Small Sustainably Managed Forests Are Crucial for the Future of Our Planet

Private Forest Ownership

More than half of the 751 million acres of forest land in the United States is owned and managed by roughly 11 million private forest owners, 92% of which are individual private landowners. The bulk of America’s privately owned forests are located in the Northeast, and nearly all of them are working forests, earning some measure of income from logging. When those forests are sustainably managed, they not only provide their local communities with scenic spaces, wildlife habitats and fresh air, they represent a crucial way to deal with ever-increasing carbon emissions and their effect on the planet.

When timber is carefully and consciously grown and harvested, it maintains the balance of the forest. Trees of mixed ages and species are often interplanted so the process of harvesting mature timber doesn’t eliminate entire stretches of forest. That means the forest can keep on producing timber continuously over a period of time while providing benefits to the people and animals that live within it and nearby. But just as importantly, forests capture and store carbon.

According to the New York Times, many owners of small private forests measuring roughly 1,000 acres or less are finding that they can produce a steady income from both sustainable logging and the carbon market while preserving natural spaces that have, in many cases, been in their families for generations. Many small forest owners don’t even know such opportunities exist, but it’s true – they can turn the carbon stored in their forests into credits “that can then be sold to polluters who want or need to offset their carbon footprints.”

Environmental organizations like the Pinchot Institute and the Nature Conservancy are working to educate forest owners about their options, showing them how they can generate income and reduce the initial costs of entering the carbon market, which requires taking an inventory of trees, assessing the forest’s carbon content and estimating future growth along with several rounds of auditing. Digital tools equipped with lasers to measure distances and inclinometers to measure height are starting to make the inventory process a lot easier, too.

To benefit from the programs, there’s no need for owners to stop logging their land – provided they do it sustainably.

Check out the story at The New York Times, and learn more about the Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program at Nature.org.

Image via USDA Forest Service

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