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Resource and Ownership Characteristics
The nation's nonfederal forests are important for a variety of reasons, including the reality that they are widely distributed over a large area of the country. Further highlighting their importance are the millions of individuals and organizations that have an ownership stake in nonfederal forests. Development of effective policies and programs for nonfederal forests implies an understanding of their size, location, composition, and ownership. Unfortunately, this information is not always readily available or consistent across sets of data. For example, information-gathering agencies often describe nonfederal forests in different ways: some present information on land use, others on vegetative cover. Descriptions of nonfederal forest resources often relate to timberland, a subcategory of forestland. Information about the resource and ownership characteristics of private, especially nonindustrial private forests and Native American forests, is limited and narrowly focused. Recognizing these limitations, resource and ownership information on nonfederal forests is described in this chapter.
Nonfederal forests comprise 488 million acres of land, accounting for approximately 66 percent of the nation's forestland area (Table A-1). Nonfederal forests are concentrated east of the Great Plains, while federal forests are concentrated west of the Great Plains. Specifically, 40 percent of the nation's nonfederal
forestland is located in the South Central and Southeast regions of the United States, and a substantial portion (32 percent) is located in the North Central and Northeast regions (Figure 2-1). Nearly one-fifth of the nation's nonfederal forestland is located in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest regions.
These proportions have generally remained stable between 1987 and 1992 (Table A-2). Nonfederal forestland area is 4.7 million acres less than in 1982 and 2.8 million acres more than in 1987 (Table A-2). The acreage of nonfederal forestland in the Rocky Mountain region declined nearly 7 percent between 1987 and 1992. The amount of nonfederal forestland in the South Central and Southeast regions changed substantially during this same period. The acreage of nonfederal forestland in the South Central region increased by nearly 7 million acres, but declined by more than 3 million acres in the Southeast region.
The estimate of 488 million acres of nonfederal forestland in the nation is based on information gathered and analyzed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service. The USDA Forest Service defines forestland as land that is at least 10 percent covered with trees. The area of nonfederal forestland has also been estimated by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Both define forestland in terms of land use. The former estimates nonfederal forestland to total 488 million acres in 1992, whereas the latter estimates this acreage (excluding that in Alaska) to total 395 million acres (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 1995, USDA Economic Research Service 1995).
In 1992, nearly 393 million acres of timberland, or about four-fifths of the nation's total, was considered to be nonfederal timberland (Table A-3). Nonfederal timberland is forestland that is capable of producing more than 20 cubic feet of wood per acre per year and that is not withdrawn from timber utilization by statute or regulation. The nation's nonfederal timberland has increased modestly since 1952, having peaked at slightly more than 396 million acres in 1962. Regionally, nonfederal timberland is concentrated in the South, with 183 million acres or 47 percent of the national total. The Northeast and North Central regions contain 20 percent and 18 percent of nonfederal timberland, respectively. The least amount of nonfederal timberland is located in the Rocky Mountain region, with about 23 million acres or 6 percent of the total.
Conversion to Non-Forest
A variety of conditions can influence the size of nonfederal forestland area. Afforestation and reforestation can increase the area; urbanization might simply change the character of the forest and its predominate use without diminishing its size. But habitat conversion and forest fragmentation can affect forest size and character.
According to USDA NRCS estimates of land use (not forest cover), the net amount of forestland in the conterminous 48 states has remained relatively constant between 1982 and 1992 (Table A-4). However, of the estimated 395 million acres of nonfederal forestland in 1982, nearly 5.6 million acres was diverted to developed uses, 2.9 million acres to pastureland, and 1.5 million acres to cropland. Developed uses include urban and built-up areas and rural land used for transportation-related purposes (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1991). Another 2.4 million acres were converted to water areas or diverted to federal lands. In all, 14.8 million acres, or 4 percent, of nonfederal forestland were converted to other uses during the decade from 1982 to 1992. During the same period, an additional 15.4 million acres became part of the nonfederal forestland base (Table A-4). The vast majority of the additions came from pastureland (8.2 million acres) and cropland (3.1 million acres). Smaller additions came from water areas and federal land (0.8 million acres) and developed land (0.2 million acres).
Urban and Community Forestland
Urban and community forestland is increasingly recognized as an important component of the nation's forestland. However, the actual amount of forest cover in urban and community areas is uncertain, in part because of disagreement about what constitutes an urban and community forest. For example, forest ecosystems located in the center of urban areas, in the suburbs around these areas,
and in the communities in more rural areas differ significantly. Moll (1987) estimated urban forestland to be "70 million acres of municipal land and an unaccountable number of acres in suburbs and small towns … our urban forest has expanded by about three million acres in the last 10 years." On the basis of information from the Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) on nonfederal, urban land (65 million acres considered urban or built-up), and on forestland (land whose canopy cover, when viewed vertically, is 25 percent or greater) urban and community forestland is estimated to exceed 20 million acres (Table A-5). Most of this land is located in the North Central and Northeast regions (43 percent) and South Central and Southeast regions (47 percent).
Tree Planting and Plantations
In 1995, trees were planted or seeded on more than 2.4 million acres of land, 88 percent of them on nonfederal forestland (Table A-6). Private owners planted more than 2 million acres, or 85 percent of the total. Although the area planted by the federal government decreased between 1991 and 1995, annual planting on nonfederal forestland remained fairly constant during that period, averaging about 2.2 million acres per year. More than 77 percent of tree plantings on nonfederal forests were in the Southeast and South Central regions. A substantial amount of tree planting, including seeding, also occurred in the Pacific Northwest (USDA Forest Service 1996d).
Approximately 36.4 million acres (5 percent) of the nation's forestland is in plantation forests. More than 85 percent of these acres are located in the Southeast and South Central regions; another 8 percent are in the North Central region. The amount of plantation forestland in the southern United States increased 60 percent between 1977 and 1990 and continues to grow. The annual rates of increase in pine plantation area on forest-industry and other private lands were estimated to be 8 percent and 6 percent per year, respectively, from 1952 to 1992 (USDA Forest Service 1993c). Based on analysis of most recent forest inventory and analysis information, approximately one-fifth of the nonfederal timberland area in the Southeast region is of artificial origin (Table A-7). In the South Central region, 16 percent of all timberland is in plantation forest (Rosson 1995). The area of plantation forest on private land in the Southeast and South Central regions is expected to increase substantially in the coming years, although the exact amount of increase is uncertain. One projection, which assumes that current policies affecting forests and their management will remain unchanged, suggests that southern pine plantation area will increase by more than 9 million acres between 2000 and 2030 (USDA Forest Service 1995a) (Table A-8). Another projection suggests that the total area of private plantation land in the South Central and Southeastern regions would more than triple between 1990 and 2010 (Table A-9) (Alig et al. 1996). The increase would come mainly through forest-industry and nonindustrial private landowners, however, the most dramatic increase
would be in nonindustrial private forestland. An increase in the amount of planted land is also forecast for the Pacific Northwest region (Table A-9).
Private businesses and individuals are the primary owners of the nation's nonfederal forest. In 1992, they owned more than 424 million acres (87 percent) of nonfederal forests, an amount that increased by nearly 6 million acres between 1987 and 1992 (Table A-1). Nearly 353 million acres (79 percent) of nonfederal private forestland are held by nonindustrial private forestland owners, of which approximately 70 percent is owned by non-farming individuals; 30 percent by farmers. Forty-nine percent of nonindustrial private forests are located in the South, and 40 percent in the Northeast and North Central regions. The forest industry and Native Americans own the remaining private nonfederal forestland (17 percent and 4 percent, respectively). Of the 71 million acres of industrially owned timberland, an estimated 2.5 million acres (valued at about $2.5 billion) are owned by institutional investors (Binkley et al. 1996). The forest industry acquired 11.5 million of the 358 million acres of privately owned timberland between 1952 and 1992, while timberland held by farmers and other private owners decreased by 16.8 million acres during the same period (Table A-3).
The bulk of private nonfederal forests—317 million acres or 75 percent—is located in the eastern United States, with 55 percent of forest-industry-owned land nationwide concentrated in the Southeast and South Central regions (Table A-10). Although management direction for industrial ownerships varies, focus is primarily on the production of wood fiber often in the form of plantation forests (especially in the South and Northwest).
Native Americans are major owners of forested lands, with 16 million acres located on 214 reservations in 23 states in 1992. An estimated 5.6 million acres are commercial timberland, 1.7 million acres are noncommercial timberland, 4.4 million acres are commercial woodland, and 4.2 million acres are noncommercial woodland (Intertribal Timber Council 1993). Not all Native American forestland is on reservations. Native American ownership of forestland takes five forms: Tribal Trust (14, 488,000 acres held in trust by the U.S. government for tribes), Individual Trust (865,000 acres held in trust for specific individuals), Individual Restricted Fee (868,000 acres owned by Native Americans but protected from alienation and encumbrance by the U.S. government), Tribal Restricted Fee (6,000 acres owned by the tribe, free from all restrictions, and not held in trust by the U.S. government), and Tribal Simple (820,000 acres owned by the tribe fee simple).
The characteristics of private forestland ownership (especially nonindustrial private forests) have recently been comprehensively assessed by the USDA Forest
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.
Nonfederal Public Ownership
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
tracts of forestland through grants authorized by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. County-owned forests, located primarily in the Lake States region, were acquired primarily through tax delinquency.
Summary of Findings
Nonfederal forests occupy about two-thirds of the nation's forestland area. During the decade 1982 to 1992, a modest increase in the area of nonfederal forests occurred. Urban and community forestland exceeds 20 million acres. Nonfederal forests are owned primarily by individuals and forest industry. Data sets describing nonfederal forests are frequently inconsistent and incomplete.