supports and encourages private forest landowners' efforts to manage, enjoy, and care for their land using a long-term approach
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Forest Stewardship Program
Recognizing the public benefits of good stewardship on private forest land, the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship Program (MFSP) supports and encourages private forest landowners' efforts to manage, enjoy, and care for their land using a long-term goal oriented approach.
If you are a woodland owner and would like to know more about how to manage your woodland, the DCR’s Forest Stewardship Program can help you. This educational non-regulatory program is designed to help landowners protect the ecosystem values of their forest.
The Forest Stewardship Program is supported by the Working Forest Initiative.
Table of Contents
Why create a Forest Stewardship Plan?
If you see your woods for more than just the trees
A Forest Stewardship Plan documents your options for management practices that will lead to a productive and healthy forest for the next generation. Soil and water quality, climate impacts, wildlife and fish habitat, timber and other wood products, and outdoor recreation are among the many factors taken into account when developing the Forest Stewardship Plan. The plan recommends actions that will protect or increase the environmental values of your forest while providing social or economic benefits - benefits that will extend far beyond the borders of your property!
If you are also interested in reducing taxes on your forested property
The Forest Stewardship Program may be able to assist you in qualifying for Chapter 61 by helping you develop an approved forest management plan that describes your property resources, maps the area, and makes recommendations on long term forest management will be required to participate.
Municipal governments are also encouraged to develop Stewardship Plans for their Town Forests or Conservation Commission woodlands, and may be eligible for cost-sharing and a Community Forest Stewardship Grant Program. Your community's open space and town forests are important to providing residents connections to the environment and building a strong sense of community. These "forest" connections and sense of community can be enhanced with a better understanding of the valuable resources in your community forest. The Forest Stewardship Program can provide the help needed under a changing climate.
Towns and Municipalities approach Forest Stewardship in many different ways. Please connect with the Forest Stewardship Program to learn about how this Program can help your community.
To discuss your property, call Michael Downey, Program Coordinator, DCR at 413-212-3039
In developing your Forest Stewardship Plan, one size does not fit all. These steps are to help guide and inform you on your path. Many of the first steps can happen in parallel--so don't feel that you need to complete one step before moving on to the next. For example, some landowners begin by meeting with their Service Forester, while others find it helpful to speak with a friend or neighbor who has experienced the program.
An overview of the process:
- Decide if the program is right for you
- Consider your goals for your land
- Meet with your state Service Forester to answer questions and clarify your goals
- Hire a private Consulting Forester to create your plan with you
- Consider your eligibility for financial aid and submit a Cost Share Application
- You or your consulting forester submit your plan
- Once your plan is approved, you can begin to implement your plan
Remember, if you’d prefer to work with someone directly, we are here to help. To discuss your property, call Michael Downey, Program Coordinator, DCR at 413-212-3039
Prepare by considering your goals
With the help of your local Service Forester and a Private Consulting Forester, you will develop a 10-year Forest Stewardship Plan, based on your goals for your property. Here are some suggestions to help you think about your goals prior to meeting with your Service Forester:
Read our Setting Goals booklet
A great place to start is by reading our newest publication, Caring for your Woods - Setting Goals. This booklet helps you identify high-priority goals, provides questions to ask a forester, and explains the landowner goals sheet found in Forest Stewardship Plans.
Consider the importance of birds.
Conducting bird habitat assessments will allow your Forest Stewardship Plan to better serve the birds who call your forest home - even if just seasonally. Read more about the Foresters for the Birds program in preparation for a discussion with your Service Forester.
Consider your forest in a changing climate.
Foresters can work with you to develop management recommendations that will help your forest adapt to change as well as ways you can manage your forest to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. Read more about Climate Forestry to prepare you for a discussion with your Service Forester.
Remember that you can reach out to your Service Forester at any point in this process. You can find their contact information on the Service Forester District Map.
If you need additional help, feel free to call Michael Downey, Program Coordinator, DCR at 413-212-3039.
Connect with your Service Forester
We suggest you connect with your state Service Forester early in the process to:
- Discuss the benefits of the program
- Consider your goals
- Assess your eligibility for the program
- Discuss cost-share options available to you
- Provide advice on finding a consulting forester
If you’re ever unsure how to proceed, call Michael Downey, Program Coordinator, DCR at 413-212-3039
Creating Your Plan
When you’re ready to proceed, the next step is to hire a private consulting forester to create your Forest Stewardship Plan.
- Hire a Private Consulting Forester (see the Forester Directory for contact information)
- Communicate your objectives and goals
- Inventory and evaluate resources
- Formulate a ten-year schedule of actions or deliberate inaction
- Review and submit your plan
How to find a private consulting forester
Many people are referred to a consulting forester by word of mouth, but you can also find a list of private consulting foresters in the MA Private Licensed Foresters or by searching by town using MassWoods’ Find a Professional tool.
For plans meant to improve forest bird habitat, consult this list of MA Private Licensed Foresters.
For plans that can help your forest adapt to climate change or contribute to the mitigation of climate change, read more about Climate Forestry.
Connecting and coordinating with a private consulting forester is best to occur as soon as possible! This will help to set realistic timing targets for your project. For example, if one of your goals is to utilize the DCR Cost-Share Program and/or classifying your land under Chapter 61 (current use) then these programs have specific deadlines.
Communicate your objectives and goals to your consulting forester
Your Forest Stewardship Plan should be based on your unique goals for your woodland. This is the key to the plan being meaningful and helpful to you. You should be actively engaged in communicating these goals to your consulting forester. The Forest Stewardship Plan will discuss how the current forest conditions on your property help to meet your goals and identify management actions to create the desired future conditions to meet these goals into the future.
Your consulting forester will inventory and evaluate resources
After meeting with your forester to discuss your goals for your property, she/he will spend time conducting an inventory of your land. This will include gathering data on
- The various types of forest on your property (forest stands)
- Your parcels and boundaries (to create accurate maps)
- Understory vegetation, any invasive species present, soils, and wildlife habitat
- Conditions to meet your specific goals such as bird habitat, climate resilience, and existing infrastructure
- Any special cultural, historical, or features related to meeting your goals
What’s included in your plan
Your forester will use the data they collected to write your Forest Stewardship Plan and create a ten-year schedule of recommended actions. Your plan will contain a property overview section that places your land in context with the surrounding landscape. The overview will discuss the history of your forest and present issues and conditions that apply to the overall property.
The next section of your plan is the stand descriptions. In this section your property will be broken out into the various forest types (forest stand) that you have present. This is based on types of trees present, their ages and size, their- density and other factors like understory, soil, or history. This section allows you to learn about your property in more detail and how the current conditions may or may not be meeting your goals. This section will create a vision of the future desired condition of each forest stand based on your goals.
The final written section of your plan includes the management recommendations. These outline actions that you can take to create the desired future conditions and better meet your goals. If particular areas are already on track to meeting your goals, the best management action may be to do nothing. Your plan will point out these deliberate decisions to leave things alone, as well as more active management recommendations. Your plan will also contain a set of maps to show your property in the broader landscape as well as at least one detailed map that shows the forest stands and major features identified in the text.
Reviewing and submitting your plan
You should closely review your plan to make sure it is accurate, it reflects your goals, and that you understand any management recommendation and why they are being made. This is your plan and you want to be familiar and comfortable with it if you are going to be able to make its vision a reality.
When your plan is complete, you or your consulting forester will submit it to your regional DCR office. Consult the map or call Michael Downey, Program Coordinator, DCR at 413-212-3039 or email@example.com.
Applying for cost-share
The Forest Stewardship Program currently has funds available to private woodland owners and municipalities for preparing new stewardship plans and upgrading existing plans. Please see the application link at the bottom of this page for details.
Who is eligible?
Private landowners, joint landowners, groups and associations, non-profits, long term lease holders, and corporations without publicly traded stock are all eligible. Municipal governments are also encouraged to develop Stewardship Plans for their Town Forests or Conservation Commission woodlands, and may be eligible for cost-sharing.
Participating landowners may own a maximum of 1,000 acres, (or up to 5,000 acres with a special waiver).
Owners principally engaged in the primary processing of raw wood products are not eligible.
There is no minimum acreage, however, properties of less than 10 acres are not eligible for Forest Stewardship Plan preparation cost-sharing.
Municipalities are encouraged to contact the Stewardship Program office for information about criteria for town land eligibility: Michael Downey, Program Coordinator, DCR at 413-212-3039
How and when will I be notified?
We will typically be in touch by email to confirm we received your application. We will then respond with notice of your approval by mail within 3 weeks after an application has been submitted, depending on any issues with delivery.
What happens after I’ve been approved?
- Work with a private consulting forester to create a Stewardship Plan for your woods.
- Once completed, submit your plan, private consulting forester invoice, and Cost-Share Reimbursement Form to MA DCR Service Forestry staff (link/info).
- Once approved by your Service Forester, your plan will be mailed back to you.
- Your cost-share reimbursement payment will be mailed.
- You will receive an IRS Form 1099 for “Miscellaneous Income”. Consult with your tax preparer if you have questions.
Typically reimbursements are made within 45 days, pending volume of processing. A W-9 form for private landowners must be received prior to reimbursement.
Implementing Your Plan
Congratulations, you have created a plan that organizes your personal objectives into a strategy for your woods. The recommendations in your plan are not requirements under the Forest Stewardship Program. If your plan is also being used for the Chapter 61 or Chapter 61A tax relief programs, your plan will contain requirements to enter into and stay in these programs. If you spent time thinking about, articulating, and communicating your goals for your property, you should be excited and committed to making its vision a reality.
Implementing your forest stewardship plan may include:
- Scheduling management activities
- Becoming informed about Best Management Practices
- Contracting with land professionals
- Implementing actions timed appropriately with weather and market conditions
- Consider additional benefits and impacts of actions - climate, recreation, carbon, health, soils, etc.
- Stabilize sites of activity when complete
- Assess outcomes of activities
- Planning for the next 10 year period.
Your private Consulting Forester, your State Service Forester and many other resource professionals are available at any point along your journey to assist you with information, advice, and updates on possible programs to help you implement the recommendations that are in your plan.
Some additional media that landowners may find helpful:
- “About My Woods” Series of videos from the Northeast State Foresters Association
- Wilbraham tree thinning part of long term forest management, Recap of the goals and process for a municipal project in Wilbraham, MA
- Hazel Holman | forest land owner | Lanesborough, Massachusetts, A private landowner’s bird habitat assessment, produced by NRCS.
- A Symphony of Songbirds at Red Apple Farm | Phillipston, Mass. | early successional habitat A farm landowner’s story of bird habitat on their property, produced by NRCS.
Is there a program to help declining species of songbirds?
Yes—Foresters for the Birds Program.
Can the Forest Stewardship Plan be used to classify my land in current use (Chapter 61, 61A, 61B)?
Is there a minimum number of acres to receive financial assistance (cost-share)?
As a landowner can I write my own Forest Stewardship Plan?
No. Only a Massachusetts Licensed Forester can write a Forest Stewardship Plan.
Is a Forest Cutting Plan and Forest Stewardship Plan the same thing?
No. A Forest Cutting Plan (M.G.L. Chapter 132) is required for all commercial timber harvests that occur on land that is to remain forested.
A Forest Stewardship Plan is an educational and non-regulatory plan. A Forest Stewardship Plan is designed to help you better understand all the ecosystem values of your forest. A Forest Stewardship Plan is often used to inform on-the-ground management. However, if the on-the-ground management includes commercial timber harvesting activities then a Forest Cutting Plan (M.G.L. Chapter 132) would need to be prepared for those specific activities.
How long does the Forest Stewardship planning process take?
You and your Consulting Forester determine the timeline. Important considerations regarding your timeline are cost-share deadlines, deadlines specific to current use (Chapter 61, 61A, 61B), family conversations, and other variables.
If I have submitted a cost-share application how long will it take to be approved and how will I and my Consulting Forester be notified?
Your application will be reviewed for eligibility and approved if eligible for financial assistance. This generally takes up to two (2) weeks from when the application is received by the Forest Stewardship Program. You and your Consulting Forester (if identified on your application) will be notified of cost-share approval via mail.
Once the Forest Stewardship Plan is complete and sent to DCR Service Forestry Program—how long will it take to process and then receive my cost-share payment?
Your DCR Service Forester may take up to eight (8) weeks to review your submitted plan. Once your plan is reviewed and your cost-share has been approved by your DCR Service Forester the cost-share payment will be issued approximately two (2) to four (4) weeks later.
How can I avoid cost-share payment delays?
Communicate with your DCR Service Forester to make sure they have received all the documents necessary (e.g., completed & signed Forest Stewardship plan, Consulting Forester invoice, cost-share reimbursement form, Ch. 61/61A/61B certificate).
If you did not complete and IRS Form W-9 (as required for your cost-share application)—then your cost-share payment will not be issued until the Forest Stewardship Program receives a completed IRS Form W-9.