You're home for the holidays and have a little bit of time to finally walk and explore your property: to see how things are growing, what's been done and what needs to be done. And I'm sure you're asking yourself... what can I do to my land to make it better... make it more productive... increase revenue opportunities...increase wildlife habitat...
Here are 5 things you can do this holiday break to increase land productivity.
1. Evaluate your management plan.
Is it up to date? When's the last time you looked at it? Does it include your entire property and your current objectives? So often folks get their management plan created and then stick it on the bookcase, forgetting it is one of the most valuable resources they have to managing their land. Not only is it a plan of execution for your property, but also a fantastic starting point to look into financial assistance programs you can apply for! If it's been a while since you've cracked your plan open, check it out... have a local county forester evaluate it to be sure everything is still applicable to what is on site and what your goals are.
2. Look at prescribe burning options.
Prescribe burning reduces understory competition, "resets" wildlife habitat (especially grasses, forbs and herbaceous plants for foraging), and increases timber growth due to reduced competition growth. It will also reduce wildfire impacts (because wildfires are not an "if" but a "when" factor) and increases accessibility across your entire property.
3. Add wildlife food plots.
Adding food plots can be for the hunter OR the wildlife enthusiast. You do not need to clear out an extensive area of established trees to add food plots. You can use natural openings or past thinning rows. You can plant cover crops and/or add crop trees to increase wildlife foraging opportunities. Be sure to have a wildlife species focus when planning and preparing your plots and picking your trees and crops. On average, it's advised to have 2-5% of your land as wildlife openings and/or food plots for wildlife benefits. When in doubt, reach out to your local wildlife biologists for advice and recommendations (usually can be contacted through Department of Natural Resources / Fish & Wildlife agencies).
4. Thinning timber.
This is not only for pine plantations... you can thin hardwood stands too (uplands and bottomlands). This will decrease competition and increase volume for your crop trees (or increase the health of the remaining stand). Thinning increases sunlight to the forest floor, in turn increasing wildlife forage by promoting the growth of grasses, forbs and herbaceous plants that were likely shaded out. Removing sickly and diseased trees will increase the forest health of the entire ecosystem of the stand. You WILL receive income from your thinning sale, which can be used to further benefit the property or for other personal reasons. (Markets should be evaluated before moving forward with a timber sale for a thinning, as well as a qualified consultant forester or professional forester IF a thinning is beneficial at this stage and matches your long term goals.)
5. Check for invasive species.
This includes looking for invasive animals AND plants that may be present on your property. Invasive species can be detrimental to the ecosystem AND for your economic returns by misplacing native species. Letting them continue to thrive (if you're aware of them) will only make their removal harder in the future for you (there will be a future article on this and why and how they affect the land). If any are found, be sure to start elimination efforts. Sometimes financial assistance programs can assist with the eradication of invasives (and some even help eradicate the species for free.)
Bonus: Evaluate your estate plans for your land.
Determine what current estate plans you have established for you, your family, and specifically how the land will be handed down to the next generation (or whatever plans you wish to be done with it whether that is to sell and divide the funds, donate to a non-profit or other organization, etc.) Things can consider IF you've never thought about what will happen to your land after your gone...
- will the land be subdivided among the heirs (if there's more than one)?
- will the land be given to only one heir (if there's more than one)?
- should you create a family trust or other legal structure to keep the land within the family?
- do you prefer to have the land sold and profits divided among family or donate the land to an organization?
- will ownership be passed on after death or is a living will better?
- does the property have clear title? Without this, nothing can effectively be done
Owning land is such a blessing. But like most blessings, there is a responsibility associated with it.