ATFS Standards of Sustainability #1: Commitment to Practicing Sustainable Forestry

The first of the American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability is: Commitment to Practicing Sustainable Forestry. This standard requires that a landowner demonstrate commitment to forest health and sustainability through various actions. These actions include developing a forest management plan, implementing sustainable practices, and
seeking opportunities to expand their knowledge of sustainable forest management.

The most important facet of this standard is having and implementing a management plan for a forest. A management plan is a set of documents that describe landowner objectives for a property and guide actions to be taken to achieve those goals. Management plans shall reflect the forests’ unique characteristics as well as the intensity of the management that the landowners plan for the property. Whether a landowner wants to take major actions such as timber harvests, or take more subtle actions that keep the forest in the state that it is in, the management plan must
explain this.

Management plans must be adaptive. Forests are living and dynamic. Should circumstances influencing the property change, the plan must change with it. Natural changes, such as fires, floods or pest infestations that damage property, or personal changes of the landowner, such as a change in family circumstances or the sale or acquisition of land, can all
warrant changes to be made to the management plan.

So, what goes into a management plan? Management plans must describe current forest conditions, the landowner’s current objectives, management activities aimed at achieving the landowners’ goals, a strategy to implement those activities, and a map of the property. Forest conditions can be described in general terms such as age, species, and composition, or in a more detailed manner with maps and inventories. Similarly, landowners’ objectives can be broad in scope (ex. having a healthy forest, good habitat for wildlife, etc.) or be specific objectives tailored to specific tree or animal species to name an example. Although it is not required, landowners are encouraged to seek educational opportunities and consult qualified natural
resource professionals, like foresters or ecologists, to determine objectives and ways to accomplish them.

Management plans must consider these forest topics: forest health, soil, water, wood & fiber production, threatened or endangered species, special sites, invasive species, and forests of recognized importance. Plans must include activities related to these forest features where relevant. If there is no occurrence of one these forest features on the property, the plan must
express that it is not there.

It is important to note that when it comes to the required elements that go into management plans (ATFS uses the word “shall” to designate features that must be included) they must be backed by sources. There must be documentation showing how the information was obtained and what resource was used to obtain it. For example, it is not enough to simply say that threatened or endangered species are found in your woodland. Documentation from a natural resource professional proving that said species exist on the property would certify these claims are true. If there were not threatened or endangered species on the property, documentation would be needed to show that they are not found on the property.

Although not required, management plans can include the landowners’ objectives in regards to these optional forest features: fire, wetlands, desired species, recreation, conversion, forest aesthetics, biomass and carbon. There is no level of detail required for describing these features in the management plan, so goals for these features can be general if they are included.

Finally, the landowner should monitor for changes that could interfere with the objectives stated in the management plan. Monitoring can be done by frequently visiting the property and observing any changes that are noticed. Take a walk through your woods or ride along the trails
and see what you see. Keeping a written record of observations to document changing conditions is also suggested. Written records may help track the damage caused by pests or storms, as well as defend against adverse possession claims, substantiate casualty loss, and enable timely
responses to illegal activity that could occur on the land. Landowners are encouraged to update their management plans based on what they find in monitoring their land. Management plans are meant to be guides in managing land and not necessarily a strict blueprint to follow. Therefore,
monitoring helps the plan stay flexible enough to adapt to a forest’s changing conditions.

Implementation of a management plan and continuing to grow in one’s knowledge of forestry and management will help landowners fulfill ATFS Standard #1. To learn more about this standard and others check out the Tree Farm Standards page on the Vermont Tree Farm website at

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