One of our nation’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, has long been attributed with the well-known phrase, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” While this approach offers no guarantee of success, these words of wisdom remain true more often than not as goals become more attainable through the action of planning. Just as a military unit establishes a battle plan before engaging in combat, or how a boxer plans his first several series of steps and jabs before entering the ring to face his counterpart, having an understanding a plan not only increases the chance for success, but executing that plan becomes almost instinctive.
Assisting private landowners with managing their almost 14 million acres of forestland across the state is one of the many services offered by the N.C. Forest Service. Foresters and rangers meet with private landowners to discuss management goals, examine woodlands, and assess land resources to provide woodland owners with a written management plan to help achieve recommended forestry practices and meet their forest management objectives. Landowners receive personalized forest management advice for a wide variety of benefits including timber, soil and water quality, wildlife, aesthetic beauty and recreational uses.
“We work for the private landowners,” said Richmond County Ranger Brandon Van Buren. “Forestry is our bread and butter here. The 200,000 acres of forestland in Richmond County are privately owned. Whether folks have a question about tree defoliation from a potential invasive species or how to get started with a management plan, they’ll call us, and we’ll do everything we can to help them.”
Typically prepared by a forester or a resource professional, a written forest management plan (also known as a woodland plan) serves as a roadmap for woodland owners, and it’s customized for their unique property layout and interests. Woodland plans also provide an understanding of how to protect forestland and its resources along with other key benefits such as significant property tax savings, cost share program eligibility and an easier segway for passing woodlands onto future generations.
“We’ll meet with woodland owners to ask them key questions so we can help develop a management plan for them to read over, and have a better understanding of recommended forestry practices and how to go about achieving their objectives,” added Van Buren.
Jeff Meacham, along with his father Butch and brother Greg, own a little more than 3,000 acres in Richmond County dating back to 1962. Having purchased a new tract of land as recently as 2019, Meacham says they look to the N.C. Forest Service for assistance with woodland management plans and beyond.
“We rely heavily on the forest service to write our plans,” said Meacham. “They’ve also been very instrumental in helping us obtain financial assistance through cost share programs as well as prescribed burns.”
The Meacham’s present a unique situation because they not only own the land, but they also plant and harvest their own timber while managing their woodlands through each phase of the process.
“We’ve tweaked our plans over the years as time and circumstances have changed, and the forest service has been there every step of the way,” he said.
Meacham affirmed that what the N.C. Forest Service does for his family goes beyond just writing their management plans. The N.C. Forest Service also installs firelines throughout their property and conducts the prescribed burning operations as outlined in their forest management plan.
“The thing I value the most about the forest service is if I have an issue with something, I can call any one of them and they’re willing to come out and help us,” Meacham stated. “I can pick up the phone and call any five people at any given time at the county or district and I know them all.”
The Meacham’s are third generation woodland owners with hopes their children will continue along the path of managing their family’s woodlands.
“We’re committed and we’re committed to doing it right,” Meacham continued. “We’re serious about keeping our land in trees and continuing to plant and grow them.”
Just across the county line in Anson County, John McCormick has been planting trees for decades. As a fifth-generation landowner, McCormick’s grandparents originally purchased land in 1850. Over the years, McCormick has gradually purchased the surrounding land tracts with the goal of restoring them to healthy woodlands.
“The people of the North Carolina Forest Service have been giving me their recommendations for many years and what you see today is the result,” McCormick said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with the likes of Milton Pegram, Robbie Perry, Jay Strider and now Gary.”
N.C. Forest Service Anson County Ranger Gary McClendon said his staff is writing more than 120 forest management plans a year for private landowners. McClendon also stated that 4,000 acres of woodlands are reestablished each year in the county through tree planting, and it’s because of the efforts of people like John McCormick.
“There’s a lot of land in Anson County that’s in forestry use,” said McClendon. “That forest management plan provides landowners with an outline to follow and it’s going to guide them through the recommended steps as if it were a big cookbook.”
Woodland owners like McCormick are paving the way for generations to follow, not only for his immediate family, but for the future generations in Anson County and across North Carolina.
“John has been here so long and been at this for so many years, that he has become an advocate for what we’re doing together and achieving together,” added McClendon. “He was tied in with several county rangers before I got here, and he’s become a local source of information for other landowners who may find themselves in a similar situation that he was once in.”
Woodland owners who receive professional forestry assistance are more likely to have commercially harvestable timber, planted trees, improved wildlife habitat, and reduced wildfire risk. McCormick said the knowledge and guidance he’s received over the years is what he values most about the N.C. Forest Service.
“I have a lot of questions, and I ask a lot of questions,” said McCormick. “And I get good answers. I have found that when I ask the experts, I get good answers.”
Pine trees in their grass stage that were planted on the McCormick property in January 2023.
McCormick also said that he has no intentions of “completing” his management objectives and that despite being in his golden years, he’ll find something to do to keep plugging along for as long as he can.
“I’m an old man, but I’m still planting pine trees,” McCormick said with a chuckle. “I know you’ve heard the old saying, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they may never sit.’ I just planted some this past January. I might live long enough to sit down under one of them, we’ll see.”
He continued, “To me, they are so pretty when they’re in the grass stage. I’m looking forward to that.”
Private landowners have several sources to turn to for assistance in developing woodland plans, including private consulting foresters and natural resource professionals in both public and private sectors. Whether you choose the N.C. Forest Service or another forestry professional to prepare your woodland plan, our foresters and rangers stand ready to assist you.
“Having an entity that you can turn to, that’s there to help you when you need it, that’s worth a lot,” said Meacham.
For more information on how to manage your forest and the importance of a forest management plan, visit http://ncforestservice.gov/Managing_your_forest/managing_your_forest.htm. To learn how to begin the process of obtaining a written forest management plan, contact your NCFS county ranger’s office. Contact information is available at http://www.ncforestservice.gov/contacts.
Originally published June 12, 2023 at the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services blog, In The Field.