Protect your private woodlands: Grow skills, knowledge to become a better forest steward

URBANA, Ill. – After a successful first year of branching out, the Beginning Forest Landowner Program is returning in 2023 to help more Illinois forest owners manage their woodlands. Buying and maintaining forested land can be intimidating, but the University of Illinois Extension Forestry program is working with landowners to build the skills and confidence they need to maintain healthy forests and achieve their goals.

“Landowners gain many benefits from actively managing their private forests and woodlands,” says Taryn Bieri, Beginning Forest Landowner Program project coordinator. “People often focus on timber production, but proper forest management also supports wildlife conservation, enhances woodland beauty, and preserves the forests' ecological benefits for future generations.”

Two options exist in the 2023 for Illinois residents - a full course and a virtual short course. Anyone who bought a forested property in the last 10 years and forest owners with unmanaged forests are eligible to apply.

The full, in-person course runs from March 2023 to February 2024. One weekend a month, participants will attend a full-day instructional session at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Simpson, followed by a hands-on field day at various sites throughout Southern Illinois. Field day exercises will be led by Extension Forestry experts and program partners and participants will connect with experienced landowners.

The course is limited to 25 participants, and cost is $50. Priority is given to applicants who purchased a forested property in the last 10 years, forest owners who are new to management, and those who own land in Southern Illinois. 

A virtual course offered as a webinar series in September will include an optional field day in Southern Illinois and costs $10. This course is open to those who live upstate or those in Southern Illinois who cannot attend the full course.

Both in-person and online options will explore forest ecology, tree identification, the timber harvesting process, thinning and pruning, managing for wildlife, invasive species control, prescribed burning, and more. 

Applications are due by February 10. Learn more and apply at go.illinois.edu/ForestryPrograms.

For questions about the program, or to request a reasonable accommodation to participate, please contact Taryn at tbieri@illinois.edu. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting your access needs. 

A three-year grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program supports this program, which is a collaboration between Illinois Extension Forestry and the Illinois Forestry Association, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, Shawnee Resource Conservation & Development Area, Nature Conservancy, Southern Illinois Prescribed Burn Association, and River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area.

The Extension Forestry program provides forestry and natural resources education, technical assistance, programming, and awareness to a diverse audience, including an estimated 132,000 private forest landowners who own 3.7 million acres or 82% of all forest land in Illinois. Find more about the program at extension.illinois.edu/forestry.

Photo: University of Illinois Extension and Southern Illinois Prescribed Burn Association discussing fire line prep and common tools used on a prescribed fire. Photo credit: Raymond Bieri III.

SOURCETaryn Bieri, Beginning Forest Landowner Program Project Coordinator

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