By BRIAN BIENKOWSKI
It’s not easy to talk about your own death, but for landowners it’s a conversation that could save both vulnerable wildlife and a family legacy.
Ties to the Land is a program developed by Oregon State University that helps people plan the passing of a family forest to the next generation.
Michigan officials are adopting it to broach an uncomfortable topic.
“People don’t like to talk about their demise,” said Russell Kidd, forestry educator with the Michigan State University Extension program. “But a lot of land transfer is going to happen one way or another and people need to plan for that.”
Kidd has worked with the Family Forest Succession in Michigan project, which is based on the Ties to the Land program.
Michigan’s a prime candidate for the program, Kidd said. The state has 19 million acres of forests, and approximately 65 percent is privately owned, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The U.S. Forest Service found in 2004 that 39 percent of Michigan forest owners were 69 or older.
The program covers two things: how you pass land down from a legal standpoint, and how to find who is best suited to take it over. Lawyers and land managers start the conversation and detail options like using a limited liability company or land trust to own the land.
The project bolsters state stewardship efforts, said Georgia Peterson, forest outreach specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“What happens is that people come to this workshop and they may not have a land management plan,” Peterson said. “And part of planning for the future is a management plan, so they start thinking of how to take care of their forests.”
A smooth passing on of land can be also be an environmental victory, Kidd said.
“If people don’t plan for that transfer, kids often break up the property for the money and it fragments the landscape,” Kidd said. “And then that has some serious environmental effects.”
Fragmentation can damage the ecological balance of the forest.
“Most animals don’t respect human borders very much,” Peterson said. “Many species require large areas of unbroken acreage, and when it becomes fragmented, it affects their habitat and makes it difficult for them to survive and thrive.”
Because of its environmental implications, conservation groups have taken notice.
“There are a number of ways that we protect land, and that ties directly with local owners,” said Vic Lane, manager of easement stewardship and forestry with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “And often the landowners have the same mission as we do.”
The conservancy promotes the program in the northwest part of Michigan.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By BRIAN BIENKOWSKI