Tennessee's 15 State Forests range from mountain coves to bottomlands along the Mississippi. State Forests are managed for a mix of natural resources including game and non-game wildlife, and large, high-quality timber. State Forests lack improvements such as inns, golf courses and restrooms. However, they offer hunting, hiking, bird watching and tranquility.
Many state forest lands were in poor condition when acquired, either eroded or heavily timbered. Some were planted with trees to control erosion; others regenerated naturally into hardwood forest. Since then they have been carefully protected and managed.
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Plan 2020: Harvest Plan for Sustainable State Forests
The Tennessee Division of Forestry began intensively managing state forests in the early 1970s with the goals of regenerating hardwood stands (oak, hickory, maple, etc.) every 80 years and pine stands (predominantly loblolly pine) every 60 years. While the plan was scientifically sound, complete implementation did not occur and resulted in forest stands that are now skewed to mature or over-mature age classes on average. That simply means that on individual forests, too many stands already exceed 80 and 60 years old for hardwoods and pine respectively and too few stands are in age classes less than 80 and 60. It is important to have a diverse mix of age classes on any given forest to ensure the health, productivity and sustainability of that forest.
After more than a year in planning, the Division has developed and adopted a new forest regeneration plan that is designed to over time create healthier individual forests as well as a healthier system of forests. The plan is aptly known as Plan 2020: Harvest Plan for Sustainable Forests. The foundation of this new plan is the same as the plan developed in the 1970s, which was to regenerate hardwoods at 80 years and pine at 60 years. Another guiding principle incorporated into this new plan deals with the impact on volume of annual growth. Trees, like most living things, grow. The Division is able to determine how much the forests grow each year through continuous inventories. In recent years, the Division harvested about 50 percent of the forest’s annual growth system wide. When this new plan is implemented more timber will be harvested with a cap on removals at 70 percent of annual growth. This means that less volume will be cut than grows every year, yet the harvest rate will result in more age class diversification by creating younger stands.
Plan 2020 was implemented on July 1, 2012 with confidence that generations of Tennesseans to come will enjoy the many benefits afforded them by healthy, productive publicly-owned forests.
Another change taking place on state forests integral to the new harvest plan involves third-party certification. The Division submitted a request to the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) to certify state forests in hopes that official certification will be in place by the summer of 2013. It has become apparent over the past several years that the most desired certification by private landowners in Tennessee is the Tree Farm system. One reason state forests exist is to provide demonstrations of sound forest management for private landowners. Therefore, there seems to be a natural relationship between private owners and the state forest system. The standards set by ATFS are rigid and will ensure that state forest management practices are environmentally sound and sustainable for years to come. The Division looks forward to this new partnership with ATFS.