The Challenge of Maintaining Working Forests in 21st Century America

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Recently I made a presentation to the Society of American Foresters (SAF) at their annual conference. My overall theme was that working forests, not wilderness areas and parks, are the prospective foundations of our prosperity in the 21st century. Professional foresters are well aware of this point. The challenge is convincing urban America and policymakers of the urgent need to reverse an overburden of regulation and wilderness designations that has turned once glorious forests into tinder kegs of off-limits timber.

Forestry pioneer Gifford Pinchot (who founded the SAF in 1900) explained a century ago that “conservation is the application of common sense to common problems for the common good.” Common-sense action is needed now because in the next decade we are going to witness the largest transfer of land and wealth in United States history. Nobody is paying any attention to this dramatic, landscape-changing demographic. The risk is that more and more aging landowners will sell their land for development – all because as a society we’ve failed to provide sufficient ways for landowning families to maintain working forests, farms and ranches as productive enterprises.

Fortunately, there are solid examples from Maine and Mississippi to California of conservation easements which are successfully “keeping working land working” – providing jobs, paying taxes, and generating a host of “ecosystem services” including all four types: provisioning services (food, timber, water and fuels), regulating services (water purification and carbon sequestration), supporting services (climate regulation), and cultural services (aesthetic values and sense of place).

Take the case of Roseburg Forest Products which has finalized a 8,230 acre conservation easement on the slopes of Mt. Shasta in California’s Sierra foothills. Roseburg President Allyn Ford explains this multiple victory: “We believe the future of our company and our industry is in managing our forests for all the public benefits they provide, including sustainable wood supplies, renewable energy, and clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife and increased carbon storage. Conservation easements provide us with compensation for this stewardship, making our business more robust.”

In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, GreenTrees, a privately managed forest restoration and carbon sequestration program, has planted more than four million trees and has over two million tons of carbon offsets under contract for Duke Energy, Norfolk Southern and others.

Spreading the word about forestry success stories is essential to offset development pressures by showing how working lands support land management, manufacturing, fuel alternatives and carbon sequestration while safeguarding clean water for metropolitan America, critical wildlife habitats, outdoor recreation and urban shade. It’s also essential that Congress act fast to extend the conservation easement tax breaks which expired Dec. 31, 2011.

pdf Read the full speech here (450 KB PDF)