Farmland Assessment Filing Deadline is August 1

The deadline for filing for Farmland Assessment is August 1.  There are no extensions on this deadline.  We look forward to seeing our clients in June or July (or receiving their information through the mail).  As discussed in our instructions (see link below), we are offering a discount for all clients who bring or mail in their forms and provide payment on or before July 14.

As a reminder, our instructions to our clients can be downloaded by clicking here.  A questionnaire to help organize your thoughts and paperwork can be found by clicking here.  Our calendar showing our business hours can be opened by clicking here.  And lastly directions to our office are found by clicking here.

Please note that if you wait until the last two days of the season -- and we must remind you several times -- we will charge a Premium Service Fee for the extra service of reaching out during our exceptionally busy season.

If you have any questions, please give us a call at (908) 781-6711 or e-mail us.

Health and Safety Alert: Emerald Ash Borer

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Since 2002, we have watched the progressive spread of the invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), from the first discovery of the beetle in Michigan, to the recent discovery of the insect in New Jersey, in the spring of 2014.  Today, EAB is present throughout the Gracie & Harrigan service area.

Recently, the New Jersey EAB situation took a dangerous turn as the first known injury by an EAB-infested tree occured at Monmouth Battlefield State Park.  Ash trees are known to become abnormally brittle shortly after their death.  EAB infestations begin in the top of the tree, and ash trees have normally been infested for 3 years before symptoms become noticeable to people on the ground.  So, when a chainsaw sends vibrations up the tree as it is being cut down, it is not uncommon for limbs and branches to break off and fall down upon or near the cutter.

The risk to landowners and arborists is real.  We have been told that at least two New Jersey tree services are refusing to cut down dead ash trees, out of concern for their workers' safety.

We urge clients with white ash trees within striking distance of their homes, utility lines, outbuildings, playgrounds, etc. to address the ash trees before they begin showing symptoms.  (Ash trees out in the woodlot that are not within striking distance of commonly used hiking trails could be left for woodpecker and other wildlife habitat.)

It is estimated that 95 to >99% mortality will occur among our native white ash population. There is no known treatment within the forest, however, individual specimen trees in yards and along roadways can be treated with an insecticide  that is watered into the roots of the tree on a yearly or biannual basis by a homeowner or a tree service, or through bark or root injection by a qualified professional.  Now is the time to begin treatment of specimen trees.

What can be done in your woodlot now?  For areas of the forest with a high concentration of ash trees, consideration should be given toward how you want your forest to be post-EAB.  Plans should begin for invasive species control, to prevent unwanted proliferation of invasives following EAB mortality.  Planting and protecting native tree seedlings will help to establish new tree growth, which will help to transition the forest following ash mortality.

Forest Stewardship Program Rules Published: What do they mean?

yellow trout lilyVery recently, the DEP published its rules implementing the NJ Forest Stewardship Act.  The Forest Stewardship Act was signed into law at the very end of the Corzine administration in order to give an alternative method of meeting the minimum income requirement for certain forested properties.  The published rules are technically still a draft, although we hope that DEP will adopt them with only minor, immaterial changes.

In order to understand this new program, it is critical to know that it operates under the same constitutional amendment that provides for traditional Farmland Assessment.  Thus, the only way of receiving an assessment other than one based on the highest and best use is by proving that you have at least 5 acres actively devoted to agriculture.  Instead of creating a completely separate program from traditional Farmland Assessment, the authors of the Act allowed an alternative definition of how woodland could be considered "actively devoted to agriculture."  The two-fold test of (1) agricultural activity and (2) agricultural income have been altered so that the second part (income) is waived if certain requirements are met.

Some organizations have been arguing that the Forest Stewardship program would bring an end to the need to manage private property.  This is not the case, nor was it ever designed to be so.  Rather, agricultural activity in the woods can continue to be met through such activities as vine and brush control, tree planting, thinning, pest control, and others.  These do not need to be income-producing activities, however producing income from agricultural products is not prohibited (or even discouraged).

The largest obstacle to entering the program will be development of the Forest Stewardship Plan.  This will require an update to any existing plan, even Forest Stewardship Plans developed under the federal program of the same name.  At the present time, Gracie & Harrigan have identified certain clients who have agreed to serve as test cases in the development of Forest Stewardship Plans under these new rules.  As soon as the rules are finalized, work will begin and based on those results, we will determine the extent to which this new program may benefit other clients.

However, we caution that the vast majority of our clients (and their forests) may likely be better served under traditional Farmland Assessment.  This is because that program has a 50+ year history, and that history brings a large amount of regulatory predictability.  Although we are very responsive to the needs and desires of our clients, at least for the short term we would not immediately recommend the new Forest Stewardship program to clients who are able to meet the minimum income requirement for traditional Farmland Assessment over the long term.  This view may change after a few years of working with the new program.

For additional information on the proposed Forest Stewardship rules, read the joint statement prepared by the NJ Division of the Society of American Foresters and the NJ Forestry Association.

Why Do We Do That? Forest stand improvement explained

IMG 0917 SmallForest stand improvement is a very common recommendation under forest management plans that we write, but what is their ecological basis?  Forest stand improvement thinnings can take many forms. Most commonly they are either thinning from below or crop tree management.

By thinning from below foresters are seeking to mimic low- to moderate-intensity wildfires.  Such wildfires were common  hundreds of years ago and helped shape the forest that we know today. By favoring thick-barked species such as oaks and pine, such fires helped develop native wildlife and plant communities and were an important ecological process.  Of course your insurance company would likely not be happy if you started flicking matches into the forest. But by cutting thin-barked species, especially those with smaller diameters, we can get the same outcome using a slightly different process.

Crop tree management is slightly different in that we specifically identify high-quality and or high wildlife value trees that we wish to retain on the property.  Next we identify lower-value trees (either economic value or ecological value) that are competing with the trees designated to remain. Some of those trees that are directly competing with residual trees are designated to be cut.

Both systems are designed to increase the health and vitality of the residual forest as well as the individual trees designated to remain.  Since many of the residual trees are oaks and other thick-barked species, these methods correspond well to the outcomes of light- and medium-intensity wildfires. When such thinning is combined with competing understory vegetation control, we also have the added benefit of improving groundcover quality and improving the chances for developing new seedlings and saplings that should become the next generation of trees as the older trees die off.

As once-far-away disease problems become resident in northern and central New Jersey -- such as emerald ash borer and bacterial leaf scorch -- we are further reminded that our forests are dynamic, disturbance-dependent ecosystems. They will change whether we like it or not.  By following the ecological processes that developed these forests in the first place we have our best chance for keeping them healthy in the long term.

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Benefits

Practicing sustainable forestry  works to:

  • Protect water quality
  • Increase water yield
  • Promote forest health
  • Restore damaged forest ecosystems
  • Promote wildlife through the creation of habitat
  • Yield renewable forest products