NC State Extension Publications


You’ll be more successful with your forest property if you manage it according to a clear plan. Whether you grow trees, tulips or turkeys, a management plan helps save time and money while increasing returns and enjoyment. Therefore, the clearer your destination (or objectives), the greater chance for success.

Plans Set Direction

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Since forests take so long to grow, today’s decisions can have long-term impacts and benefits. A plan analyzes and assesses options, allowing a landowner to select the best course of action and achieve desired objectives. A plan includes a time line or sequence to implement management activities.

Many non-timber goals can be planned simultaneously. Protecting water quality, wildlife habitat, aesthetics and other critical resources is possible with little expense if strategically planned before a harvest. Timber harvests create open areas and road access that can improve wildlife habitat, provide for recreation, and enhance natural beauty. Careful planning of management activities can even assure a periodic income stream.

Effective Plans Begin With You

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The first step in planning is to understand land capabilities and meld these with future family goals. It is essential to evaluate the constraints, resources, and priorities of current owners and heirs. Defining objectives shouldn’t be an exercise for its own sake, rather a way to focus activities on reaching desired outcomes.

Begin with a realistic appraisal of your skills, resources and time constraints. Consider interests, income needs, family situation, proximity to the property, and philosophy about land ownership, the environment, and other factors that will influence the decisions that are made.

The following profiles illustrate some of the wide range of goals and interests that landowners have for their forests. Use these profiles to help define your situation and formulate primary management goals and objectives. In cases where the profiles don’t conform specifically to your objectives, explore the highlighted aspirations of the profiled landowners to find the type of management most closely aligned to your own. Mix and match until you can create your own profile.

Goals are statements of desired outcomes or future conditions. In the following profiles,

landowners describe the “big picture” vision for the property, then refine them into several working objectives. Goals are typically broad and open ended. They must reflect true desires and be achievable. In all cases they must be compatible with the resources available and the potential of the property.

Landowner Profiles

“Audrey and Bob

Life Stage: Semi-retired
Income Needs: Taxes and property upkeep, living costs
Tract size: 250 acres
Distance to Property: Resident
Interests: Walking, gardening, visits from grandchildren
Family Situation: Three adult children, seven grandchildren

  • Physically incapable of conducting strenuous manual work.
  • Need timber revenue to carry all management costs.
  • Fairly fixed retirement income.

Goals (the Big Picture):We want to leave the property better than we received it.”

  • Harvest some timber now but leave a productive, valuable forest to enjoy.
  • Leave a legacy for children and grandchildren

.Objectives: (three-year horizon)

  • Thin one-half of large sawtimber in mature pine stand to generate approximately $1,500 per acre for living expenses, taxes, and upkeep in Year 3.
  • Improve the attractiveness of the forest edge visible from the residence by thinning large, poorly formed trees during next harvest.
  • Improve recreational access by reseeding logging roads with clover and orchard grass following the harvest.
  • Mow annually to provide a clear walking path.

Owners like them also hope to:

  • Maximize financial benefits and minimize costs
  • Maintain long-term health of their land and forest
  • Leave the land intact for heirs
  • Minimize fire and insect threats

“Joanne and Sam”

Life Stage: Employed manufacturing / health industries off-farm, part-time farmer
Income Needs: College tuition for kids, retirement investments
Tract size: 125 acres
Distance to Property: 7 miles
Interests: Farming, hunting
Family Situation: One college freshman daughter; two teen-aged boys
Constraints/ Resources: Have the equipment and manpower to make wildlife / timber and other resource improvements. Would like timber sale revenues to subsidize most operations.

Goals (the Big Picture):We view our family forest as a revenue and recreation producer, where hunting takes place and farming income is supplemented with timber production.”


  • Establish 75-feet-wide field borders with kobe lespedeza in spring of Year 1 to control soil erosion and benefit deer.
  • Harvest 30-acre block of mature pine timber by sealed bid sale through a forestry consultant in Year 2.
  • Replant with genetically improved loblolly pine seedlings at 10-feet by 10-feet spacing with farm help in winter of Year 3.
  • Control burn remaining 30-acre mature pine stand to reduce hardwood brush and increase deer browse in winter of years 4, 7, and 11.

Owners like them also hope to:

  • Maximize ongoing returns while maintaining land’s ability to do so
  • Maintain their independence to carry out much of the management load
  • Enjoy recreation and tending the land
  • Ethically and judiciously use the land

“Lil and Mike”

Life Stage: Employed young professionals
Income Needs: Upkeep of summer residence
Tract size: 40 acres
Distance to property: 140 miles
Interests: Mountain biking, hiking, wildlife observation, fitness activities
Family Situation: Married, no children
Constraints: Can do limited physical work (trails / firewood / wildlife operations). Could afford private contractors to operate equipment and improve the property.

Goals (the Big Picture): “We’d like to have the property look like a park, a place where wildlife can flourish without harm. We’d like to have the property reflect our love of the environment.”


  • Build a 12-mile exercise and nature/hiking trail in Year 1.
  • Plant three dozen dogwoods and native shrubs on field edge for spring blossoms and to attract songbirds in fall of Year 2.
  • Establish three clover patches for rabbits and quail in lower field by Year 3.
  • Annually mark and remove one-half acre of undesirable, poorly formed trees for firewood in front hardwood stand.

Owners like them also hope to:

  • Have their property reflect their stewardship ethic
  • Favor natural beauty and wildlife protection
  • Enjoy recreation use of the property with friends and family

Goals reflect the long-term view of forest management. For instance, a typical landowner goal may be:

  • To manage mature hardwoods for high-quality sawtimber and for squirrel and turkey habitat.

Presently the landowner’s hardwoods are only 35 years old, therefore reaching that goal will require that the trees grow at least another decade or two to come to full maturity. After goals are written, the next step is to draft objectives.


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Objectives are written to accomplish concrete steps toward each goal. Objectives refine goals into workable tasks. Each objective is specifically written to state what is to be accomplished, when it will be done, and at what cost. It is important to set realistic, achievable objectives, especially when beginning to manage a property. Start slowly and build upon initial successes. For instance, if a goal is to produce pine sawtimber for future sale and presently the trees are 16 years old, reasonable objectives might be:

  • YEAR 2: Commercially thin pine stand to remove one-third of the tree volume as pulpwood. Sale to be made by contract through a consulting forester.
  • YEAR 4: Prescribe burn thinned pine stand in winter months to reduce fuel load, control hardwood sprouts, improve access for foot travel, and stimulate legumes for wildlife. Cost per acre $30 to $ 40/acre.
  • YEAR 9: Thin pine stand to remove one-quarter volume as small sawtimber and chip-’n-saw material. Contract sale to be handled by consulting forester.

Tips for Successful Objectives

When drafting objectives, be sure that they:

  • Are specific
  • Are actionable
  • Are measurable, and
  • Specify a target completion date

Your Management Plan

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Plans can change, and management plans should be flexible to accommodate changes in priorities and needs. The Establishing Priorities for Your Forest Plan questionnaire will help you develop goals and objectives for your forest property. Once you have your ideas and priorities established, share your goals and objectives if you have them with a resource profession. That professional can then begin writing a management plan with a goal or “the big picture” in mind. The goal will logically follow with three or four realistic objectives for you to pursue in the near future. Refer to the examples in the landowner profiles in this guide for help.

Try not to be overwhelmed. Planning is a team effort. Seek the advice of natural resource professionals with experience in the resources you are hoping to manage. Talk with foresters, wildlife biologists, Extension agents, private consultants, or members of the state forest service. Discuss ideas with them and learn from their experiences. What has worked? What has not?

Professionals deal in resource management daily and are familiar with local conditions. Many times, they can arrange for an on-site visit of your property. They have useful experience and can share with you the practices and approaches that work best in your area. Natural resource professionals can also verify that your goals and objectives are compatible with soil capabilities, markets, and ownership acreage. If so, a management plan tailored to your goals and objectives can be developed. If not compatible, they can help you reevaluate your resources so that your goals and objectives can be achieved.


Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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