August 7, 2017|By Kevin Harnish

A real threat exists to our nation’s working forests and the jobs that depend on them. It is crucial that we conserve the supply of forest products in regional markets, as the sustainable harvest of wood products is a critical economic driver in some of our country’s most rural and impoverished counties. 

Working forests provide numerous environmental and economic benefits to our country. According to a 2016 National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) report, privately owned working forestland directly supports over 900,000 jobs, and indirectly supports another 1.4 million jobs. The estimated value of timber sales and manufacturing shipments from private ownership is estimated to be over $280 billion annually. 

In response to the threat against our nation’s private forests and the regional economies that rely on them, The Conservation Fund formed the Working Forest Fund (WFF) to acquire, protect, manage, and restore ecologically significant forestland. WFF has successfully conserved nearly 500,000 acres of working forest in the United States to date. These acres provide economic benefits and help protect regional markets that support jobs from the manufacturing plant, to the lumber mill, to the forest. Using NAFO data on private U.S. forests, we can estimate that WFF forests created and/or support more than 3,000 jobs, with an annual payroll effect of more than $125 million. 

Let me describe a couple of great examples of our work for you. In 2014, WFF purchased 19,500 acres of highly productive pine forestland along the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia that we call Sansavilla. Over the past few years, we’ve been harvesting timber and restoring native longleaf and slash pine stands. This will serve to enhance gopher tortoise and indigo snake habitat. The value generated by the wood products harvested from this property is impressive, with an estimated impact of $14,250,000 in annual timber harvests and manufacturing shipments, which support an estimated 122 jobs.

8 7 Sansaville Georgia StacyFunderburke019Sansavilla. Photo by Stacy Funderburke.

Moving northward for my next example, WFF purchased 8,741 acres of forestland in the northern New Hampshire township of Success in 2011. This property is named the Success Pond Tract. In conjunction with a neighboring landowner, we are placing a working forest conservation easement on a combined 24,000 acres of forestland. The easement will prevent this crucial assemblage of working forest from being subdivided into small parcels, prohibit conversion from forestland to another land use, provide public recreational access, and allow for sustainable timber harvests in perpetuity. 

8 7 Success Pond from Goose Eye TrailelyA mountaintop view of Success Pond from Goose Eye Trail. 

We’ve also sustainably harvested 8,000 tons of forest products from the Success Pond Tract over the past two years. Here’s the crux of the balancing act: without harvesting timber there would be no jobs, and with too much timber harvesting there would be no ecological integrity. As a solution, the WFF harvests less volume on average than the forest grows, thus ensuring a perpetual flow of wood products from the property and long-lasting economic and environmental benefits to the local community. At Success Pond, this translates into an estimated 29 jobs and $900,000 contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP). 

David DeGruttola, a local forester, manages the Success Pond property for the Working Forest Fund and had this to say about our work: “The working forest easement for Success, NH allows the landowner to manage the natural resources within the terms of the easement to meet their goals and objectives, keeps the properties on the local tax rolls, and provides a periodic flow of forest products to mills. The Town of Success is located in close proximity to several sawmills, pulp mills, and biomass plants which is important for the sustainable management of the forest.” 

8 7 success 2017 27David DeGruttola, LandVest District Forester NH/ME, looks out over the Success Pond Tract that he manages for WFF. Photo provided by David DeGruttola.

The fragmentation of forestland—that we were able to prevent with the project at Success Pond—has serious economic and environmental consequences. When owners of large expanses of forestland sell their land off in small pieces, the probability that the area will be sustainably managed for timber production decreases commensurate with the size of individual land ownerships. Forestry is an “economy of scale” industry, so operating costs decrease as the operational area increases—and sustainably harvesting trees is an expensive operation. For instance, a logger must transport equipment to the harvest area and prepare a portion of the harvest area for the equipment and harvested wood products (called a log yard) before starting the job. And the landowner will often be required to make upfront investments in road infrastructure to allow a logger to access the area intended for harvest. 

As private forestland ownership becomes more fragmented and the probability of timber harvest declines, mills find it increasingly difficult to purchase the forest products they need nearby at an affordable price. Mills that are unable to compete are shuttered; reduced competition in regional markets deflates prices and harvesting becomes less attractive. As fewer landowners choose to harvest, logging jobs disappear and loggers lose the steady supply of work required to cover the high costs of maintaining their equipment and paying for insurance and labor costs. 

Weak forest products markets make it more difficult for landowners to afford to manage timberland efficiently, and make timberland ownership less financially attractive. As timberland ownership becomes less lucrative, landowners become more likely to convert their ownership to another land use, further reducing the quantity of available wood and job generating power in a region’s “woodbasket.” 

The WFF seeks to break this cycle and achieve both large-scale, high-quality conservation as well as sustainable economic development. I learned the value of conservation from my parents while growing up on our farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in a region where land use change is a reality. I witnessed the benefits that conservation efforts had on our farm and in our area. I am proud to work with a team of experts in forestland acquisition and management, committed to the large-scale conservation of our working forests. 

Kevin’s blog is the fourth in our WFF series. Make sure to read the rest!

Part I: Why We Need the Working Forest Fund by Brian Dangler

Part II: How the Working Forest Fund Identifies and Protects Working Forests by Buck Vaughan

Part III: Forest Management 101 by David Whitehouse 

The loss of America’s working forests is one of our nation’s most urgent yet overlooked environmental challenges, but we’ve got some good news! We recently helped safeguard 23,000 acres of working forestland in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts (called Cowee Forest) from development and fragmentation. Read more about the benefits working forests provide to people and nature in this article published by HuffPost.

Read more about the NAFO reports that reinforce the value of sustainably managed private working forests by clicking here.
 “The reports reveal that the more wood we use, the more trees forest owners grow, and that has a positive impact on everyone, especially in communities where working forests are the cultural and economic foundation.” Dave Tenny, NAFO President and CEO.