From the mountains to the coast, North Carolina is brimmed with rich and diverse forest resources. Often referred to as “the birthplace of American Forestry,” North Carolina boasts more than 18 million acres of timberland across the state, most of which is owned by private landowners. By accounting for roughly 83% of the state’s acreage, private landowners are in the thick of a robust forest sector that supports communities across all 100 counties. Owning timberland is one thing, but ensuring this vital natural resource remains healthy and productive can be toilsome. Being able to actively and successfully manage woodlands depends on careful, science-based forest management.
To help navigate the inevitable challenges that come with the territory of being a woodland owner, the N.C. Forest Service offers five forestry financial assistance programs which include the Forest Development Program (FDP), Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program, N.C. Prescribed Burning Cost Share Program, Foresters for Healthy Waters Program and American Forests. These programs are designed to help landowners establish and manage their forests by partially reimbursing them for costs associated with specific forestry practices.
Vinson Bridgers and partner Scott Dunn, owners of 385 acres in Edgecombe County — 250 of which is timberland ranging from three to 40 years old — have utilized N.C. Forest Service cost share programs over the years to help them implement forest management practices that not only benefit them, but North Carolina as a whole. Bridgers received financial assistance through the Forest Development Program and Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program to conduct forestry practices such as reforestation, precommercial thinning and understory spraying.
“Cost share makes it so much more attainable,” Bridgers said when discussing his ability to carry out recommended forestry practices if cost share programs were absent from the equation. “When you’re a small landowner, you depend on the cost share programs to help supplement what you’ve got to put into it your lands to have a sustainable forest.”
Bridgers and Dunn purchased Henrietta Farm in 1996 and began replanting loblolly and longleaf pine on tracts that had been previously clear-cut. Since then, Bridgers has been managing his acreage for timber and wildlife habitat, specifically the Northern bobwhite quail.
For a landowner to qualify and apply for cost share assistance, a management plan approved by the N.C. Forest Service must be in place. Michael Witting, a consulting forester who offers a variety of forest management services such as timber inventory, reforestation, herbicide application and wildlife management to residents of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, wrote Bridgers’ initial management plan more than 15 years ago. The N.C. Forest Service encourages private landowners to employ professional consulting foresters whenever they can also provide needed forestry services.
With Edgecombe County having roughly 169,000 acres of timberland, local N.C. Forest Service staff will annually produce a high volume of forest management plans while dishing out a healthy sum of cost share assistance for reforestation. NCFS Edgecombe County Ranger Adam Greene affirms that private landowners like Bridgers, who actively manage their woodlands, leave a lasting impact in the county and across the state.
“Mr. Bridgers has all stages of timber on his property, from tracts that have just recently been planted to older, mature timber,” said Greene. “He’s been very active with us as well as his consulting forester when it comes to having work completed to achieve his management goals.”
Greene went on to say that his staff works with Bridgers throughout the year to provide a variety of services such as cost share assistance, putting in firelines and conducting prescribed burning operations.
“He’s been a good steward of his woodlands and the forestry outlook in our county would not be what you see today without active landowners like Mr. Bridgers” Greene added.
The forest management success that Bridgers and Dunn have enjoyed over the years is a testament to the relationship between committed landowners, the dedication of a consulting forester and a dependable N.C. Forest Service staff.
“They’ve never failed to respond to any problem that we’ve had, big or small,” said Bridgers about the N.C. Forest Service staff in Edgecombe County. “No question, the biggest thing they’ve helped us with is putting in our firelines. They’ve done them all and they’ve given us excellent service.”
Through technical and financial assistance programs and services offered by the N.C. Forest Service, woodland owners have access to a variety of forest management and practice plans designed to help keep woodlands healthy, productive and resilient. Forest rangers with the N.C. Forest Service can help landowners accomplish their management objectives, navigate cost share programs and provide advice so that North Carolina forestland continues to provide benefits and value that we all depend on.
“I’m just fortunate to have a tract of land like this for my family and me to be able to enjoy and utilize its natural resources now and for the future.”
For more information on available technical and financial assistance programs, visit https://www.ncforestservice.gov/Managing_your_forest/pdf/NCFS_Forestry_CS_matrix_2_2023.pdf. To learn how to apply for these financial assistance programs, contact your NCFS county ranger’s office. Contact information is available at http://www.ncforestservice.gov/contacts.
Editorial note: This article is the first in a series of three articles about financial assistance opportunities offered by the N.C. Forest Service.