Magazine article American Forests

Tracking a Change in Forests

Magazine article American Forests

Tracking a Change in Forests

Article excerpt

A shift is occuring in America's timberlands, and it offers an opportunity to revisit the importance of community woodlands.

During times of major change, cycles often emerge that are usually invisible. When AMERICAN FORESTS was founded in 1875, forestland was plentiful in the United States. There were no public lands to speak of, little private ownership of forestland, and virtually no commercial forest land ownership.

Beyond the East Coast lay billions of acres ripe for settlement, agriculture, and industry. Forest land was opening to public owners, while commercial ownership was still unheard of outside New England. But the cutting of the forest was spreading west rapidly. The center of the forest industry in 1840 was Maine, by 1850 it was New York, Pennsylvania in 1860, and the Lake States by 1870.

AMERICAN FORESTS was formed, in large measure, to ensure that forestland was managed for the long-term (as opposed to the "cut out and get out" process). This "scientific revolution" in the timber industry led to private ownership of commercial forest land on a wide scale.

Private nonindustrial forestland ownership also skyrocketed during this same period, as settlers claimed lands, and roads and railways stretched across the continent. In fact, the miles of railroad in the U.S. doubled between 1865 and 1875, allowing the transport of large quantities of products, including timber. And timber made train travel possible in the form of railroad ties that tied a nation together.

Now, less than 150 years later, another revolution is occurring. The forest products industry is changing radically to adapt to global competition. This is best reflected in the unprecedented shift in the ownership of private forestland as corporations divest their forest lands to Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs). (TIMOs are generally small companies that buy and manage forestland for institutional financial investors and wealthy individuals who are seeking short-term, 10- 15-year, gains). International Paper, for example, recently announced its decision to divest all its 6.5 million acres of U.S. forestlands.

Private, nonindustrial forestland owners are also affected by this dramatic shift, as changes in the marketplace bring uncertainty for tree growers.

What does this shift mean for the future of our forests? …

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