Making Impacts that Matter: The Master Woodland Owner Program

By Mike Reichenbach, Matt Russell, and Emily Dombeck, Minnesota Master Woodland Owner Program, University of Minnesota Extension

Sustainable management is vital for the continuing health of Minnesota's forests. To help family woodland owners become better stewards of their woods, University of Minnesota Extension created the Master Woodland Owner (MWO) program. Launched in early 2016, this new landowner education program has enrolled 82 woodland owners with a combined total of over 3,700 acres of forested property.

bar graph of woodland owner program

Using a hybrid approach to learning, the program is taught through on-line readings, forum discussions, and web conferences, and is supplemented with in-person field tours, thus rounding out the participants' experience. In just under six months, woodland owners complete twelve modules, each on a different woodland stewardship topic. Throughout the course, woodland owners learn from natural resource professionals such as DNR and soil and water conservation district foresters and wildlife specialists.

Participants enter the program at various stages of woodland ownership. As one recent MWO participant observed, "As a beginner landowner, the instructors and participants have affirmed the viability [of specific management decisions] but also the risks involved. As a result I have altered my plans, and correctly so—I have avoided making very naïve and uneducated decisions." Other landowners share decades' worth of experiences in being stewards of their woods an invaluable benefit of the program's cohort learning model.

When planning the course, Extension conducted an online survey to see which topics forest landowners are interested in learning about. Taking cues from the survey responses, the MWO program dives into topics such as woodland management, harvesting timber, forest health, and wildlife. In addition, woodland owners learn about stewardship plans, soils, tax incentives, non-timber forest products, and identifying invasive species. A capstone project focuses the landowner on a project they wish to accomplish on their own property, and guides them as they develop the steps and timeline for completing the project. After a review with suggestions and comments from the Extension forestry faculty, the landowner is left with an actionable plan for their property.

Registration opens in March for a new class centered in the Brainerd area. The online course is scheduled to begin on May 3. The first in-person gathering for this class will be May 18 at the Gathering Partners of Natural Resources conference held at Cragun's Resort. This is an annual conference co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension Forestry and Minnesota Master Naturalist programs. All participants enrolled in the Master Woodland Owner program will have the option of registering for other field tours and sessions available during the conference.

We hope that you'll pass this information along to a woodland owner. More information about the program, including registration and program details, will be available on our website in March.

Emily Dombeck is the forestry program coordinator at University of Minnesota Extension.
Mike Reichenbach is an Extension Professor at University of Minnesota Extension.
Matt Russell is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist at the University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources. For questions about the Master Woodland Owner program, contact Mike at [email protected] 218-726-6470 or Matt at [email protected] or 612-626-4280.