July 3, 2017|By David Whitehouse

Welcome to the third installment in the Working Forest Fund (WFF) blog series. You’ve already heard from Brian Dangler, our fearless leader, about why the WFF was created to protect some of the remaining large tracts of forested real estate in the United States. Then Buck Vaughan, analyst extraordinaire, explained how we identify and protect individual properties for the WFF

I’m here to tell you about my role with the Working Forest Fund as the Forest Operations Manager. There are many moving parts to make sure the lands are managed well. I manage WFF’s accounting, recreational programs (ATV and snowmobile trails), hunting leases, third party certification, prescribed burning, reforestation and of course timber harvesting.

In order to accomplish this across 250,000 acres in 16 states, I work with a great WFF staff here in our North Carolina office and a suite of exceptional consultants across the country who help us manage our properties while we hold them… and I do tend to travel a bit, as you might expect. Everything comes down to having the right people on the ground locally to help get things done. It’s also critical for staff and consultants to understand the local timber markets across a very diverse geographical area. 

7 3 Reed Forest Maine c Jerry Monkman20160920 2 5The working forest of Reed Plantation in Reed, Maine. Photo by Jerry Monkman.

Our staff members Buck Vaughan and Kevin Harnish analyze the status of newly acquired forests. We often know ages, locations and volumes of timber in each new forest from the prior owners database passed along to us. Buck and Kevin then analyze what stands are “ready” for harvest, based on age and size. This information is then passed along to the consultants in the field to use as a guide to where to cut next. In many cases, however, a stand may be ready for harvest from a financial or silvicultural (tree growing) standpoint, but the local market just won’t pay enough to make it worthwhile. 

Much of our harvest is made up of a category we call pulpwood—trees generally used for paper pulp that are not big enough, or will not grow into, the larger, higher-valued sawlog category. In many instances, we have to remove the pulpwood to allow the to remaining trees to continue to grow into sawlogs. Pulpwood prices paid by mills across the country have ranged from $3 to $25 per ton, depending on local market competition, mill demand, and trends in the overall U.S. economy. Sometimes we just have to wait for prices to rebound, and sometimes the prices are so good we may cut a stand earlier than originally planned. 

In order to know what to do and when to do it, our WFF team relies on the detailed management plan we create shortly after acquisition. First, all stand data is incorporated from our system, giving us a guide for future activities. Second, our management plans include everything we need to pass certification audits, including maps, data on ownership, soils, ecosystems, Threatened and Endangered species and sensitive habitats. Third, our plans include limitations on how much wood we can cut sustainably on an individual tract so that we do not exceed wood growth. And finally, the plans are created to be flexible, allowing for modifications based on wet soil conditions, catastrophic weather events, changing markets, etc. 

All properties held by WFF for more than one year are third party certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). SFI certification is based on principles that promote sustainable forest management, including measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and species at risk through their Forests with Exceptional Conservation Value. 

 “The Working Forest Fund provides critical bridge funding to facilitate conservation transactions, and ensure that working forest landscapes remain productive, both for timber and for conservation. By certifying these forests to the SFI Forest Management standards, The Conservation Fund assures that the highest standards of sustainability are met, protecting watershed, biodiversity and forest health values alike. While the Working Forest Fund buys time, certification to SFI buys certainty; the values expressed by our two organizations go hand-in-hand toward meeting the objectives of sustainability and long-term conservation in working landscapes.” - Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer at SFI

We also have several properties dual certified to SFI and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification standards. Both certification systems require a very close watch on water quality that can be affected by land management practices, in addition to protections for Threatened and Endangered Species and attention to the rights of indigenous people. For example, at our newly acquired property Skinner Mountain in Tennessee we are aware of the presence of at least three endangered bat species that hibernate or roost on the property. Ralph Knoll, the Fund’s Tennessee State Director and I recently met with our local forestry consultant as well as our partners from the state wildlife and forestry agencies and USFWS to discuss plans for timber harvest that will not cause harm to bats in the area. We are now working on a bat-friendly harvest plan that will provide income for us to put back into conservation projects and allow the state of Tennessee to purchase the land at a lowered price due to timber value removal. A big win-win situation! 

7 3 Stinging Nettle Cave at SkinnerStinging Nettle Cave at Skinner Mountain in Tennessee. Photo by David Whitehouse.

Each of our acquired properties is vastly different from the next, due in part to geographic location, current condition of the forested stands on the tract, or the management desires of the party that is going to end up with the land when we sell it to them. This last item is critical in deciding how to manage, and we have had some wonderful opportunities to help with the restoration of various habitat types and wildlife species that buyers are anxious to reestablish. For example, we are working closely with the state of West Virginia to create good elk habitat (open grasslands, early successional habitat, younger age forests) to benefit the elk herd we helped to reestablish there. Additionally, in Georgia’s Sansavilla forest our management will provide benefits to gopher tortoises through restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem on thousands of acres. We are also working to restore golden-winged warbler habitat in Pennsylvania through the state’s Hunter Access Program for Private Landowners program. 

7 3 Burrow 2A gopher tortoise burrow among longleaf pines in Georgia. Photo by David Whitehouse.

The diversity of the work we do in the WFF, across so many states and forest types, is a challenge and an honor. More land please!!

Make sure to check back in August when Kevin Harnish will be back to talk about the economic benefits of WFF forests.

Read more from Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer at SFI, by checking out his blog post Sustainable Forestry Initiative Annual Conference Goes Zero to Help Future Forests Grow Big.