When you turned on your lights today, did you think of a family forest owner? Or how about this morning when you walked across your dark-stained pine floors and opened the drawers to your maple bureau: did you imagine the family-owned forest where it may have come from? Or when you sneezed and reached for a tissue?
Because families care for more of America’s forests than the government or corporations, family-owned forests and the products produced from these lands are part of every aspect of our lives and most of us don't even realize it. These lands are an integral piece of America’s forest puzzle—without them, we wouldn’t have the same clean air and water, wildlife habitat, places to recreate, or forest products we all use every day.
New research from the American Forest Foundation, produced in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the Family Forest Research Center, shows that the wood supplies in family-owned forests are abundant—these forests currently have more than 358 billion cubic feet of standing wood.
To put this into context, if all this wood was low quality biomass and were used as fuel, it would create enough energy for 67 million houses for one year. Or, looking at it another way, that includes enough high quality, large logs to build 37 million homes. And could be renewed to build or power just as many in the future!
But is this wood available to meet growing demands from a whole slew of products—from pellets for energy, to paper supplies, to wood for new and innovative tall buildings?
AFF’s new research shows that we must pay close attention to this large piece of the wood supply puzzle but not for the reasons most think. The research shows that the two largest issues that could make wood supplies from family-owned forests unavailable are landowners "uninterested" in harvesting and development pressures, followed closely by environmental threats like wildfire, insects, diseases, and natural disasters like hurricanes. Ironically, many of these threats to this wood supply can be addressed by increased market demand for forest products.
Picture this: you’re a woodland owner and you don't do much with your land, you haven't planned for its future, and you think cutting trees is actually bad for your woods. In short, you’re “uninterested.” Then imagine a wildfire runs through your property burning your too heavily stocked woods, turning what should have been a low level fire into an inferno. The clean air and water and wildlife habitat your woods provided is gone, replaced with dead trees that are not only an eyesore but a liability. You start to notice that your stream is cloudy and the fish are gone--replaced with more and more runoff from your barren land. Your forest and all its benefits have vanished. When a developer offers you a sum for your land, it’s impossible to refuse, especially if there’s no mill to buy your trees.
Nearly 30 percent of the wood volume on family forests is owned by good people who want to own a piece of beauty, but are “uninterested”—they don't have the awareness, tools and information to take care of it properly. Without proper care, markets to finance this care, and long-term planning on family forests, families will find it difficult to resist other pressures—like development pressures, wildfires, and insects and diseases—putting wood supplies and many other forest benefits at risk.
In an alternative scenario, imagine you're a woodland owner and you’ve consulted a local forester who recommends thinning your thick forest, to reduce your wildfire risk. Because you had a local mill to buy your trees, your woods are safer and the mill is stocked with responsibly-grown wood. And you now have revenue to reinvest back into your woods, helping you purchase a couple hundred trees to plant to renew the carbon cycle and resist the developer’s offer. Demand for your wood supplies actually helped protect your forests and keep it in forest.
To tackle the real threat to America’s family forests and the wood supplies on these lands, we must address the “uninterested” landowner issue--engage more woodland owners in active management to make it easier for families to withstand threats like development pressures or wildfires.
More demand, not less, for the wood produced on family forests, will mean landowners have the financial means to address these problems in our woods.
Without this, wood supplies from family forests will likely be a vanishing piece of the puzzle.