"We are currently preparing a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forest management plan for the 3,000-acre West Branch Wilderness Preserve – it’ll be the first of its kind for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania."
— Mike Eckley, outreach forester in Pennsylvania
What’s your role at The Nature Conservancy?
I work as the Pennsylvania Chapter’s first outreach forester, where my primary role is to assist with the development and implementation of forest stewardship projects on privately-owned working forest lands.
These projects include landowner outreach and education, preparation of certified forest management plans for cooperating landowners, and landowner assistance with implementation of forest management and restoration practices.
In which project area does your work focus?
At this time, most of my work is within the “Big Woods” of north central Pennsylvania, in the heart of the north central highlands. This region of the state consists of vast forest lands, with the primary watershed being the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
What is the most important project you’re either working on right now, or have recently completed?
We are currently preparing a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forest management plan for the 3,000-acre West Branch Wilderness Preserve – it’ll be the first of its kind for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania.
By obtaining FSC certification, we’re demonstrating that our forest management and restoration activities follow a comprehensive set of excellent sustainable forest management practices. This management plan will help us effectively implement our forest restoration strategies and showcase our working forest laboratory for education and outreach purposes to private landowners in our region.
We’re also using this plan to establish our Forest Conservation Program as an FSC “certified forest service provider” for private landowners. As an FSC-certified service provider, we’ll provide management services, including planning and on-the-ground restoration activities, to private forest landowners within our 3.6 million-acre forest conservation network. Advantages to landowners include best management practices for balancing wildlife and economic values, greatly reduced costs for forest certification, and potential entry into alternative forest product markets – such as carbon sequestration credits.
What is the Conservancy’s long-term goal for this project?
The completion of an FSC-certified forest management plan for our West Branch Wilderness Preserve will serve as a model, which we’ll use with private forest landowners cooperating in what we call our Working Forest Initiative.
The West Branch plan will also serve as a reference for developing and implementing forest management plans among the Conservancy’s other preserves in Pennsylvania. Ideally, we’d like to see FSC-certified forest management plans implemented by a high percentage of forest landowners within the 3.6 million-acre conservation network.