The Big Three: Beauty, Wildlife and Nature

Forestry's always dismissive and increasingly vocal critics have convinced millions of Americans that forest landowners are greedy people.

Jim Petersen -
The Big Three: Beauty, Wildlife and Nature

Forestry’s always dismissive and increasingly vocal critics have convinced millions of Americans that forest landowners are greedy people who simply don’t care about “nature.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. For proof, consult the latest woodland landowner survey here conducted by the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis program via the Family Forest Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

We’ve been citing these annual surveys for about 30 years and still have hard copies of the first surveys we discovered in the National Agricultural Library at Beltville, Maryland in 1990. We’ve also interviewed dozens of woodland owners from every forested state in nation, so we know which forest management objectives rank highest in their minds.

FIA Survey

The just released FIA survey summarizes the results of 9,518 randomly selected questionnaires distributed to woodland owners in 2017 and 2018. Here are their highest priorities, ranked in order or importance. [1] Protecting the aesthetic beauty of their land [2] Protecting wildlife habitat and [3] Privacy. Hard to do while “chopping down all the trees.”

Harvesting timber is No. 11 on the list of management objectives. Ironic given the fact that, as an ownership class, small timberland owners account for a significant percentage of the wood fiber consumed in our country: lumber, plywood, engineered wood products, printer paper and packaging material [thank you Amazon].

Might this mean that harvesting timber and protecting forests are compatible objectives? It certainly seems so, but you can decide for yourself.

America’s 9.6 million woodland owners are mainly generational families that own and manage from 28 to 100 acres of forestland, though in the West, Tree Farm ownerships tend to be larger than they are elsewhere in the nation. There is also a greater emphasis on commercial timber production. We attribute this difference to the productivity of Douglas-fir forests west of the Cascades in Washington, Oregon and northern California.

FIA Narrative

Emma Sass, a research fellow with the Family Forest Research Center and Brett Butler, a research forester with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, wrote the narrative that accompanies the latest survey results. You can read it here – and we hope you will because their findings solidly refute forestry’s critics.

We interviewed Mr. Butler for our recently published report, FIA: THE GOLD STANDARD. You can access the report here. His comments are on Pages 21 and 22.

There is a great deal to learn. This link leads to the main page for FIA’s Woodland Owner Survey. Note that the survey dashboard at the bottom of the page is interactive. It holds a wealth of information.

This hyperlink leads to the survey questionnaire for Alabama, but you can pick any state and get the same information.

“Who Owns America’s Forests?” holds even more information gathered from a variety of sources: private timberland ownerships [corporate and non-corporate] plus state, county, tribal and federal ownerships. Federal ownerships are concentrated in the West and non-corporate woodland ownerships are in the Northeast and Southeast. Click here.

These datasets and their colorful graphics were assembled from multiple public sources [mainly FIA] by Mila Alvarez, U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, a non-profit established under the terms of the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement between the U.S. and Canada

“Most family woodland owners in the U.S. have a deep love for their land,” Ms. Sass and Mr. Butler write in their report. “The vast majority of owners, 88 percent, agree or strongly agree with the statement, ‘I want my wooded land to stay wooded,’ 68 percent of these owners agree or strongly agree that they have a strong emotional tie to their wooded land and 78 percent say they know their wooded land well.”

Forestry’s best stories will always belie its naysayers.