ATFS Standard #5: Fish, Wildlife, Biodiversity, and Forest Health

Continuing our look at the American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability brings us to Standard #5: Fish, Wildlife, Biodiversity, and Forest Health. A landowner’s forest management activities must contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. This standard covers four main topics: threatened and endangered species, desired species, forest health, and forests of recognized importance.

The first performance measure under this standard requires forest management activities to protect habitats and communities occupied by threatened or endangered species, as the law requires. Under this standard, Tree Farmers ARE required to protect occupied habitat of threatened or endangered animal species, if they are aware of their presence, and to manage that habitat accordingly. Although the actual Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) encourages landowners to protect threatened or endangered animal species, the ESA does NOT require them to protect plant species. However, Tree Farmers are expected to research available resources to identify potential threatened and endangered plant and animal species.

Landowners are required to confer with natural resource agencies, heritage programs, professionals, or other sources periodically to learn more about the occurrence of threatened and endangered species and their habitat requirements. Vermont specific information on threatened and endangered species may be found at:

Vermont Biofinder

Vermont Natural Resources Atlas

The standard requires the landowner or a natural resource professional to provide the resource used to determine if threatened and endangered species are potentially present on their property. If they are detected the landowner’s forest management activities must incorporate the protection of these species on their properties. The presence of the species on someone’s land does not rule out management, but it may influence the timing and/or technique of management activities. Some examples of habitat protecting management include limited mechanical entry, restricted pesticide use, hunting or fishing limitations, and residual tree maintenance. Other resources may include the threatened and endangered species lists kept by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA NMFS).

Landowners should also address desired species and/or desired forest communities for their property. When conducting management activities, ATFS recommends but does not require landowners to consider a desired species on their property. Sometimes landowners would like to increase the population or presence of a particular plant or animal species on their property. For example, improving habitat for turkey or planting trees to re-establish Clayplain forests. When managing with a desired species in mind landowners should consult information on a desired species and how to conduct management activities for these species. The ATFS lists nonprofit organizations that focus on the desired species, state and federal agencies that focus on fish and game species, and Extension Service publications as good resources for desired species management. The best resource is likely your consulting forester, who has more knowledge on Vermont and whether your desired species are feasible for the location of your Tree Farm.

Landowners should also take practical steps to promote forest health. Forests are living entities and as such they are susceptible to harmful disturbances such as pests, invasive species, fires, and diseases. Landowners should take proactive steps to promote the resilience, productivity, and vitality of their forest land. Meeting with a forester or other natural resource professionals is a good way to determine what disturbances your land may be at risk of encountering and determining actions to combat them. Some of these actions can be preventative, while others can be put in place if there is an occurrence of the problem. Landowners are also encouraged to take advantage of forest health education opportunities to remain aware of the latest developments.

Finally, fulfilling Standard #5 involves maintaining or enhancing forests of recognized importance (FORI). FORIs are defined as forests that represent globally, regionally, and nationally significant landscape areas of exceptional ecological, social, cultural, or biological values. This is a very broad definition and many features of a forest could identify it as a FORI. Some of these features may include: protected, rare, or sensitive ecosystems, critical habitats of threatened or endangered species, the occurrence of archeological sites, unique geologic features, and others.

When preparing forest management plans for the Tree Farm Program, you must always include information on forests of recognized importance, even if there are none. If you have a management plan which does NOT include this information, please take the time to add a paragraph as an addendum to your affected plans. This does not need to be added to anything other than your records, and the landowner management plan. You may also use the management plan addendum form provided as a link on the Vermont Tree Farm website. Please also refer to your standards booklet and the guidance within for more specific information.

There are no designated databases which identify FORI’s across the country. Each state Tree Farm Committee was tasked with identifying any FORI’s in their respective states. The language below provides a general statement which may be altered to suit your Tree Farm situation:

There are no Forests of Recognized Importance (FORI) identified by the Vermont Tree Farm Committee on this parcel. Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, in Woodstock, Vermont has been designated as a Forest of Recognized Importance for its cultural and historic significance. It is the oldest professionally managed forest in the US and the earliest example of scientific silvicultural practices in America. Management of this ownership is not impacted by Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park as a FORI.

The Vermont Tree Farm Committee is the resource which documents presence or absence of FORI in Vermont. There is also an excellent ATFS document outlining further FORI guidance on ATFS and Vermont Tree Farm websites.

For further info on FORIs, click here.

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