Family forests are undergoing an unprecedented transfer of ownership. In Virginia, 20% of private forests are owned by people over 65; they own 38% of Virginia’s forestland. This land will soon be either transferred to heirs or sold. In fact, 1 in 5 acres is owned by people who plan to sell or transfer some or all of their land in the next 5 years. Most people (74%) buying forestland in Virginia are first time forest owners. They tend to be well-educated and economically privileged, and think of themselves as responsible, caring stewards of the land. However, they often cite lack of knowledge as a reason for not engaging in forest management activities and may not be aware of traditional sources of forest management information, such as Extension.
Transfer of forest ownership presents an excellent opportunity for forestry Extension professionals to make contact with new landowners, share management information and encourage a view of woodlands as potential sources of income, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, firewood, and ecosystem services, all of which may be improved by active forest management.
To reach landowners early on in their tenure, the Virginia Forest Landowner Education program developed the Real Forestry for Real Estate program. This program has two components:
Welcome to the Woods! A Guide for New Woodland Owners
First, we developed a publication which covers the top ten things new woodland owners should know, including:
- How do Your Woods Work?
- Why did you Purchase the Property?
- Getting to Know Your Property
- What are the Challenges to Good Woodland Management?
- Safe Landowners
- Financial Considerations
- Woodland Certification
- Planning for the Future of Your Property
- Educational Opportunities
- Assistance for New Woodland Owners
Included in each publication is a postage-paid postcard which can be returned to the VFLEP to receive more information on forestry Extension programs. We strongly encourage real estate professionals to distribute these publications to their rural land clients.
The second component of this program involves dissemination of the Welcome to the Woods publication. Delivery of information like this to new woodland owners can be challenging. We hope to overcome this challenge by having the publications hand-delivered by a professional with whom they have already established a relationship, their Realtor. To recruit real estate professionals, the we developed real estate continuing education courses and field tours which are offered 6-10 times per years throughout Virginia. These programs focus on the importance of forests and forestry, and provide real estate professionals with tools which may help them better market their product (i.e., rural land). At the end of each program, we discuss the Welcome to the Woods publication and distribute a set number to each participant with instructions to hand them out to clients interested in purchasing forested lands.