The American Forest Foundation (AFF) has announced a new initiative to ensure family-owned forests in the southern United States can continue to meet the growing and changing global market needs for sustainable wood supplies, while protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat and other forest benefits, now and for future generations.
This announcement comes on the heels of a new report from AFF - Vanishing Pieces of the Puzzle - that highlights the most significant resources, or benefits, Americans receive from family-owned forests – with wood for products being a top benefit, along with clean air and water, wildlife habitat and species biodiversity, space for recreation and rural jobs. The report also revealed regional priorities, with wood and wildlife habitat emerging as top in the South.
Through this new initiative, AFF will assess how these forest benefits vary across woodbaskets in the south and how sustainable land management can play a role in protecting and enhancing them.
Overall, the forest products industry in the South produces 57 percent of the total U.S. timber harvested by volume. This industry supports more than 439,000 jobs, as well as indirect employment, totaling 1.1 million jobs. The economic engine behind this industry is driven largely by private forests, where in the South, 58 percent are owned by families and individuals. In recent years, some southern forests and forest owners have seen an increase in demand for wood pellets and other products, for both domestic and European markets. Through this assessment, AFF will gain insight into how these demands are impacting the South's family forests and identify potential strategies to help family woodland owners continue to sustain these forests and their benefits.
Not coincidentally, southern forests also rank at the top of all forests in biodiversity when measured by wildlife and plant species, with 12 southern states ranking in the top 20 in the U.S. in number of species. According to an April 2015 report issued by the National Academy of Science, three of the top five priority locations for conservation fall within this southern region.
“AFF has a long history, almost 75 years, of successfully working with family forest landowners through the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and other AFF programs, to ensure forests provide for all Americans,” said Rita Hite, Executive Vice President of Woodlands at AFF. “The Southern Initiative is just one of the ways we are looking into how we can evolve and strengthen our programs to ensure family-owned forests meet our needs today and in the future. We hope that our partners in the forest community and the forest products supply chain, from manufacturers to consumers, see the potential for a greater impact on the ground with this regionalized approach and work with us to bring our initiative to fruition.”
The initiative, which is launching in the lead up to the 75th anniversary of ATFS, will be conducted in two phases. Phase one focuses on building an understanding of the priority wildlife habitat areas and wood supply needs by conducting an assessment of existing data and gathering input from forest industry partners, ATFS State Committees, forest landowners, state agencies, conservation partners, and brand companies. Initial input from these AFF partners suggest that one of the largest barriers to sustainable supply for forest products companies is family forest landowners who are not engaged in active land management. Further analysis on landowner attitudes, interests and barriers to sustainable forest management will also be conducted throughout the assessment.
Based on results from phase one and appropriate funding from partners, AFF will develop a second phase which will include an outreach strategy to engage and work with landowners in priority woodbaskets to assist and validate the land is being managed sustainably, with the help of local partners, and programs such as ATFS or others.
“AFF, continues to be at the forefront of efforts to engage landowners in producing sustainably-managed wood, while still protecting and enhancing forest health and wildlife habitat.” said Florida State Forester Jim Karels. “State Foresters across the South are strong partners with AFF and we applaud them on this effort and look forward to partnering with them through this initiative.”
The American Forest Foundation (AFF) works on the ground with families, teachers and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage. A commitment to the next generation unites our nationwide network of forest owners and teachers working to keep our forests healthy and our children well-prepared for the future they will inherit.