At a time when the nation, and much of the world, is concerned with returning land to its natural state, “land management” might sound like a practice meant only for tree farms or cattle ranches. The reality is quite the opposite: land management is about returning all kinds of land to its natural, productive condition. As humans, our very presence alters the ecosystems in which we live. Land management mitigates that.
“As foresters, we’re really just trying to mimic the ecosystems that we would have and that would grow if we weren’t here,” said Jordan Herrin, a regional forester with Texas A&M Forest Service
. “All we do is mimic natural processes, but on our own timelines.”
So how does that work? Let’s take a step back and start with the basics...
What Is Land Management?
Land management is a conscientious effort to set goals for your property, and then to meet those goals over a set period of time—usually about ten years—utilizing a number of techniques or tools, like forest thinning, pest and disease control, reforestation, implementing streamside management zones
and properly applying fertilizers and pesticides.
The end goal of land management is often the same: to encourage the growth of native species, reduce competition and restore the natural order of the native environment. In hardwood forests, the goal is often to harvest timber for profit – but for the majority of landowners, the focus is to manage land for recreational use, improve wildlife habitat or simply to promote a healthy forest and environment.
A healthy forest boasts endless benefits, from increased carbon sequestration and the purification of ground water for human consumption to enhanced wildlife habitats and improved human health
outcomes—both physical and mental
Ultimately, in addition to all these benefits, land management mitigates many of the major threats to our forests, like hurricanes, wildfires
, insect infestation and disease.
Case Study: Oak Wilt
Photo: Courtesy Texas A&M Forest Service
Major threats will vary by region. In the South, that threat could be a hurricane or the southern pine beetle, but in the Midwest and Southwest, it’s more likely to be drought or oak wilt.
Jonathan Motsinger, the head of Central Texas Operations for Texas A&M Forest Service lists oak wilt as one of the most significant issues facing central Texas landowners today.
“The majority of hardwood trees out here are oak trees,” said Motsinger, who is based out of Austin. “If this disease gets in and starts to move through a piece of property unchecked, it can take out all of the oak trees. Then you don’t have anything left.”
Sadly, this is a common entry point for landowners to become involved in land management. And while there are ways to mitigate the spread of oak wilt—such as “trenching,” a process that helps prevent the spread of oak wilt through the interconnected roots of live oak trees by severing root connections—the best approach is always to be proactive.
“We’ve seen these diseases on a national scale repeated over and over again,” said Motsinger. “Chestnut blight came in and wiped out all of the native North American chestnut trees. Then we had Dutch elm disease that wiped out a lot of the elms, especially in urban areas, and now we have oak wilt and the emerald ash borer – an insect that has wreaked havoc on the northern and eastern United States.”
Photo: Courtesy Texas A&M Forest Service
That’s why one of the many land management methods Motsinger encourages landowners to implement is increasing the diversity of tree species on their property through tree planting. Having a broad diversity of trees can help minimize the devastation he’s witnessed firsthand from oak wilt and other disasters.
Most landowners could handle losing 10% of their trees, but if you don’t have a variety of species on your property, that 10% could easily become 75%, or even 100%. And the toll of losing most or all of your trees – physically, emotionally, and financially – is devastating.
The good news is, landowners are not on their own. Enter land management plans.
Land Management Plans
A land management plan is putting the goals and intentions you have for your land onto the page. Motsinger and Herrin help identify the resources available to the individual landowner, and then they outline practical steps that landowners can take to achieve those goals based on their budget, free time, and the availability of cost-share programs.
Land management plans aren’t binding in any way, though you can sometimes get tax breaks for having one. Either way, professional foresters and service providers are here to help write them.
“Landowners are 90% of that management plan,” said Herrin. “They’re going to put in the effort, but we’re going to develop that relationship with them and their property so that we can understand how to best serve them and reach their goals.”
Creating a Plan for Your Property
Beyond property visits and drafting up land management plans, professional foresters and service providers can also connect you with cost-share opportunities, along with information about available state and federal grants.
Texas A&M Forest Service, for instance, has a number of opportunities for landowners interested in restoring longleaf pine, planting windbreaks, performing prescribed burns, and more. They also have an online application called My Land Management Connector
that can connect Texas landowners with service providers and professionals, based on their needs and where they live.
For more data on land management, or to hear the stories of landowners who have managed their land with the help of Texas A&M Forest Service, you can visit the Stewardship Dashboard