NC State Extension Publications

North Carolina's Forest Stewardship Program

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Many forest owners want to leave their land and forest in better condition than when they received it. This publication describes the NC Forest Stewardship Program—a method for planning activities to improve your forest’s health and productivity, and its soil, water, and conservation values.

If you are a landowner with varied resource interests, foresters and agency professionals stand ready to assist you through the NC Forest Stewardship Program. The advice, technical guidance, and plan you receive can improve your quality of life, our natural environment, and the economy.

Public forestland cannot meet all of our demands for timber, clean water, wildlife habitat, productive soil, and recreation. Privately owned forestland, however, can help to meet those demands if the owners have the desire and ability to manage their lands for multiple purposes.

Individuals, families, and noncorporate entities own most of North Carolina’s vast forest resources. Family forest owners control 61 percent of the 17.9 million acres of timberland in the state. Many more owners will need to manage their forest resources in harmony to ensure that the beauty, diversity, and productivity of today's forests transfer fully to the next generation.

The Importance of North Carolina's Forests

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North Carolina is blessed with abundant forestland that makes valuable contributions to our quality of life and the state’s economy.

Forestland is home to wildlife and is a major source of the state's clean drinking water. It provides a place for recreational activities, such as hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping. North Carolina's forests also are widely recognized for their scenic value, which strengthens the travel and tourism industries. Forests add to the beauty and quality of life that North Carolinians have come to expect.

North Carolina's forest resources play a significant part in the furniture and forest products industries, which are important components of the state's economy. More than 144,800 forestry and manufacturing workers depend on forests for their livelihood. Timber and related manufacturing industries contribute approximately $29.4 billion to North Carolina’s economy annually. Recreation, travel, and tourism contribute an additional $24 billion to the state's economy each year. Improving the health of North Carolina's forests and keeping them productive is vital to present and future generations.

The NC Forest Stewardship Program relies on a network of agencies and private partners who assist landowners to improve their forests for multiple-resource benefits. Resource professionals help landowners realize the benefits of good forest stewardship via education, technical assistance, and financial help when available.

What Is Stewardship?

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Forest stewardship is the wise use and conservation of all forest resources, including wildlife, timber, soil, water, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty. Stewardship is a commitment to the land for today and tomorrow. Stewards are proud to leave their land in better condition than when they received it. Forest stewards accomplish the following on their lands:

  • Maintain and improve the health and vigor of the forest and its landscape and watershed
  • Protect soil and water resources
  • Improve or restore productive capacity
  • Conserve forest biological diversity
  • Pursue carbon-friendly management and climate resiliency
  • Consider forest benefits to the greater community
  • Comply with laws, rules, and guidelines

The Forest Stewardship Program

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The NC Forest Stewardship Program is a cooperative effort to help owners manage their forests for the desired benefits. The program is voluntary, and participants receive recognition for their achievements in promoting total forest resource management. Landowners receive technical assistance in developing a stewardship management plan. Each forest stewardship plan is based on the landowner's objectives, and activities are scheduled to enhance the forest for wildlife, soil and water quality, timber production, recreational opportunities, natural beauty, and other benefits.

The forest stewardship plan is action oriented and seeks to develop an activity schedule that is compatible with the owner's resources and ability to conduct the work. Once agency and resource professionals make recommendations, the landowner decides which activities to pursue. The recommendations focus on practical modifications of existing conditions rather than costly investments.

Stewardship practices do not need to be expensive to be beneficial. In fact, many landowners already practice good stewardship in many of their management activities. The following lists summarize some stewardship goals and the management practices that can help to enhance forest resources.

Promote wildlife:

  • Construct brush piles to provide cover
  • Encourage native vegetation, especially species that enhance wildlife
  • Protect endangered species
  • Plant food and cover plots
  • Use prescribed burning, mowing, and selective herbicide applications
  • Erect nesting structures
  • Protect den and mast trees

Conserve or improve soil and water:

  • Seed roads and trails to prevent erosion
  • Construct proper access roads
  • Minimize stream crossings and construct proper structures when required
  • Leave streamside buffers to shade streams and to trap sediments and nutrients
  • Follow or exceed "Best Management Practices"

Improve timber production and diversity:

  • Thin to promote the health and growth of trees
  • Improve the timber stand to maintain high-value trees
  • Plan for regeneration before harvesting
  • Use prescribed burning to reduce wildfire hazard and to control hardwoods and brush
  • Promote biomass as a renewable feedstock or energy source

Enhance recreation and aesthetics:

  • Maintain trails for hiking and horseback riding
  • Maintain the forest for hunting and wildlife viewing
  • Leave buffer strips near roads and other places to improve appearance
  • Favor species with rich fall color and attractive blooms
  • Invite bird-watchers, schoolchildren, and church groups

Program Benefits

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Resource Management Plan. The primary benefit of enrolling in the Forest Stewardship Program is the development of a long-range forest management plan. As a participating landowner, you can have a plan prepared by resource agency personnel who know local conditions. An alternative is to have a private natural resources consultant prepare the plan on behalf of the Forest Stewardship Program. You can receive up to five person-days of service by agency personnel or receive assistance for payment of a stewardship consultant approved by the state Stewardship Committee. You also are entitled to assistance in updating your plan as long as you actively participate in the program.

Recognition. After you have made improvements to your forestland, your property will be certified as a Stewardship Forest. You will receive a personal certificate and a large and attractive Stewardship Forest sign for display on the property. As a certified forest steward, you will become part of the growing number of landowners recognized for their commitment to the conservation of forest resources.

Cost-Share Assistance. Forest landowners may be eligible for many cost-share programs related to forest management, protection, and enhancement, including reforestation and timber stand improvement. You'll also learn about other programs that can enhance wildlife habitat, water, or other resources.

Model for Exceptional Resource Conservation and Use. Posting the Stewardship Forest sign and promoting the Forest Stewardship Program locally will acquaint people with your conservation efforts. The accomplishments of forest stewards can be a model for other landowners to follow. Pride in ownership is contagious. True stewards serve as examples of what landowners can accomplish on private lands. Therefore, the progress made on a Stewardship Forest has positive effects on nearby landowners.

A Lasting Legacy. Implementing your stewardship plan improves the forest for future generations. A true stewardship forest owner goes above and beyond mere guardianship by pursuing personal goals that sustain opportunities for tomorrow’s owners.

Increased Financial Returns. Resource professionals can help you avoid pitfalls by recommending less intensive practices that provide excellent returns without excessive cost. Many landowners can maximize forestland returns with the aid of professional advice. Forest stewards use proven techniques to increase financial returns while improving the land’s future productivity. Most landowners are concerned with the "bottom line." They want to know how much a particular practice will cost and whether the returns will be worthwhile. By planning before harvesting or conducting management activities, you can achieve multiple benefits and financial returns from your forestland.

Landowner Eligibility

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Participation in the Forest Stewardship Program is voluntary. To enter the program, landowners agree to manage their property according to an approved Forest Stewardship Management Plan.

Nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) acreage includes lands owned by any private individual, group, association, corporation, Indian tribe, or other private legal entity, such as corporations managed by tribes native to North Carolina. Further, it includes rural lands with existing tree cover or suitable for growing trees.

Private nonindustrial forest lands that are managed under existing federal, state, or private sector financial and technical assistance programs are eligible for assistance under the Forest Stewardship Program. Forest resource management activities on such forestlands must meet—or be expanded or enhanced to meet—the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Program.

The Forest Stewardship Program is open to any nonindustrial, private landowner with at least 10 acres of forestland. The plan must encompass the entire tract, unless the tract is farmland. On farmland, the recommendations focus on the woodlands, forest edges, and associated clearings.

Landowners also understand that they may be asked to participate in future management outcome monitoring activities.

Requesting Assistance

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The Forest Stewardship Program is administered by these agencies:

  • NC Forest Service
  • NC Wildlife Resources Commission

with technical support and assistance from:

  • NC Cooperative Extension
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture
  • Farm Services Agency, US Department of Agriculture
  • Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • NC Division of Soil and Water Conservation
  • Private consulting foresters and natural resource professionals

To learn how to initiate a forest stewardship plan, contact the local representative of one of the agencies listed above or write to this address: Forest Stewardship Coordinator, NC Forest Service, NCDA-CS, 1616 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1616.

The following 16 natural resource elements are addressed in all Forest Stewardship Management Plans when these elements are present or applicable to a landowner and the management of the property:

  1. Soil and water
  2. Biological diversity (unique native plants, rare plants, or ecological communities)
  3. Silvopasture
  4. Agroforestry (timber and crop systems combined)
  5. Aesthetic quality (scenic quality and visually sensitive areas)
  6. Recreation
  7. Wood and fiber production (timber)
  8. Fish and wildlife (game and nongame species, aquatic species, fisheries)
  9. Threatened and endangered species
  10. Forest health and invasive species (insects, diseases, non-native plants, and disturbances)
  11. Conservation-based estate or legacy planning information
  12. Archeological, cultural, and historic sites
  13. Wetlands
  14. Fire (fuel conditions and wildfire risk, prescribed burning)
  15. Carbon sequestration and climate resilience
  16. Forests of Recognized Importance (FORI) (if the stewardship plan will be aligned with the NC Tree Farm program)

“The plan preparer will consider, describe, and evaluate resource elements present and their importance to the ownership. The extent to which management plans address these elements will depend upon their prevalence on the property and their importance with respect to the landowner’s primary objectives. The intent of this guidance is that all approved Forest Stewardship plans be multi-resources in scope and adequately comprehensive with respect to ecosystem management.”

—Forest Stewardship Program National Standards and Guidelines, October 2015, USDA Forest Service


Extension Forestry Specialist

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: April 26, 2016

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