Background

In forested regions of the state some landowners desire to implement forest management practices on their RIM easements. Forest Stewardship Plans (aka Woodland Stewardship Plans) are a commonly used method whereby a qualified plan writer provides management recommendations to landowners for appropriate management actions to ensure a healthy forest and are based on landowner goals. The property for which the FSP is being written is mapped into management units based upon ecological conditions. Generally, a menu of management options is proposed for each management unit. These recommendations can range from clear-cut to do nothing. Although a range of management recommendations provides useful information it also complicates giving blanket approval for FSPs on land encumbered by a RIM easement. Consequently, a two-step process is necessary to ensure that management actions on forested lands are consistent with the terms of the RIM easement. Because of the nature of the easement and the restrictions placed by several funding sources any management actions that are implemented MUST be for habitat management purposes and must not undermine the purposes for which the easement was acquired. Maximizing timber harvest or economic gain alone is not sufficient reason to allow harvest. However, if the harvest is justifiable as a habitat management practice economic gain is not prohibited.


For forested easements a new Forest Stewardship Plan will be required if the landowner wishes to conduct forest management practices. The plan shall be written by a qualified Forest Stewardship Plan Writer following DNR guidelines for plan content and must be registered with the DNR for parcels greater than 20 acres. The plan must be reviewed and approved by either SWCD or BWSR staff. This initial review is to determine if there are management recommendations that would not be allowed under the terms of the RIM easement. It does NOT give approval to implement management recommendations. FSPs must be completed concurrently with or after the RIM easement has been recorded. Certain acknowledgements, as described below, must be included into the plan.

Procedures

  1. Forest Stewardship Plans

    If a landowner intends to implement land management practies on forested land withing a RIM Easement a new FSP is required at the time of enrolling into a conservation easement. In addition existing FSPs must be updated to meet the requirements below prior to major management actions being undertaken. Each of these plans must be reviewed and approved by either SWCD or BWSR staff. 

    1. Each FSP must include language stating that the land (all or part) for which the FSP is being prepared has been or is about to be enrolled into a RIM Conservation Easement held by the State of Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. 
    2. The FSP must state that the RIM easement has been read by the plan writer and that he/she believes the plan recommendations to be consistent with the terms of the RIM easement.
    3. The FSP must state that any management actions will be required to follow the “Sustaining Minnesota Forest Resources: Voluntary Site-Level Forest Management Guidelines for Landowners, Loggers and Resource Managers  BMPs.
    4. The FSP must state that review and approval of the FSP by BWSR or the SWCD does not constitute approval to implement the management recommendations and that prior to implementation of major management actions an action plan (see form)must be submitted for review and approval to the SWCD or BWSR at least 60 days in advance. 
    5. FSPs are good for 10 years and must be updated upon expiration or ownership change if the landowner desires to implement any recommendations.
    6. A copy of the RIM easement (final or draft) must be attached to the FSP.
    7. We strongly suggest that the plan writer coordinate with the plan reviewer prior to plan finalization and DNR registration.

 

  1. FSP review, approval and documentation

    FSPs should be reviewed promptly at the time of submission. The intent for review at this point is to make sure that the FSP does not have recommendations that are incompatible with the terms of the conservation easement that would give the landowner the false sense that certain actions would be allowed. This review should look at the big picture rather than dwell on details.

    Upon approval complete the following:

    1. Update the Conservation Plan with a statement that the FSP has been reviewed and approved. Cite the date of the plan.
    2. Send the landowner a letter stating that the plan has been reviewed and approved but that an action plan is still required  before implementing plan recommendations.
    3. Keep a copy of the plan and approval letter on file with the Conservation Plan. 
    4. Send an electronic copy to BWSR Easement Section.
    5. If a draft FSP generates concerns, it is best to discuss these with the landowner and plan writer and request a revised version that address concerns so that it can be approved.

 

  1. Action Plans

    Prior to implementation of major actions the landowner must submit to the SWCD and receive prior approval of an Action Plan. The Action Plan is a brief document that tells us who, what, where, when, why, and how and includes a map showing the area to be treated and access routes. The Action Plan must follow proper BMPs. The intent is that this is a brief document that provides sufficient specific information so that an action can be approved. These plans should be written by a natural resources professional who has knowledge of the techniques being implemented. A sample Action Plan for is provided in the Easement Forms section on the BWSR web site. The Action Plan writer is not required to use the form but the elements must be incorporated into any plan submitted for review.

    Major actions are defined as anything except the following:

    1. Invasive species control
    2. Removal of dead or downed timber
    3. Maintenance of existing trails. New trails and trail widening require an action plan.
    4. Cutting up to 5 cords of firewood for personal use annually. Higrading is not allowed.
    5. Temporary hunting blinds
    6. Authorized maintenance of existing water control structures
    7. Removal of beaver dams

 

  1. Action Plan review, approval, and documentation

    Action Plans should be reviewed promptly at the time of submission. The intent for review at this point is to make sure that the proposed actions are  consistent with the purposes and intent of the RIM easement. Actions should be clearly defined and unambiguous to prevent future problems with easement violations. Actions must follow BMPs and the actions themselves or ancillary actions (for instance a temporary logging road) should be done in a manner that minimizes negative impacts to habitat and water quality, must not negatively impact Threatened or Endangered species and must follow all laws and regulations. This review should look into the details, if necessary, as approval will give the landowner the right to implement the action. We want to clearly understand the action and its outcome/consequences to keep the landowner and ourselves out of future conflict over inappropriate or poorly executed implementation.

    Upon approval complete the following:

    1. Update the Conservation Plan with a statement that an Action Plan has been reviewed and approved. Cite the date of the plan.
    2. Send the landowner a letter stating that the plan has been reviewed and approved but the landowner is responsible for ensuring the Action Plan is implemented as approved. Approval of the Action Plan gives consent only for approved actions any modifications or changes must receive pre-approval through submission of a Revised Action Plan.
    3. Keep a copy of the plan and approval letter on file with the Conservation Plan.
    4. Send an electronic copy to BWSR Easement Section.
    5. If a draft Action Plan generates concerns, it is best to discuss these with the landowner and plan writer and request a revised version that address concerns so that it can be approved.

 

  1. Follow-Up

    Depending upon the magnitude of the management activity and time permitting it would be helpful for SWCD staff to visit the site during or just before the management action commences. This can help to answer any lingering questions and reduce the potential for easement violations. This is not required but is considered a BMP.

 

Contact

Bill Penning
Conservation Programs Consultant