Extensive and Important Forests
America's nonfederal forests are extensive and important. Two-thirds of the nation's forestland—nearly 490 million acres—are owned and managed by nonfederal entities. These owners include: state, county, and tribal governments; corporations; and millions of individual private citizens, including more than nine million who each own fewer than 100 acres. This latter group is referred to as nonindustrial private forestland owners. An estimated 20 million acres of nonfederal forest are considered to be urban and community forestlands, which are especially important, given that nine of ten Americans live in urban areas. Forest industries own about 71 million acres of forestland, with particularly heavy concentrations in the South.
About 75 percent of the nation's nonfederal forests are located in the eastern part of the nation. Four of 10 acres are in the South, and about one-third of nonfederal forestland is located in the North. The remaining portion spreads across the western United States, where the dominant landowner is the federal government. Between 1987 and 1992, nonfederal forestland decreased slightly in parts of the West and Southeast regions of the United States, while increasing in the North and South Central regions. Given their diversity in location and ownership, generalizations about the use, management, and condition of nonfederal forests must be made with caution.
The extent of nonfederal forests in America and the many entities that own and manage them are, in and of themselves, reason for wide public attention. But nonfederal forests also should be recognized for the many goods and services they provide. A significant portion of the 1.2 million persons employed by the
nation's forest industry is dependent on timber supplied by nonfederal forests. Native American tribal forests alone provide employment for 40,000 persons, who produce products valued at more than $280 million. Nonfederal forests also provide a setting for many Americans to pursue their recreational interests; more than 50 million acres of state-owned forestland are available for recreational activities. In addition, nonfederal forests provide a wide range of important ecological services. They protect soil, ensure quality water, store carbon, and provide habitat for wildlife. More than 90 percent of the nation's threatened and endangered species have some or part of their habitat on nonfederal forests.
The nation's nonfederal forests are the focus of many federal and private programs. The federal programs most often involve the provision of education and technical assistance, and fiscal and tax incentives, as well as the application of regulations. These programs are typically linked to state agencies that are ultimately responsible for delivering important services and incentives to owners of nonfederal forests. State forestry agencies are prominent, annually investing $1.1 billion, of which the largest portion goes to fire management activities. Private program initiatives commonly focused on nonfederal forests include service initiatives of forest industry, forestry advice and counsel by forestry consultants, and management assistance from various nonprofit organizations. In recent years, public attention to the use and management of federal forests, especially national forests, has frequently overshadowed many public and private programs directed at nonfederal forests.
Federal Role In Sustainability
The federal government has had an interest in promoting sound forestry practices on nonfederal lands at least since the passage of the Clarke-McNary Act in 1924. This historic legislation charged the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service with assisting state and private concerns to carry out programs that would ensure the sustainability of these important forests. Over the years, many other federal departments, agencies, and bureaus have developed a wide range of programs that provide education and technical forestry services, regulate certain practices or conditions on nonfederal forests, and purchase private lands that are deemed unique or of critical national importance.
The federal role in ensuring the sustainability of the economies, communities, and environments that rely on the nation's nonfederal forests can be as diverse as the nonfederal forests themselves. As they have in the past, the components of the federal role in nonfederal forests will change with time. The federal government is an important but not exclusive participant in ensuring investments leading to sustainability. Its role can be viewed as one of convening and promoting leadership and investment opportunities within the private sector and other units of government. This role can include building institutional and managerial capacity within regional, state, and local forestry organizations; promoting
the integration of environmental and economic policies and programs; developing a coherent set of national principles of forest resource sustainability; fostering strategies that lead to regional integration across a spectrum of forestry interests; promoting a blend of economic and information incentives; and encouraging multiple stakeholder decision-making processes at all decision levels. These roles imply a manageable number of governmental programs and policies that promote long-term investments, and a respect for the mixture of public and private ownerships that comprise the nation's nonfederal forests.
Federal investments to sustain the contributions of nonfederal forests to American society will require a broad-based social and political desire to do so. Furthermore, these investments will occur only if certain fundamental issues are acknowledged and carefully addressed. These issues include the condition of nonfederal-forest resources; the rights and responsibilities of nonfederal forest landowners; the type and implementation of programs focused on nonfederal forests; the institutional relationships available to guide the use, management, and protection of nonfederal forests; the management of research and information on nonfederal forests; the sources and levels of investments available for nonfederal forests; and the international and global circumstances that influence the sustainability of nonfederal forests and investments in them.
Challenges for the Future
Overall, the nation continues to enjoy and derive benefits from an abundance of nonfederal forests. Their use and management are important considerations for future sustainability and during the course of the committee's deliberations and the public forums held during this study, common areas of concern were expressed. The committee identified seven challenges for future investment in the sustainability of nonfederal forests:
- promotion of public and private resolve and commitment to ensuring the long-term fundamental health and integrity of forest ecosystems that make up the nation's nonfederal forests;
- development of national policies and programs for nonfederal forests that are grounded in a comprehensive policy for the nation's forests (these policies should clearly reflect the important contributions of nonfederal forests to the nation's well-being);
- improvement of coordination and simplification of existing federal programs for nonfederal forests and the fostering of cooperation among the many public and private partners with interests in nonfederal forests;
- strengthening of federal assistance and protection programs for nonfederal forests, and encouragement of innovative approaches to emerging issues involving the use, management, and protection of nonfederal forests;
- reinforcement of the information base on which informed decisions can be made about the use, management, and protection of nonfederal forests, and improvement of the transfer of information to owners, managers, and citizens with interests in nonfederal forests;
- encouragement of economic conditions and innovative programs that will result in high levels of investment in sustaining nonfederal forests (the levels should be consistent with the benefits provided by nonfederal forests); and
- enhancement of the ability of nonfederal forests to provide important economic, social, and environmental contributions in a global context to the world community.
Long-Term Forest Health and Integrity
Ensure the long-term integrity of forest ecosystems that comprise the nation's nonfederal forests, actively addressing conditions that diminish their ability to contribute to the well-being of the nation's citizens (Chapter 5).
Fundamental sustainability of the ecosystems that are a part of nonfederal forests is critical to the ecosystems' provision of the range of goods and services that Americans expect both now and in the future. The ecosystem stress that can be caused by forest fragmentation, land conversion, air pollutants, climatic change, insects and diseases, and the like must be addressed if the long-term viability of nonfederal forests is to be sustained. Failure to anticipate and to take action to deal with conditions such as these will certainly impede the ability of nonfederal forests to make continuous and important contributions to the nation. This consideration points to the following specific recommendations:
- The federal government should strengthen programs that monitor nonfederal forest health, with special focus on early detection of conditions that could lead to catastrophic consequences.
- Federal assistance to states should be strengthened for wildfire suppression and fuel management technologies, while recognizing fire as critical to functioning, healthy ecological processes.
Policies, Planning, and Organizing
Improve the ability of the federal government to focus on the national interest in nonfederal forests, especially the ability to identify national interests in nonfederal forests and to deliver programs and support that will enable accomplishment of these national interests (Chapter 6).
The ability of the federal government to effectively participate and coordinate with interests in nonfederal forests is critical to the sustainability of these forests and to their ability to provide a wide array of goods and services to the American people. At present, this ability is hindered by at least four major institutional issues: (1) the lack of a clear, well-directed national policy on nonfederal forests; (2) ineffective strategic planning processes for identifying national interests in nonfederal forests; (3) a high number of agencies, bureaus, and divisions in the federal government that are involved wholly or in part in nonfederal-forest programs; and (4) the many policy and program linkages between the federal government and various public and private organizations at state and regional levels.
National Goals and Policy
Although owned and managed by a diverse group of landowners, both public and private, there is little dispute over the broad national goals for the use, management and protection of nonfederal forests. In addition, the federal government has a role in facilitating and pursuing attainment of these goals. The difficulty in attempting to accomplish these goals is the lack of a clearly defined policy for the nation's forests, of which nonfederal forests are an integral component. This deficiency has resulted in a lack of consistency in purpose and direction needed for effective support of federal policies and programs for nonfederal forests. At the very least, a national policy for nonfederal forests should lead to the maintenance and, as appropriate, the expansion of area covered by forests; a broad and well-balanced range of forest values and uses; contributions to social, economic, and community well-being; beneficial global consequences; cooperation among multiple owners of forest ecosystems; decisions about forests based on sound scientific evidence; and sustained investments in forests that are commensurate with the values and benefits provided.
Strategic Planning Processes
Effective strategic planning processes that are capable of drawing attention to emerging issues involving nonfederal forests are also lacking, at least in part because of the fragmentation of major programs affecting nonfederal forests among several federal agencies. In response to the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA), the USDA Forest Service prepares a strategic plan (RPA Program) at five-year intervals. But this strategic plan is only for USDA Forest Service programs and does not incorporate major programs of other federal agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, that have major implications for nonfederal forests. Furthermore, the plan concentrates on National Forest issues and largely neglects many issues that are relevant to nonfederal forests. Features of an effective planning function
for federal involvement in nonfederal forest issues include a planning scope sufficiently broad to help in coordinating major program elements of different federal agencies; capability to alert federal agencies in advance to emerging issues needing creative policy solutions; and mechanisms, such as regional planning and programming councils, that can effectively make the bridge between national emphases and regional or state-by-state differences in program needs. Nonfederal forest programs at the federal level do not currently incorporate these features.
Federal Programs and Organization
The number of federal agencies with programs that affect nonfederal forests is substantial; individually, the agencies often lack visibility, resulting in little coordination among them. Multiple agency and program activities are not necessarily an indication of duplication of effort or serious conflicts among programs; however, forest owners and managers often face a confusing array of programs and directions from those responsible for program implementation. For example, multi-agency activities have resulted in multi-agency responsibilities for threatened and endangered species and for prevention of water pollutants from nonpoint forest sources. From a national perspective, the nation's interest in nonfederal forests is most clearly articulated by the State and Private Forestry unit of the USDA Forest Service. However, the unit's programs and magnitude of investments ($137 million in 1996) are modest and are unlikely to be commensurate with the national interest in nonfederal forests and the benefits they could provide to the nation. The State and Private Forestry unit's current position does not make it capable of providing the federal leadership needed for investments in the sustainability of nonfederal forests. The unit's visibility within federal forestry and natural-resource agencies is slight, its programs within the USDA Forest Service are overwhelmed by federal national forest programs, its purpose and mission is increasingly unclear, and its many program responsibilities and associated interest groups has limited the unit's ability to become the nation's principal organization for federal activity involving nonfederal forests.
The federal government attempts to address the national interest in nonfederal forestry through a variety of public and private organizations. Federal linkages through state governments are especially notable. In many respects, however, the appropriateness of existing purposes and resulting linkages between the federal government and other public or private organizations that have an interest in nonfederal forests has become a concern to many in an era of federal reductions. For example, historically the federal government has helped to build the states' capacity to carry out forestry programs (especially wildfire management and
professionally guided forestry practices). These efforts have been remarkably successful. At issue now is what role the federal government should assume in the future. The narrow scope of federal assistance to states (e.g., timber, water, recreation, and water pollutants) appears to be inconsistent with the more holistic ecosystem approach that is currently being suggested for forest resource management in general. Perceptions of federal management and allocations are also often at issue, including inconsistencies with the trend toward grass-roots, locally generated initiatives; inflexible allocations of technical and financial assistance to states; and uncertainty over federal and state linkages as reflected, in part, by the way the federal government has organized regional offices to interface with states. These considerations point to the following specific recommendations:
- A national policy for nonfederal forests that is grounded in a comprehensive policy for the nation's forests should be established.
- Federal strategic-planning processes should identify national interests in nonfederal forests and subsequently set forth a strategic plan for federal action.
- Organization and coordination among federal agencies and programs focused on nonfederal forests should be improved, and administrative and organizational links among federal programs focused on nonfederal, public, and private forests should be simplified to be more effective.
- Institutional partnerships that foster the coordinated use, management, and protection of large forested landscapes involving public and private forest landowners should be promoted.
Programs for the Future
Coordinate and suitably strengthen incentive, technical-assistance, and regulatory programs for nonfederal forests, and broaden their application to a wider variety of individual and societal interests (Chapter 7).
The history of federal involvement in nonfederal forestry has been one of providing leadership for private concerns and for state and local units of government to establish and apply progressive forestry programs. In so doing, the federal government has played a significant role in building the policy and program capacity of those entities. However, many of the policies and programs, especially those focused on nonindustrial private forests, have been developed in response to single concerns (for example, timber, wildlife, and water quality) and assigned to many different agencies for implementation. Hence, there is substantial opportunity for enhancing the exercise of the federal role in nonfederal forests, especially by more clearly specifying program goals and purposes, improving the coordination of program implementation within the federal government
and with private concerns and state and local units of government, and broadening program purposes to include accomplishment of a broader array of interests in nonfederal forests. This opportunity points to the following specific recommendations:
- Privately-initiated programs that lead to investments in nonfederal forests should be promoted.
- Coordination of federal incentive, regulatory, and technical assistance programs should be improved, and these programs as well as tax policies and programs should be periodically evaluated to improve effectiveness. Technical assistance, fiscal incentive, and tax programs that target special landowner categories should be considered.
- A clear set of purposes for educational programs focused on nonfederal forests should be established with a well-defined statement of federal agency responsibility for attaining these goals.
- Tax policies and programs that discourage investments in the sustainable management of private nonfederal forests should be eliminated.
- Federal and state regulatory programs for nonfederal forests should be designed to honor public and private interests in nonfederal forests.
Investments in Sustainability
Promote public and private investments in nonfederal forests by establishing innovative investment policies and fostering healthy national and regional economies. Investment should be broadly construed to include financial, intellectual, human, and ecological resources (Chapter 8).
The magnitude of social and ecological benefits provided by the nation's nonfederal forests is directly related to the willingness of public and private organizations to invest wisely in the use, management, and protection of these forests. If one were to add up the current budgets for the various federal programs focused on nonfederal forests, the national interest—as measured by federal expenditures—would be on the order of $500 million to $1 billion. This interest amounts to less than one percent of the total $1.6 trillion federal budget. Given the potential significance of the nearly 490 million acres of nonfederal lands, the federal investment is quite modest.
Most investments in nonfederal forests are made by owners in the form of holding land. They invest in their properties for a variety of reasons, including interest in recreation and wildlife, production of timber, and pursuit of property and residences. Public investments in nonfederal forests generally take the form of protection, technical assistance, and fiscal incentives. In many cases, these public investments occur at the margin, where their effectiveness in increasing landowners' willingness to invest further in their forests might
not be adequate. This consideration points to the following specific recommendations:
- Major deterrents to private investments in forestry that affect investment by nonindustrial private landowners, especially lack of sufficient advance capital and low expected rates of return, should be eliminated.
- Federal fiscal and technical assistance programs leading to investments in private nonfederal forests should be sufficiently large to affect the use and sustainable management of nonfederal forests.
- Innovative public and private revenue sources for investments in nonfederal forests, including general obligation bonds and various forms of private trusts, should be established.
Information Needs for Decisions
Improve the quantity, quality, and timeliness of information about nonfederal forests and enhance access to this information (Chapter 9).
Sustaining the important social and environmental benefits from nonfederal forests is challenged by many unknowns regarding ecosystem complexity, diverse ownership objectives, and program effectiveness. Particularly troublesome are 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, and inconsistent in form and presentation, making its aggregation across regions impossible. The 1978 and 1994 nationwide reviews of private forest owners have been helpful in this respect. 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.
Challenges to research and information management programs range from limited understanding of landowners' concerns about risk, uncertainty, and capital requirements to public apprehension about appropriate combinations of educational, technical-assistance, and regulatory programs. Adequate response to information needs is complicated by the diversity of landowner objectives assigned to these forests. The lack of available information needed to address concerns of this nature diminishes the possibility of even greater contributions by nonfederal forests to the nation's economy and environment. These concerns warrant significant attention to investment in research, information and technology transfer, and monitoring and information management. The need for these activities points to the following specific recommendations:
- Research focused on nonfederal forests should be strengthened by expanding public and private investments in research, improving the organization
- and management of research, and guiding research with a strategic research plan for nonfederal forests.
- Programs for transferring information about nonfederal forests to landowners, managers, and citizens should be strengthened. Cooperative partnerships should be used to assist in this effort.
- Programs for monitoring the condition and use of nonfederal forests and systems for managing this information should be strengthened, with emphasis on establishing consistent information gathering protocols for monitoring activities.
Diverse Ownership Considerations
Acknowledge public and private rights and responsibilities associated with nonfederal private forests and the multitude of ways that these rights and responsibilities are exercised by various landowners (Chapter 10 ).
Very different interests and management circumstances often are associated with the major landowner categories that make up nonfederal forests. For example, the governing structure of state forests, industrial forests, tribal forests, nonindustrial forests, and urban and community forests are very different. State forests are administered by agencies responsible to state legislatures and governors. These agencies often assumed trust responsibilities when the federal government granted the lands to the states for support of schools. Industrial forests are managed by executives responsible to boards of directors and stockholders. Tribal governments are ultimately responsible to their tribal members for governance of their forests, within the parameters of the trust responsibility of the federal government for Native American lands. Both urban forests and nonindustrial private forests have private owners who have a wide variety of objectives and interests and strongly held views regarding property rights. Federal initiatives to foster investments in the sustainability of nonfederal forests must reflect this diversity of management interests and circumstances. This consideration points to the following specific recommendations:
- Federal program goals and objectives should build on the variety of interests and objectives of nonfederal forest landowners.
- Federal regulatory programs should be designed to reflect public and private rights, responsibilities, and interests in sustained management of nonfederal forests, especially private forests.
The Global Context
Exercise federal leadership, counsel and, as appropriate, resources to sustain positive contributions from U.S. nonfederal forests to the world (Chapter 11).
Nonfederal forests of the United States are part of larger biological, economic, and political systems throughout the world. Because they account for two-thirds of the nation's forested area, nonfederal forests will be called on to play a larger role than other ownership categories in meeting the nation's expected contributions to healthy global economies and environments. Therefore, U.S. public and private investments in the nation's nonfederal forests will make an important contribution to the sustainability of these larger systems. Public and private organizations in the U.S. government have a responsibility to exercise leadership, counsel, and, as appropriate, resources to sustain positive contributions from nonfederal forests to the world. This responsibility points to the following specific recommendations:
- Federal policies and programs for nonfederal forests should be consistent with international environmental and trade agreements to which the United States is a party.
- The United States should advance scientific understanding of the role of forests, and nonfederal forests in particular, in mitigating global pollutants and climate change. The effects of global climate change on nonfederal forests should continue to be monitored.
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