Service (1996a). The range in number and size of private owners is large to the extent that generalizations can be misleading. The service estimated the total number of private forestland ownership units, the majority of which are located in the eastern United States (Table A-11), to be 9.9 million. Fifty-nine percent of these units range from one to nine acres. Although owners of these small tracts make up the majority of landowners, together they own less than 5 percent of U.S. forestland (Tables A-12 and A-13). Forty-five percent of the nation's private forestland is made up of tracts of at least 500 acres; 80 percent is made up of tracts of at least 50 acres. Studies indicate a shift toward more owners of smaller forestland parcels. In 1978, approximately 22 percent of the nation's private forestland was made up of parcels of 99 or fewer acres; in 1994, about 32 percent was made up of parcels this size (Table A-13).
Between one-fifth and one-quarter of the nation's private forestland has changed ownership since 1978 (Table A-14). Forty percent of private ownership units were acquired since 1978; only 10 percent were acquired before 1950 (Table A-15). Although they are responsible for 39 percent of the private forestland, only 5 percent of these owners have written forest management plans (Table A-16). Only 3 percent of the owners hold land primarily for timber-production purposes; however, these owners control approximately 29 percent of private forestland (Table A-17). Forestland held primarily for land investment accounts for about 10 percent of the total private forestland area and 9 percent of the owners. Increasingly, timberland also is managed for institutional investors. Binkley et al. (1996) estimated that the timberland acreage held primarily for institutional investors was in excess of 2.5 million acres in 1994. The estimated market value of these lands was nearly $2.8 billion.
Public nonfederal owners control 13 percent of the nation's nonfederal forestlands, an amount that declined by approximately 3 million acres between 1987 and 1992 (Table A-1). Nearly 81 percent (52 million acres) of public nonfederal forestland is located in the Northeast, North Central, and Pacific Northwest regions. Public nonfederal ownership of timberland, a subset of forestland, increased from 27 million acres in 1952 to an all-time high of 35 million acres in 1992 (Table A-3). This increase is attributable to a slight decrease in county and municipal timberland area and to the acquisition of more than 8 million acres by state governments between 1952 and 1992.
The importance of nonfederal public forests should not be underestimated, nor should the variety of directions that guide their management. Of the nearly 64 million acres of nonfederal public forests, 84 percent is owned by state governments (Table A-10). Some states acquired forestland through statehood grants (e.g., Washington), whereas others obtained it through acquisitions or possibly tax delinquency (e.g., Pennsylvania and Minnesota). Alaska received major