Frank Rohrer works as a natural resource professional in central Pennsylvania. He practices what he preaches by actively managing his 7.5 acres of woods in Clinton County.
Being a natural resource professional and a former forest technician, it was natural that I would want to conserve and improve my forest and habitat. I used my knowledge and experience to formulate a property plan and to set goals.
I wanted to begin with something that would provide some fairly quick visual results, so first I planted trees in the forest openings and along the stream, using tree shelters, to expand my existing stream buffer. I participated in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Stream Stewardship Program (this program is no longer available for individual landowners), which provided tulip poplar, oak, and green ash to me for planting in the buffer.
The next thing I did was establish a few small food plots in forest openings. To do this, I eliminated the ferns that were choking out almost all other vegetation. Then I limed, fertilized, and planted the plots with an annual seed mix of clover, rapeseed, and rye grass. This mixture has attracted a variety of wildlife.
Next, I undertook a forest inventory, including measuring the DBH, quality, and height of the trees, to determine the stand composition and quality. From this, I will formulate a plan to improve the forest and set new goals.
Through conservation, I hope to improve the overall health of my forest, expand the forested riparian buffer, and create wildlife habitat. When my wife and I purchased the property 5 years ago, I immediately wanted to take steps to improve the timber and wildlife habitat. I want to leave the forest in a better condition for the future.
A previous owner of the property had undertaken a timber harvest about seven years before we bought the property. Unfortunately, that past timber harvest resulted in the best quality trees being cut, leaving the poorest quality trees. So, I would like to improve the quality of the remaining trees via a timber stand improvement.
In expanding the forested riparian buffer along our small native trout stream, I hope to further improve the wildlife habitat, as well as provide additional shade, cover, and in-stream food for the trout.
In planting several small food plots in the forest openings I have attracted deer, turkeys, and other animals that benefit from the food source. I hope to maintain these areas in the future.
When I really took a close look at the trees in the forest and measured them, I learned that they were of even less quality than I had originally thought. I was quite disappointed to learn this. With the lack of regeneration and difficulty in planting on rocky, mountain ground, the future for quality trees in the forest is in question.
I have also learned that establishing and maintaining food plots by hand is hard work. Due to the topography of my property, I cannot access the food plot sites with the equipment I currently have. This has meant that everything from clearing to liming to planting needs to be done manually. It is quite time consuming, especially with the difficult soils I have to work with. Still, the amount of wildlife that has used the plots has been rewarding.
I would highly encourage anyone who is thinking about managing their woods to do so and start now. Regardless of how big of a property they own, there will be worthwhile benefits. One of the biggest problems for forest conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is that there are so many small, individual owners of woodlots. Combined, they make up a very large number of acres. As a result of these individual parcels, there are many different management levels being implemented; from doing nothing to following a well prescribed plan. Many forest landowners do not manage their land, and this is not good. If everyone could begin to follow conservation guidelines, it would improve many aspects, from timber quality to wildlife habitat to cleaner water.
Getting started could be as simple as taking a walk through your woods to get a close look at what resources are on your property. Proper management can lead to increased income from your woods over time, as well as a good feeling from knowing that you are being a good steward of the land. A local state forester or other resource professional may be able to help you formulate a plan, achieve goals, and provide quality advice as well as recommend programs that are available to assist you financially to manage your land.
I would highly recommend to anyone who owns streamside property in Pennsylvania to consider enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). My property did not qualify for CREP because most of it already had enough trees along the stream. However, if it had qualified I surely would have enrolled in this program. The goal of CREP is to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. CREP is one of the best programs available to help you establish trees along your stream. One of the practices that CREP offers is called a Riparian Forested Buffer (CP 22). With CP 22, eligible landowners who own a non-forested stream receive financial assistance to establish native trees and shrubs along the stream. In addition to planting trees, CP 22 can also pay for stream bank fencing, livestock crossings, and watering facilities for farmers. CREP can enroll buffers from 35 feet to 180 feet wide, with buffers of at least 50 feet earning more money for you as the landowner. Establishing trees along your stream has many benefits: reduced bank erosion, increase in wildlife usage of your property (songbirds, waterfowl, and others), improved water quality, pleasing aesthetics via the trees (fall foliage, spring blooms), and improved fish habitat.
Through CREP, there is money available to pay contractors to do the work, and participants receive yearly rental payments (averaging $110/acre) for 10 to 15 years. There is also financial assistance to maintain the buffer area through carefully applied herbicide applications by paid professionals. To top it off, there are two additional bonus payments that landowners receive for completing the practice. Just remember that if your stream is already primarily forested, it likely won't qualify. Also, some areas of the state outside of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed do not qualify. Similar programs may be available in states other than Pennsylvania. Contact your local United States Department of Agriculture or call 1-800-941-CREP for more information.