Here are some interesting numbers: of the 747 million acres of wooded land in the United States, more than 250 million acres are owned by private individuals and families. Across the country, 11 million families own forests and wooded areas that are vital to our clean air, clean water and wildlife. Of those 11 million families, 4.5 million each own 10 or more acres of woodland.
And yet, only 4 percent of those families and individuals have a management plan in place for their woodlands. According to the American Forest Foundation (AFF), the lack of management plans puts these treasured properties at ever-increasing risk of fires, invasive species, pathogens and other problems.
To help woodland owners better understand and protect their properties, the AFF has launched a new website, MyLandPlan.org, which can assist family forest owners in mapping, protecting and enjoying their woods for years to come.
The free website "helps you discover the possible threats to your land," says Tom Martin, president and CEO of AFF. "If you own a plot of land, it helps you ask the right questions based on your goals for your land and refers you to the right sources."
For example, if a family says they want to preserve the natural beauty of their land for hiking, a customized set of information is presented. If they want to use the land for hunting, birding, fishing, camping or tree harvesting, other resources are presented.
Once these goals are selected, the tool then suggests recommended action steps and offers relevant information to help property owners reach their goals. The site also connects owners to local professionals and organizations that can offer guidance and assistance as needed.
Users can also opt to share some of their information with neighbors who might be dealing with, or have already successfully overcome, some of the same issues. "One of the most trusted advisors to landowners is their neighbors," Martin says. "We wanted to build a tool that would let neighbors talk to each other and share what they're doing and what challenges they are facing."
Martin says most family forest owners do not have a management plan in place because they say they just want to watch nature take its course. But he warns that in a time where trees are at risk from Dutch elm disease, Asian long-horned beetles and "a thousand other pests and pathogens," that might no longer be the best path. "If you're not clear about those things that you love about your land and think strategically about how to keep them sustainably, you can lose them," he warns.
A management plan doesn't have to be a major effort, Martin says. "The site allows you to set up an intentional monitoring program and tells you how to strategically walk your land." MyLandPlan offers tools to let landowners track the presence of diseases, destructive insects and other factors and see if things are getting better or worse over time.
The new site fits into the broader mission of the forest foundation, which also performs on-the-ground conservation work, education and other sustainable forestry initiatives. "Our job is to give woodland owners better tools to take better care of their land," Martin says.