GPS Know-How: Tools and Tips for Owners of Forestland

Riparian Easement Forester Whitney Butler

DNR Riparian Easement Forester Whitney Butler using a Garmin 64st. Photo: Chris Briggs/DNR.

Can the GPS (Global Positioning System) be an effective and useful tool for the small forest landowner? At a recent WSU Extension Family Forest Field Day in Sequim, Wash., I had the opportunity to speak with several small forest landowners who are using their smartphones, mapping software and certain GPS devices in a variety of ways on their properties.

The manner in which a GPS device is useful for landowners will depend on the landowner’s goals and needs. Also important is the amount of forestland owned and the individual’s familiarity with their property and its natural resources. During our discussion a few common topics and questions surfaced, including GPS accuracy, locating property lines, anticipating the impacts of stream buffers to proposed timber harvest areas, and identifying resources and recreation opportunities.

Although there are many options to choose from, a prominent example of a user-friendly GPS device is one of the Garmin 64 series models. These units are usually in the $200-$350 range, maintain a relatively simple layout for the casual user and are associated with Basecamp mapping software, a free application for Mac/Windows computers that comes pre-loaded with various basemaps (satellite imagery, topography, etc.). Smartphones also come with built-in GPS receivers and typically have some kind of navigation software preloaded (Google Maps, Apple Maps, etc.).

  • Accuracy: Garmin 64 series devices are highly accurate and now utilize both GPS (U.S. based) and GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System, Russian based) technology, with many users reporting accuracy down to ten feet. Capable of tapping into over 24 satellites, the devices maintain strong signals even through dense tree canopies, brush and inclement weather. GPS receivers in smartphones also are capable of accurate readings with the help of available cellular networks.
  • markers of existing property lines.

    A GPS device can help you find markers of existing property lines. Photo: Chris Briggs/DNR.

    Property Lines: A Garmin 64 series device can be useful for locating the edge of your property by guiding you to existing marked property lines and corners. Look for blazed or painted trees, old flagging and/or metal posts. I recommend taking a compass with you or using the compass app on your smartphone. This will help to orient yourself with the direction you’re traveling and where you are in relation to your destination (most maps and GPS devices are automatically oriented north). It is important to note that only a formal survey completed by a professional licensed surveyor can be legally used to identify the true location of a property line.

  • Timber Harvest and Stream Buffers: Dropping waypoints every 50 feet along the length of a known fish stream, perennial stream or protected wetland perimeter can help you get a sense of how the applicable no-harvest riparian or wetland buffer will impact the location of your potential forest roads, landings and harvest unit size and shape. Viewing the waypoints on your computer (through Basecamp for example) can help you develop your management and harvest strategy. The complexity of your proposed timber harvest and your level of comfort navigating Washington state’s Forest Practices Rules may lead you to consider hiring a consulting forester to complete your harvest. For a directory list of consultant forestry companies from the WSU Extension Forestry page click here.
  • Unique Features: Perhaps you know of a unique tree or rock formation on your property that you’d like to build a trail to for a memorable picnic spot. Using your Garmin, take a waypoint at the site, or on your smartphone tap and hold your finger once on the screen of your navigation app to drop a pin. This will allow you to easily find or direct others to that spot again and plan your connecting trail and surrounding management plans accordingly.
  • Tracks: Another useful tool on Garmin devices, Tracks, allows you to continuously collect data on your path traveled in the form of a viewable polyline. This can be useful for tracking what and how much ground you’ve covered on your property. Consider using Tracks to map the outer edge of a wetland, calculate acreages, and/or create maps of existing trails or roads by viewing and editing the tracks in Basecamp.

The short- and long-term goals of your property and forestland should dictate whether or not a new GPS device is a practical tool for you. The more diverse your property is, the more likely it is that a device like one of the Garmin 64 series models can help you organize the features of your landscape to further define your forest management goals and priorities.

By Chris Briggs, Riparian Easement Forester, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, chris.briggs@dnr.wa.gov 

Do You Have Roads with Stream Crossings?

wolfs on bridgeMany miles of stream are inaccessible to fish because of barrier culverts or other in-stream structures. The Family Forest Fish Passage Program’s (FFFPP) goal is to help restore declining salmon and trout populations by replacing fish passage barriers with new structures that allow fish to migrate upstream and access quality habitat.

Watch our video highlighting how forest landowners benefit from the FFFPP by clicking here.

Wildlife Habitat is One of the Joys of Owning Forestland

Natural cover

Natural cover helps wildlife shelter from predators. Photo: Ken Bevis.

By Ken Bevis, Wildlife Biologist, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, Ken.Bevis@dnr.wa.gov

One of the greatest joys of owning forestland must be encountering wildlife—the swish and leap of a deer’s rump as it vaults a down log, flickering, silvery trout in forested streams, and drumming grouse often heard but rarely seen. Take a walk with any small forest landowner, and you’ll hear these stories, even from those who don’t list wildlife habitat as their primary reason for owning forestland.

If you’re among the 60 percent of small forest landowners who list “Nature/Biodiversity” as one of your primary reasons for holding forestlands, you certainly value those encounters. A new publication by the Woodland Fish and Wildlife Publication Project, entitled Family Forests and Wildlife: Vigorous Forests and Healthy Wildlife, offers key information on enhancing wildlife’s access to food and water, providing protective cover and enough habitat space. Family Forests and Wildlife gives resources for finding further information and guidance for how one might identify which species are resident.

Active management of your forest land can preserve and enhance habitats for our nearly 400 species of forest associated wildlife in Washington. Many people wonder where to begin in regard to better managing their lands for habitat. Here are a few ideas:

Barred owl with garter snake.

Barred owl with garter snake. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Gather information

Just like a forester doing a stand inventory, do the same with wildlife. Keep a log of your wildlife observations: species, date, time, specific location on the property, and behavior observations. Over the years this log will provide fascinating information about what animals frequent your property and how they survive. Changes may be noted over time. For example, some areas of our state commonly have elk on private forest lands, some do occasionally, and other areas, such as southwest Washington state, are seeing declines due to hoof rot and other factors. Migratory bird arrival and departures can be noted by the first or last observation of species such as the beautiful Western tanager or yellow-rumped warblers. This information can form the basis for many habitat decisions that follow.

Map features

Add wildlife habitat features to the stand maps of your property. Note areas with small wetlands, snag patches, concentrations of rich fruit-bearing shrubs, or well-used travel ways for deer and elk. These features will also change with time, and adding this data layer to your plan is both interesting and useful.

Read

I was pleased to co-author Family Forests and Wildlife: Vigorous Forests and Healthy Wildlife with two of my colleagues from Oregon. This free online publication from the non-profit Woodland Fish and Wildlife Project offers key information about enhancing wildlife access to food and water, providing protective cover and sufficient habitat space. It also lists resources for finding further information and guidance for identifying which species are resident on your property.

Like other publications from the project, Family Forests and Wildlife can be viewed and downloaded for free at woodlandfishandwildlife.com. You’ll find that the project has many more excellent resources for landowners who want to learn how to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.

 Top 10 Tools for Wildlife

  • Keep forests as forests
  • Leave or create down logs
  • Leave or create snags
  • Retain legacy structures such as big old trees and stumps
  • Leave standing live trees for future legacy structure recruitment
  • Provide safe access to water
  • Leave or recruit hardwood and fruiting shrubs across the landscape
  • Leave or recruit hardwood trees across the landscape
  • Maintain well-vegetated riparian buffers

New: The Washington State Consulting Forester and Silvicultural Contractor Directory

The Washington State Consulting Forester and Silvicultural Contractor Directory is now completed and online. Created by WSU Extension Forestry, the directory is a compilation of forestry professionals around Washington state who provide the professional services to private forest landowners. The directory includes specific information about each professional, including contact information, services provided, bonding and insurance information, experience, and counties served. Inclusion in this directory is voluntary and all information is provided by the forestry professionals themselves.

Find links to the directory on the WSU Extension Forestry website and on the Small Forest Landowner Office web pages.

Property Tax for Timberland

Heather Hansen, Washington Farm Forestry Association

Budget-preparation-graphic-e1330391122329Is your timberland enrolled as designated forestland or open space timberland for property tax purposes? Have you heard from your County Assessor about disqualifying a portion of your land from one of these programs? Have you purchased land and had difficulty getting it enrolled in one of these programs?

If so, you are not alone and we want to hear your story. We have heard from members across the state about difficulty getting and keeping land enrolled in current use taxation programs. The intent of these programs is to encourage forestry and support all of the functions that timberland provides. Washington Farm Forestry Association is working with the Department of Revenue to ensure the programs are implemented accurately and fairly across the state.

The following counties have merged the open space timberland program into the designated forestland program: Chelan, Clallam, Cowlitz, Ferry, Grays Harbor, Island, Kitsap, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lewis, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Spokane, and Whatcom. In all other counties, the programs remain separate. The programs are similar. Contiguous timberland totaling five acres or more is eligible for these programs.

The more stories we hear from affected landowners, the better we can address concerns. Please contact Heather Hansen at hhansen@wafarmfoestry.com or 360-705-2040.

Key points for landowners

  • If a landowner receives a Notice of Removal from the County Assessor, it must specify why the land is being removed from the program.
  • Preferential tax treatment is granted in part because of the assumption that excise tax will be paid at harvest time. You must plan to harvest; however, there is a great deal of latitude about when, how and how much you may wish to harvest.
  • There is no requirement to open your land to the public.
  • The landowner must fulfill the restocking requirements in the timber management plan submitted with the application. As long as the landowner follows the timber management plan, the land should not be removed from the program. You do not need to hire a forester to write your plan. You can write it yourself or with help from a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Landowner Assistance Forester, your Conservation District or WSU Extension.
  • If you receive a Notice of Removal, contact your County Assessor’s office. Many concerns can be resolved by sharing information. If that does not work, appeal to your County Board of Equalization. There is no cost (except your time). You do not need an attorney. All it takes is a letter explaining why you think your land qualifies for the program. Do pay attention to dates; there is a deadline for appealing.
  • It states on the Notice of Removal that the owner can apply for reclassification as either open space land or agricultural land. In some cases, these other categories may be a better fit.  If the landowner applies for reclassification, no compensating tax is due.
  • If land is voluntarily removed from the program, compensating taxes must be paid.
  • If your application to enroll land in one of the programs is denied, the assessor must allow you to be heard. If issues are not resolved, this denial can also be appealed to the Board of Equalization.

If you have questions or concerns about designated forestland, open space timberland or other open space programs, please let us know. 

What the Law Says 

RCW 84.33.010: It is this state’s policy to encourage forestry so that present and future generations will enjoy the benefits which forest areas provide such as enhancing water supply, minimizing soil erosion, minimizing storm and flood damage, providing habitat for wildlife, providing scenic and recreational spaces, maintaining land areas whose forests contribute to the natural ecological equilibrium, and providing employment and profits to its citizens and raw materials for products needed by everyone.

RCW 84.33.035: “Forest land” means any parcel of land that is five or more acres or multiple parcels of land that total five or more acres that are devoted primarily to growing and harvesting timber. It includes land used for incidental uses that are compatible with the growing and harvesting of timber as long as those incidental uses do not total more than ten percent of the land. Incidental uses may include a gravel pit, a shed or land used to store equipment and any other use that does not interfere with growing and harvesting timber.  It does not include a residential home site.

To be eligible for the program, a landowner must have a timber management plan. This plan may be prepared by a trained forester, or any other person with adequate knowledge of timber management practices.

State law does not specify what must be included in the plan.

Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the SFLO

tami picture update 062012

Forest Stewardship Education and Landowner Assistance Opportunities

Spring is here and summer is just around the corner. This is the time of year when DNR’s Small Forest Landowner Office coordinates with other agency partners to conduct a number of forestry education and landowner assistance courses, workshops, and seminars.  Here are a few upcoming events that I’m sure you will enjoy:

 Forest and Range Owners Field Days

Forest and Range Owners Field Days offers a hands-on “out in the woods” educational experience for the whole family. Attending this event will help prepare you to plan and execute sound forest management practices, enabling you to accomplish your objectives, reduce risks, and protect your financial investment. Participants can attend outdoor seminars offered throughout the day on dozens of forest stewardship topics such as forest health, thinning, pruning, riparian management, wildlife habitat, chainsaw safety, wildfire protection,  counting and measuring trees, tree and shrub identification, forestry taxes,  landowner assistance programs,  management of invasive plants, noxious weed control, and using a GPS to navigate and manage your land.

These field days provide educational opportunities for participants of all ages and skill levels, regardless of property size. They offer an excellent introduction to forest stewardship, provide advanced learning opportunities for experienced landowners, or simply allow landowners a chance to refresh existing skills and be updated in the latest forest research and developments. 

This summer three field days will be held:

Tonasket on June 22
Sumas on July 27
Forks on August 24 (details coming soon).

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning Courses

Coached Planning courses are offered to forest landowners throughout the state of Washington. These short courses typically include one evening class per week for six to nine weeks. The classes are designed to help forest landowners develop customized management solutions to meet their individual ownership objectives. Participants identify their property ownership goals and develop a comprehensive forest stewardship plan. This stewardship plan may qualify landowners for cost-share assistance for plan implementation, as well as recognition as a Stewardship Forest, and a reduction in current-use property tax rates.

Three Coached Planning Courses are currently scheduled:

Preston starting September 24
Whidbey Island starting October 3
Chehalis starting September 5 (details coming soon).

Ties to the Land Workshops

Who will care for your land when you’re gone? Will it be kept intact and protected, or will it be divided up and sold off in pieces? Will it become a source of conflict between surviving family members? What is the long-term future you want for your property?  The Ties to the Land Workshop explores these questions and others in succession planning. The purpose of this workshop is not to provide legal or tax advice; it is to explore the human side of estate planning, and the critical first steps to take before sitting down with a professional estate planner.  Things that are discussed during this workshop include:

  • Identifying long-term goals for the property
  • Gauging family members interest and emotional connections to the property
  • Identifying heirs that have the capacity/competency to manage the property into the future
  • Developing strategies for addressing challenging family dynamics
  • Facilitating open and productive communication in your family around the uncomfortable topics of death and inheritance.

Click on the date below to learn more about Ties to the Land Workshops:

June 1 in Port Angeles
June 8 in Newport
June 8 in Olympia
June 15 in Chehalis
June 29 in Port Townsend.

Please be sure to check out the SFLO Forest Stewardship and WSU Extension websites regularly for more information about these and other valuable educational and landowner assistance opportunities coming to your neighborhood soon.  www.dnr.wa.gov/sflo and www.forestry.wsu.edu.