The Pioneer Tree Program is an introductory phase of the Tree Farm program that helps those who are interested in becoming certified, but not up to American Tree Farm System (ATFS) standards yet. It also helps those who were previously certified but did not keep their land up to standard get back on track. For those who are new to the Pioneer program there are some steps to take towards becoming a certified Tree Farm.
Pioneer Tree Farms should first contact their forester to review Tree Farm standards and other requirements of the program. To be admitted to the Tree Farm program a property must be between 10 and 20,000 contiguous acres, be privately owned, pass inspections, and meet ATFS standards. The 8 certification standards include: a commitment to practicing sustainable forestry; compliance with federal, state, and local laws; complete timely reforestation or afforestation; protect air, water, and soil quality; conservation of biodiversity and forest health; value forest aesthetics; protect special sites and conducting activities in accordance with landowner objectives.
Meeting with your forester will help a landowner know what standards their land is currently meeting and areas that need improvement. In order to meet Tree Farm certification requirements, your plan might need to be updated. Review your forest management plan with your forester to see what needs to be added or changed to meet the requirements. If your forester is not a certified Tree Farm inspector, Vermont Tree Farm can connect you with someone who can work with you to certify your property.
For land that is already enrolled in the Use Value Appraisal (UVA) program some Tree Farm requirements may already be met. For those that are not, the Tree Farm Addendum form covers many areas that may not be included in a standard UVA plan. The VT Tree Farm website offers a comparison matrix which may help in fulfilling additional needs. Changes to your management plan do not need to be filed to the county forester unless it affects your UVA status.
Getting your land to certification may also involve changes beyond amending your management plan. For example, if a Tree Farm has problematic erosion or severe invasive plant problem which have not been addressed with some plan of action, that may need to happen prior
to certification. This determination is in the hands of the certified Tree Farm Inspector, which may or may not be your consulting forester.
If the landowner is not ready to update their plan or address concerns prior to certification, they may remain in the Pioneer program for five years.