Farm Family Manages Timber with Forest Stewardship Program – DTN

    Southern Iowa forestland that’s been part of a family farm for generations is habitat for native animals and a refuge for the humans who own it. Meandering through the trees with Tom and Julita Pollard on a day of sun and showers last fall, they make clear their feelings for this land. “We love it here,” said Julita, though her beaming face renders the statement unnecessary. “It’s our legacy.”

    Not long ago, the 90-acre stand of timber was an overgrown tangle of trees and weeds. But today, this Clarke County land is a forest-management “showplace” thanks to the Pollards’ vision, said Randy Goerndt, Iowa Department of Natural Resources district forester.

    “The Pollards are a great example of what people can accomplish who want to get things done on the ground,” Goerndt said. “Active forest management is what all Iowa forest landowners should be doing to preserve our forests for future generations.”

    The Pollards’ tract of primarily oak, hickory and walnut trees was originally owned by an uncle of Tom’s, who sold it to his maternal grandparents in the 1940s. Tom and his siblings inherited the woodlands, which they held in partnership for many years.

    Ultimately, the partnership dissolved, and Tom and Julita bought the land at auction in 2008. They purchased additional acres of adjoining red and white oak savanna from a neighbor, affording them a beautiful addition to their woodlands and road access to this formerly landlocked parcel.


    The timber was clear-cut about 30 years ago. It became overgrown and overcrowded over the ensuing decades. The Pollards knew something needed to be done to restore the property to thriving woodlands.

    Four years ago, Tom read an article about the USDA’s Forest Stewardship Program, which sparked their interest in specific restoration methods. “I thought that program might get that timber tract under some type of professional management and control. I knew it was just sitting there and not going in any planned direction,” Tom said.


    timber_trees_dferguson_watson_063They attended an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR) meeting to learn about improving timber, which led to a partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They are now participating in a five-year Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) contract, overseen by NRCS, and they also have received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “I’m pretty proud of that timber because I know it is more valuable now, both to wildlife and conservation of the soil,” Tom said. “The timber products will be used someday for benefit of man.”

    The thinning in the woodlands was done to improve crop tree diameter growth rates and the production of mast, or nuts and acorns, for wildlife, Goerndt said. Thinning should be done at 10- to 15-year intervals to enhance forest production, increase food sources for wildlife and stimulate the forest understory to provide abundant and diverse wildlife cover for fawning, hiding, nesting and loafing.

    “As with savanna management, this practice also stimulates the natural reproduction of desirable shade-intolerant tree species, such as oaks, black walnuts and shagbark he added.


    To most, the look and feel of the savanna and the woodlands are the same, but there is a distinction. Density defines the two stands of trees.

    “A savanna is a mixture of just enough overstory trees to optimize ground level light conditions necessary for the establishment of native prairie plants,” Goerndt explained. Typically, that would mean a forest canopy of less than 60%. This is also the same level that promotes the establishment and growth of natural tree and woody shrub reproduction.

    “To maintain that density, the woody plants have to be periodically controlled by mechanical or chemical means, including prescribed fire, to allow the native plants to survive,” he said.

    Tom grew up here as a farm kid, but his father discouraged his entry into production agriculture, urging him to go to college and leave behind a hard life on hardscrabble land. It was 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, when Tom graduated from high school. He got his degree from Loras College, in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1972 and then served in the Peace Corps for three years in Mato Grosso, Brazil, where he met Julita.

    Later in life, he earned a master’s degree in agriculture from Iowa State University and worked in the ISU Extension and Outreach farm safety program with Charles Schwab.

    Julita is a nuclear medicine technician who has worked throughout the U.S. The Pollards are building a cabin in this remote stretch of farm country near Osceola and also have a home in Des Moines.


    Tom’s Peace Corps experience and farm upbringing, coupled with Julita’s like-minded enthusiasm and sensibilities have led to their appreciation for both conservation and technology. It also fueled their desire to be good stewards of the land.

    “Bringing the world back home is one of the goals of the Peace Corps,” Tom said. “One of the many things I learned there is that not all ag practices we use in the U.S. are the best or only way. There are many right ways to farm and produce ag products.”


    The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat on agricultural land, nonindustrial private forestland and Indian land.

    The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 reauthorized WHIP as a voluntary approach to improving wildlife habitat. The Natural Resources Conservation Service administers WHIP to provide both technical assistance and up to 75% cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat.

    WHIP cost-share agreements between NRCS and the participant generally last from one year after the last conservation practice is implemented but not more than 10 years from the date the agreement is signed.

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