Deploying landscape management plans in the Red Hills of Florida
The Southern US is increasingly becoming the “wood basket of the world”, with wood supplies from the region used both domestically and internationally. As the demand increases, so too does the need to demonstrate that these forests are managed in a sustainable and responsible way.
However, the majority of the land in the South, and approximately 60% of the fiber, does not come from large commercial or institutional landholders, but from family forest owners individually owning hundreds, not thousands, of wooded acres. The vast majority of these landowners are not certified, due in part to the barriers to forest certification at their scale of land ownership outweighing the benefits.
In response to the need to make certification more accessible to these small-forest owners, the PEFC endorsed 2015-2020 American Tree Farm System (ATFS) Standards introduced additional flexibility in meeting the requirements for comprehensive management planning.
This flexibility allows for the development of landscape level planning frameworks to which landowners may subscribe and engage, allowing for credible certification under ATFS. By developing landscape level planning frameworks in the US South, the barriers to family landowner participation in certification can be significantly reduced.
PEFC and landscape level management
In late 2015, the American Forest Foundation and the Florida Forest Service agreed to pilot landscape level planning frameworks in the Red Hills region of Florida. Since then, a landscape management plan has been completed, and the 2016 PEFC Collaboration Fund supported the deployment of the plan in the region.
The project began with the development of a Guide for the Florida Forest Service foresters and other foresters to use when they meet with the region’s forest owners. Using the guide, they can select and recommend the most suitable forest management practices for each forest owner, based on a pre-set list.
Forest owners that follow the recommendations receive certification of their forest management practices, following an audit of the property and management approach under the landscape plan.
At the same time, the project carried out a wide-ranging marketing strategy to engage the region’s forest owners in the project. This included the use of focus groups, and follow up meetings with interested forest owners.
Looking foward, the project identified and documented best practices in the deployment of the landscape management plan to enable its replication in other landscapes. The experiences gained during this project were used to feedback into the continued development of the Guide, improving both the Guide itself and the larger landscape management plan.