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Preserving a Forest

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Preserving a Forest Families seldom talk about the future of woodlands they own, according to Allyson Muth, program associate for the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program. “Seventy percent of Pennsylvania’s forestland is held by individuals, families, hunting clubs, and other private groups,” she said. “Many of the trees we see around us and enjoy are there because someone has a personal affinity for the land and its trees and a commitment to caring for them. Heirs usually want to maintain the legacy of previous generations, but often they don’t feel included in decision making and lack preparation for becoming the next forestland owner.”

A recent study conducted by the School of Forest Resources showed that many of the state’s private landowners are thinking about their forestland but are not always taking meaningful actions to plan for future ownership.

In the study “Exploring the Private Forestlands of Pennsylvania,” 53 percent of current forestland owners surveyed told Penn State researchers they intend to leave their land to more than one heir. Under this scenario, Muth noted, land that long was cared for to meet one or two persons’ values is suddenly viewed differently.

“The disposition of the land can cause controversy and strife in a family because often heirs have different plans and agendas,” she explained. “As a current forest landowner, talking with your heirs about what’s important to you can head off trouble.”

Penn State Extension offers many resources to engage the estate or succession planning process. Forest Stewardship 13: Estate Planning, offered by the Penn State Extension Renewable Natural Resources Team, is available for download on the web from pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/uh105.pdf.