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An assessment of the sustainability of family forests in the U.S.A.

Formally Refereed
Authors: Brett J. Butler, Jesse Caputo, Jesse D. Henderson, Scott A. Pugh, Kurt Riitters, Emma M. Sass
Year: 2022
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Forest Policy and Economics


Across the U.S.A., as across many countries, families, individuals, trusts, estates, and family partnerships, collectively referred to as family forest ownerships, own a plurality of the forestland. The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators (C&I) were used to assess the sustainability of these lands. There are currently 109 million ha of family forestland across the conterminous U.S.A., but this area is decreasing by 1 million ha yr-1 with 64% of this acreage going to non-forest uses and the rest going to other forest ownership classes. While forest-type groups have remained relatively constant, the area of forestland in smaller stand sizes has been decreasing and the area in larger stand sizes has been commensurately increasing. These forests provide critical habitat for many species with an average of 3.3 at-risk species per location. There is an estimated 12.7 billion m3 of wood on these lands with annual timber harvests of 160 million m3. For most species, the ratio of net growth to removals is well above 1.0, but there are notable exceptions, often associated with insects, changing fire regimes, or other departures from historical conditions. Looking only at timber harvesting, family forests are annually supporting an estimated 47.4 thousand jobs with combined wages of USD$2 billion. Land regulations, taxation, and incentives vary considerably across the U.S.A. with regulations ranging from regulatory to voluntary. Overall, the C&I indicate a mixed prognosis for the sustainability of America's family forests while many of the general ecological and productivity indicators are positive. The loss of family forestland is of notable concern as are the threats posed by specific disturbances and for specific species.To maintain the sustainability of America's family forest, the analysis suggests focusing on policies such as conservation easements and preferential property tax programs, aimed at keeping family forests as family forests.


Family forest owners, United States Montreal process criteria, indicators, Forest inventory and analysis


Butler, Brett J.; Caputo, Jesse; Henderson, Jesse D.; Pugh, Scott A.; Riitters, Kurt; Sass, Emma M. 2022. An assessment of the sustainability of family forests in the U.S.A.. Forest Policy and Economics. 142(4): 102783.