National Network of Practitioners Connects Forestry Cooperatives

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The maintenance of a profitable cooperative business practice often calls for outside assistance. To provide the resources necessary to keep cooperative ventures buoyant, the National Network of Forest Practitioners (NNFP) provides the tools and the know-how to support cooperative growth and instigate inter-cooperative participation. It provides education, technical assistance and networking opportunities for rural forest and wood-related cooperatives. NNFP--the newest member of Cooperation Works!, a national cooperative of cooperative development professionals--supports the growth of business groups and grassroots organizations while promoting the well-being of the forest. It helps these businesses and local organizations create jobs while stewarding or restoring the forest.

This cooperative development work is distinctive in that it focuses exclusively on forest-related services, including landowner cooperatives, forest products manufacturing and forest-grown medicinal herbs.

Springing from a collection of forest workers, micro-enterprises and grassroots organizations in the early 1990s, NNFP has become a force for sustainable business development and cooperative ownership. Originally founded in New Mexico, the NNFP is now based in foothills of the Appalachian mountains of Southeast Ohio and focuses much of its efforts in Appalachia, while remaining open to working with other groups nationally.

Members include the Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative, the Ohio Forestry Cooperative, the Living Forest Cooperative and the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperatives, among others. These include a variety of efforts by people seeking ways in which to improve their livelihoods.

Timber industry hurt by housing crisis

With the timber industry in a freefall due to low housing starts, the need is great for cooperative education and support as communities look for ways to retain workers in the vital wood-processing infrastructure. In particular, sustainable forestry groups are looking for assistance with marketing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. FSC is an international standard for sustainable forestry that gives local businesses a boost in marketing to "green building" projects.

"Our interest is in supporting ownership and entrepreneurship for a broader range of people," explains Colin Donohue, NNFP executive director. "Business isn't just for people with a large pool of money; everyday folks should be able to participate in ownership too."

The association achieves its goals through a variety of means. In order to provide education and consultation, NNFP provides educational services to member cooperatives, encouraging them to share their experiences and take steps that can help shape forestry and rural development policy. …