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ATFS Standards of Sustainability #3: Reforestation and Afforestation

Moving along in our look at American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability the third standard is: Reforestation and Afforestation. After a timber harvest, a landowner must complete timely restocking of desired species of trees on a regeneration harvest site and nonstocked areas where tree growing is consistent with land use practices and the landowner’s objectives. To clarify, intermediate thinning, single tree and small group selection, and treatments other than regenerating a stand, are not impacted by this standard. This is focused on regeneration harvest, or actually starting over.

What is reforestation and what is afforestation? Reforestation is the re-establishment of forest through planting or seeding on land classified as forest. Reforestation is typically done after a timber harvest. Afforestation refers to the process of planting or seeding trees on an area of land that has been under different use, transforming land use from non-forest to forest. An example of this would be a field that has been used as livestock pasture for a long time that is being changed from pasture back to a forest.

Reforestation or afforestation must be achieved by a suitable process that ensures adequate stocking levels. Following a regeneration harvest, stocking of a desired species must take place within five years of the harvest. This time frame could be longer or shorter though depending on local conditions or applicable regulations. It is important to check with your natural resource professional to find out if there are any reforestation laws in place so that compliance with those laws can be met. Federal and state reforestation guidelines can be used as a reference when it comes to stocking levels, but wildlife habitat management practices may run contrary to these guidelines. Make sure the guidelines you choose to follow are most in line with your objectives as a landowner. Properties enrolled in Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal program need to meet standards set for regeneration harvests as well. This rate is set at 350 stems/acre within 5 years of a harvest.

Deliberate reforestation, though practiced in other places, is not as common in New England. Forest stands are able to naturally regenerate well in the area through different harvesting techniques and strategies, so this standard is usually met by stating in a landowner’s management plan that the intention is to let the area naturally regenerate.

When choosing to plant, selection of tree and other plant species are up to the discretion of the landowner, however your forester should be consulted in this decision. Landowners choose particular species for a variety of reasons. They may want to re-introduce a species that should be in the area but is not due to infestation or disease. They may want a species that will support wildlife. They may want a species that will adjust better to climate change. Or, they may simply want to regrow the same species that were cut in the harvest.

Whatever species a landowner chooses, when reforesting or afforesting an area it is preferred that land owners use native and naturalized species and local provenances that are well-adapted to site conditions. If opting for a nonnative species, landowners should consult with qualified natural resource professionals to make sure potential negative impacts on the ecosystem and genetic integrity of native species can be determined. Consultation should also be done if afforesting within an ecologically important non-forest ecosystem to make sure the conversion does not negatively impact the ecology.

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