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Market Access and Forest Stewardship:   How Sustainability Certification and Renewable Biomass Mandates Threaten Nonindustrial Private Forests

 

Most nonindustrial private forests harvest timber. In fact, NIPFs contribute between 50 and 60 percent of the annual harvest volume in the United States.11 The U.S. Forest Service’s National Woodland Owners Survey (NWOS) reports that 50 percent of family forest owners have harvested trees at some point during their tenure, and that these owners control 71 percent of the total family forest acreage.12

 

Current harvesting rates, it should be noted, have not reduced total forest coverage or the environmental benefits that flow from our nation’s forests. Indeed, timber growth in the United States has exceeded the harvests since 1952, resulting in 39 percent increase in domestic growing stock volume between 1953 and 2002.13 During this time period, the domestic forest inventory accrued more volume than it lost to mortality and harvest by more than one-third.14According to researchers at the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, “the lowest rates of deforestation and net forest carbon emissions (change in forest stock) occur in global regions with the highest rates of industrial wood harvest and forest product output.”15

 

Size, ownership, and harvesting aside, the truly distinguishing characteristic of nonindustrial private forests is their environmental productivity. They provide a “wealth of nontimber benefits that extend from tangible benefits of clean water, wildlife, and biodiversity to less tangible but equally valuable benefits of recreational enjoyment, scenic beauty, and cultural ideas of place.”16

 

Of the public goods generated on private forests, water purification and wildlife habitat are perhaps the most significant. Private nonindustrial forests protect water quality by slowing runoff, stabilizing soils, preventing erosion and floods, and filtering pollutants. And their contribution to water purification is significant; an estimated 25 percent of all the water flow in the United States comes from or is filtered by nonindustrial private forests.17 Converting private forests to developed uses increases the amount of impervious surfaces and, consequently, reduces the lands’ water cleaning capacity.18

 

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