is about more than harvesting timber, and that things like management plans and silviculture are valuable tools.
Although approximately 50% of landowners were already engaged, this does not mean they are necessarily harvesting timber. Most landowners feel compelled to "look after" or "take care of" their woodlots. In a lot of cases, this means harvesting the poor quality trees in a manner that preserves the integrity of the woodlot and leaves the best timber on the stump to satisfy other values. The development of new industries where less-than-studwood-grade products are consumed at a true cost price of production would allow woodlot owners a chance to invest, manage, and consequently harvest their woodlots profitably and contribute to the forest sector.
The major barriers to having an engaged and active private sector were:
* There are no programs, tax incentives, etc., that encourage the purchase and responsible management of woodlots by a new generation of owners.
* There is a lack of small contractors. Most landowners do not want large machinery on their properties, and would not allow clear-cutting except in extreme cases.
* There are limited markets for less-than-studwood-grade products; most landowners want to leave healthy trees on the woodlot for future sale or to satisfy other values (aesthetics, bio-diversity, carbon sequestration).
* There are no permanent, stable funding mechanisms for silviculture, forest management, or woodlot owner support. Many current programs fluctuate year-to-year, making it difficult for owners to plan and use such program effectively.
Thank you for taking the time to read this report! If you have any questions or comments, you can reach me directly at 902-309-1062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.