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Incentivizing long-term forest ownership

Andrew Avitt
Office of Communication
March 31, 2021

An aerial picture showing the method of fragmentation and dividing land in smaller land parcels.
Fragmentation and dividing land in smaller parcels is associated with short-term forest ownership management that can sometimes diminish long-term health and production of forests, carbon sequestration potential, recreation opportunities, and wildlife habitat. The Maine Mountain Collaborative's goal is to incentivize long-term ownership and management that generates competitive returns for investors. (Courtesy Photo by Jerry Monkman, Ecophotgraphy)

Editor’s Note: This blog is the third in a series exploring the role of innovation finance in forest management.

From an airplane looking out over Maine’s vast forests something peculiar can be seen. Although 90% of the state is forested, the checkerboard-like patchwork of ownership is readily visible from the air, stretching out as far as the eye can see.

There are many benefits when these large swatches of forests are managed collaboratively—across boundaries—in shared stewardship. Landowners, the larger public and local economies reap tangible benefits such as cleaner air and water, increased recreation opportunities, and sustainable timber and fuel production. They also lower their community’s risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Taking it a step further, the Forest Service and its partners are now looking at innovative approaches to help support public-private partnerships that can tackle the critical restoration work needed to keep our public and private forests healthy and productive.

Our Innovative Finance for National Forests Grant Program, for example, recently awarded $1.8 million to 10 grantees across five Forest Service regions—all aiming to leverage private capital to finance and tackle unfunded, priority work.

“The grant program is filling an important niche,” said Nathalie Woolworth, Forest Service conservation finance program manager. “We’re exploring creative ways to get underfunded projects on public lands supported, as well as models that support sustainable management of private lands. We’re taking an all-lands approach because we recognize that landscape challenges don’t end at an artificial boundary.”

A picture showing a piece of heavy forest equipment and two forest workers in a dense forested area.
A forester and logging contractor in a northern Maine forest. Sustainable timber harvesting is essential to proactively improving wildlife habitat, grow high-value, larger diameter trees, improve carbon sequestration, and foster enduring local partnerships around access and recreation. (Photo Courtesy of Garrett English)

One grant-funded project, headed by The Maine Mountain Collaborative, is building a financial model that will encourage long-term forest management and ownership by packaging existing economic incentives. Increased long-term land ownership in Maine could boost financial and forest health benefits in a state where 80% of private forests have changed ownership in the last 40 years.

 “The key of our financial model is that it offers competitive returns similar to or better than short-term ownership,” said Bryan Wentzell, executive director of the Maine Mountain Collaborative. “Incentivizing long-term ownership and best practices bolsters healthy, sustainable forests.”

Some of those favorable outcomes include improving wildlife habitat; growing high-value, larger diameter trees; increasing carbon sequestration; and strengthening local partnerships around access and recreation.

“When it comes to land management, it is best to think holistically,” Wentzell said. “We are trying to mirror those holistic and long-term outcomes of public land management in the private sector. We are trying to make the sustainable and environmentally healthy decision also a profitable one.”

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