forests, industrial forests, and state-owned forests often have markedly dissimilar goals that can drive informational needs in different directions.
There are three fundamental issues concerning research on nonfederal forests. The issues are (1) the magnitude of research activities, (2) the organization and management of research, and (3) future research directions. In some respects, these issues parallel the research concerns expressed in Forestry Research: A Mandate for Change (National Research Council 1990).
Although research on forests in general provides information that is often applicable to nonfederal forests, there is no major national focus on the informational needs unique to nonfederal-forests-management per se. This is especially troublesome given the information void and inconsistencies that often plague analyses of major issues involving nonfederal forests. The information available to describe the latter is often out-of-date, gathered by agencies with conflicting interests, inconsistent in form and presentation, and incapable of being summed across regions. However, the 1978 and 1994 nationwide reviews of private forest owners have been helpful in this respect (Birch 1966, Birch, et al. 1982). More frequent compilations of this sort could prove especially useful in anticipating issues involving nonfederal forests and in designing suitable program responses by public and private organizations.
The lack of information about nonfederal forests is especially alarming when considered in the context of growing public perceptions of the importance of forests generally and with the meager and often declining research investments being made in most forestry sectors generally. Since the late 1970s, real dollar federal investments in forestry research have remained the same or declined slightly. Private wood-based investments in forestry research continue to be substantially below the national average (4.7 percent) for company research expenditures as a proportion of domestic sales (paper and allied products: 0.8 percent; lumber, wood products and furniture: 0.7 percent) (National Research Council 1990; Ellefson and Ek 1996). The magnitude of needed research investments is put into perspective by the 70 million acres of nonindustrial private forests that are worthy of management practices yielding at least a 4 percent real rate of return. An investment of over $7.2 billion would be needed to produce that return, an amount reflective of the minimum value of the goods and services produced by these forests (USDA Forest Service 1989a,b). An annual research investment of $1 million devoted to this landowner category would be less than 0.02 percent of this value. In addition to concern over funding of research, there is concern over the availability of researchers (since the late 1970s, the number of students earning doctoral degrees in forestry has increased very little) (National Research Council 1990; United Nations 1992).