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What America’s Federal and State Governments Want From Private Forests

Their Preparedness to Fund Programs Related to Government Being a Stakeholder in Private Forestry?

Larry E. Biles

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension Service, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Mail Stop 2210
Washington, DC 20250-2210, USA.


America’s Federal and State Governments and America’s citizens are interested in and concerned about the Nation’s private forests. Their interests are expressed in a variety of ways including public expenditures to protect and enhance the Nation’s forest resource base. The principle approaches used by government to foster private forests conservation and management are --- Research, Education, Technical Assistance, Incentives, and Regulations. This grouping provides a continuum of services ranging from “what to do - research” “how to do it – group education and one-to-one technical assistance,” “resources to do it with – cost share incentives,” and, “where necessary, penalties via regulations.”

The Government’s preferred choices for private forest enhancement are the four non-regulatory approaches. These approaches tend to be highly effective and unobtrusive forms of public policy. A contemporary example is the 1990 Farm Bill. Here the U.S. Congress found that:

“(1) most of the productive forest land of the United States is in private, State and local governmental ownership, and the capacity of the United States to produce renewable forest resources is significantly dependent on such non-Federal forest lands;

“(2) adequate supplies of timber and other forest resources are essential to the United States, and adequate supplies are dependent on efficient methods for establishing, managing and harvesting trees and processing, marketing, and using wood and wood products;

“(3) nearly one-half of the wood supply of the United States comes from nonindustrial private timberlands and such percentage could rise with expanded government assistance programs;

“(4) managed forest lands provide habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as aesthetics, outdoor recreation opportunities and other forest resources;

“(5) the soil, water, and air quality of the United States can be maintained and improved through good stewardship of privately held forest resources;

“(6) insects and diseases affecting trees occur and sometimes create emergency conditions on all land, whether Federal or non-Federal, and efforts to prevent and control such insects and diseases often require coordinated action by both Federal and non-Federal land managers;

“(7) fires in rural areas threaten human lives, property, forests and other resources, and Federal-State cooperation in forest fire protection has proven effective and valuable;

“(8) trees and forests are of great environmental and economic value to urban areas;

“(9) managed forests contribute to improving the quantity, quality, and timing of water yields that are of broad benefit to society;

“(10) over half of the forest lands of the United States are in need of some type of conservation treatment;

“(11) forest landowners are being faced with increased pressure to convert their forest land to development and other purposes;

“(12) increased population pressures and user demands are being placed on private, as well as public, landholders to provide a wide variety of products and services, including fish and wildlife habitat, aesthetic quality, and recreational opportunities;

“(13) stewardship of privately held forest resources requires a long-term commitment that can be fostered through local, State, and Federal governmental actions;

“(14) the Department of Agriculture, through the coordinated efforts of its agencies with forestry responsibilities, cooperating with other Federal agencies, State foresters, and State political subdivisions, has the expertise and experience to assist private landowners in achieving individual goals and public benefits regarding forestry;

“(15) the products and services resulting from nonindustrial private forest land stewardship provide income and employment that contribute to the economic health and diversity of rural communities; and

“(16) sustainable agroforestry systems and tree planting in semiarid lands can improve environmental quality and maintain farm yields and income, (4).

This legislation served as a means of identifying and authorizing contemporary programs specific to the Federal Government’s economic, social and environmental interest in private forests. The programs authorized via this legislation complimented and /or expanded many old authorities and brought a wealth of new fiscal resources. For fiscal year 1999 the Federal investment in management assistance for private forest exceeded one-half billion dollars. The expenditures are illustrated in Appendix A.

Forestry Extension (Table 1)

$28.2 million

University Research (Table 2)

$217.0 million

Forest Service State and Private (Table 3)

$92.7 million

Forest Service Research (Table 4)

$197.4 million

USDA - Cost Share Incentives (Table 5)

$23.6 million


$558.9 million (5)

In addition to the Federal Government’s investments in private forest, the State Governments, through the State Forestry Commissions, collectively invest another one billion dollars. Much of the state investments revolve around protection issues (fire prevention and suppression, and insect and disease surveillance) but the funds also support approximately 1500 State Service Foresters (Table 6) (2). In some states a major portion of Service Forester time is directed towards compliance with Forest Practice Acts. The cost of administering these acts is highly variable ranging from $.15 cents per acre per year to nearly $1.00 per acre per year.

In the Beginning – Dispersing the Public Domain

The Federal Government’s interest in private forests began with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Initially, the overriding issue was ownership. This concern prompted a variety of government-sponsored land transfer programs and the establishment of private property rights.

In the eastern United States much of the public forestland was simply sold to private parties. Land grants to states on entering the Union and for internal improvements also played a role. As the frontier moved west, forestland was granted, under the terms of laws intended to encourage settlement. Three examples are the Preemption Act of 1841, the Homestead Act of 1862, and the Timber Culture Act of 1873. These acts focused on incentives for westward expansion and settlement through parcelization of the public domain. Grants to railroads and statehood grants also moved substantial areas of forestland out of federal ownership (9).

The results of the parcelization acts of the 19th century are an expansive forestland base (278 million acres) owned and managed by 10 million private citizens (12). The nation’s private forests, (72 percent of the nation’s productive forests), provides nearly 80 percent of America’s forest products, important habitat for wildlife and recreational fisheries, a significant portion of the nation’s water supply, recreational opportunities for millions of people, and countless other environmental and social benefits to the public (1). To sustain these benefits and values federal, state, and local governments have established laws and policies (water quality act, endangered species act, state forest practice acts, best management practices, county timber harvesting and burning acts, etc.), and appropriated fiscal resources to foster private forest sustainability.

Private Forest Laws and Regulations

Subsequent to the 19th century ownership issue came 20th century legislation that fostered forest management and protection (Weeks Law, Clarke – McNary, Norris-Doxey and Smith-Lever Acts). The focus of these laws was largely fire control and tree planting followed by efforts to enhance management and reforestation of private lands by farmers through education and technical assistance. The dust bowl era of the 1930's added emphasis to the need for public conservation efforts involving private woodlands (11). Government incentives for private forestlands peaked in the 1950's, 60's and 70's with the Cooperative Forest Management Act, Soil Bank Program, Forestry Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Program, McIntire –Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program and the Renewable Resources Extension Act (8).

In the last quarter century a number of regulatory programs have emerged thus the public focus on private lands has shifted from one of protection and productivity to protection and production in harmony with the environment. Examples of the latter include:

  • The Clean Water Act – charges states with the responsibility of developing plans to manage and assess the extent of impact of nonpoint sources of water pollutants. The act regulates wetlands and requires permits for dredge and fill. Currently, normal silviculture activities are exempt.
  • The Clean Air Act – authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to establish air quality standards. For forestry the primary focus is prescribed burning.
  • The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – regulates pesticide application by requiring that restricted-use pesticides be applied only by certified applicators.
  • The Endangered Species Act – authorizes regulatory actions to conserve endangered and threatened species and their ecosystems. For listed species, Federal regulatory action can be initiated for (1) forestry practices that jeopardize any species existence (or destroy any species habitat); and (2) persons that harass, harm, kill or capture listed species.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Logging Regulations – requires the establishment and implementation of workplace safety and health standards. The act affects forest related occupations, such as pulpwood workers, by setting standards for protective measures for chainsaw users, field sanitation conditions, and ways of felling, bucking and limbing trees, (5).

Administering Government Programs Pertinent to Private Forests

The principle private forests management and protection assistance laws and policies in the Federal government are centered in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the U.S. Forest Service; Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service; and, Natural Resources Conservation Service. Examples of the authority for federal support are the purpose and policy sections of the 1990 Farm Bill. This legislation provides the preeminent basis for Federal assistance to private forest landowners in the U.S. today. Moreover, it illustrates the process used to authorize Federal investments in private lands.

“(b) PURPOSE. – It is the purpose of this Act to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture (hereafter in this Act referred to as the ‘Secretary’), with respect to non-Federal forest lands of the United States, to assist in ---

“(1) the establishment of a coordinated and cooperative Federal, State, and local forest stewardship program for management of the non-Federal forest lands;

“(2) the encouragement of the production of timber;

“(3) the prevention and control of insects and diseases affecting trees and forests;

“(4) the prevention and control of rural fires;

“(5) the efficient utilization of wood and wood residues, including the recycling of wood fiber;

“(6) the improvement and maintenance of fish and wildlife habitat;

“(7) the planning and conduct of urban forestry programs;

“(8) broadening existing forest management, fire protection, and insect and disease protection programs on non-Federal forest lands to meet the multiple use objectives of landowners in an environmentally sensitive manner;

“(9) providing opportunities to private landowners to protect ecologically valuable and threatened non-Federal forest lands; and

“(10) strengthening educational, technical, and financial assistance programs that provide assistance to owners of non-Federal forest lands.

“(c) Policy. It is the policy of Congress that it is in the national interest for the Secretary to work through and in cooperation with State foresters, or equivalent state officials, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector in implementing Federal programs affecting non-federal forest lands (4).

Why Public Assistance

Part of the rationale for government assistance programs to private forest owners is the belief that too few non-industrial forest owners have enough knowledge of the ways in which they might use their lands to take full advantage of opportunities that would be in their own best interest. To make the wisest possible resource decisions, landowners must better understand their roles as managers and stewards of forest resources and the implications of their decisions. In short, they must possess the knowledge and skills to undertake management activities. Without doubt, some basic knowledge, understanding, and education are critical constraints, which must be overcome before widespread progress can be made toward the development of private forest resources (10).

In America, the logic for a better delivery system of general education is based on the view that the landowner is the decision maker on their woodland acres. Whenever woodlands are neglected or ignored we tend to assume that (a) the landowner is inexperienced about forestry and the multiple benefits to be derived from managing their land, and (b) unaware of the plethora of public and private services available to assist with informed decision making. As a result much time and effort is expended in general information and educational outreach to an ever-changing private forest landowner audience (3).

Education – A High Priority Service

Consequently, within the government’s continuum of service, Education is regarded as one of the most valuable public services. Education programs to inform landowners of:

opportunities for protecting and managing their lands in an environmentally sound manner, and

(b) of sources of assistance are relatively inexpensive and a prerequisite to success in gaining wide participation in other programs. A good educational program provides the landowner a rational basis for deciding how to manage their land --- whether to more fully develop any particular resource potential or to enjoy it in its undisturbed state.

Over the past 20 years America has more than doubled (332 – 711) the number of Extension professionals serving the nation’s 10,000,000 private forest and rangeland owners and managers (7). This cadre of professionals annually plan and conduct, on average, more than 6,000 group education events, produce over two million pieces of literature and more recently, volumes of electronically based educational materials. On average, their efforts yield the following annual accomplishments on behalf of forest ecosystems:

  • 400,000 private non-industrial forest landowner contacts
  • 21 million acres of improved forest land management
  • $160 million of increased revenue from forest and wildlife management practices
  • 23,000 forest industry worker assists
  • 1,600 wood processor assists
  • $48 million in savings through forest industry efficiency
  • 100,000 contact hours of continuing education training to 25,000 natural resource professionals
  • 50,000 teachers trained in environmental science (6).

A general trend in the overall educational services provided to private forest landowners via the Cooperative Extension System the last 20 years is declining services for production and utilization values, and increasing services for environmental and social values, (table 7). Statistically these changes are not significant, but they do suggest a subtle transition from commodity values to environmental and social values (7).


America’s governments (federal and state) are interested in private forests. Their interests are expressed in a variety of ways including public expenditures to protect and enhance the Nation’s forest resource base. The principal public investments occur at the state level. Here, the bulk of the public expenditures support university teaching, research, and extension and state forestry protection and management services.

The Federal government compliments the state investments by convening and promoting leadership and investment opportunities within the private sector and other units of government. The Federal government’s role can include building institutional and managerial capacity within regional, state, and local forestry organizations; promoting the integration of environmental and economic policies and programs; developing a coherent set of national principles of forest resource sustainability; fostering strategies that lead to regional integration across a spectrum of forestry interests; promoting a blend of economic and information incentives; and encouraging multiple stakeholder decision-making processes at all decision levels (3).

As America becomes more dependent on private forests commodities (market and nonmarket) the Federal Government’s role will likely increase. An example of how this will occur is the 2002 Farm Bill. Over the last several months America’s 107th Congress has worked to strengthen the Government’s foundation for supporting private forests. Their objective is to establish a coordinated (Federal, State, and local) program that fosters the establishment, management, maintenance, enhancement, and restoration of private forests in the United States. If passed, this Bill will establish Federal policy and authorize Federal expenditures for private forest for the next 10 years. The jury is still out on the 2002 Farm Bill but there are some encouraging signs. For University employees the most notable is a recommendation to double the authorized funding level for Forestry Extension. For years non-formal education (extension education) has been the weakest aspect in the public’s approach to private forest sustainability. Many feel this is about to change and regard the 2002 Farm Bill as a means of catapulting Forestry Extension to a much superior plateau in the new millennium.

Appendix A:

Table 1. Forestry Extension Expenditures, 1999. ($ in 000).

Renewable Resources Extension Act:


Smith – Lever Act: (estimated)


State Appropriations: (estimated)




Table 2. University Research Expenditures, 1999. ($ in 000).

Hatch Research Act:


McIntire – Stennis Forestry Research:


CSREES Grants:


Forest Service and Other Federal Grants:


State Appropriations:


Self Generated:








Table 3. Forest Service State and Private Forestry Expenditures, 1999. ($ in 000).

Forest Stewardship:


Forest Legacy:


Urban and Community Forestry:


Economic Action Programs:


PNW Assistance Program:




Table 4. Forest Service Research Expenditures, 1999. ($ in 000).

Vegetation Management and Protection Research:
(Fundamental Plant Science, Silvicultural Applications, Forest and Rangeland Management, Forest Operations Engineering, Fire Science, Quantitative Analysis, Insect/Diseases/Exotic Weeds)


Wildlife, Fish, Watershed and Air Research:
(Terrestrial Wildlife Habitat, Aquatic Habitat, Watershed, Atmospheric Sciences)


Resource Valuation and Use Research:
(Economics, Urban Forestry, Wilderness, Social/Cultural, Forest Products Utilization and Processing, Forest Product Safety/Human Health)


Science Policy, Planning, Inventory and Information:
(Forest Inventory and Analysis, Forest Health Monitoring, Monitoring Methods/Applications)




Table 5. USDA – Cost Share Incentives, 1999. ($ in 000).

Forestry Incentives Program:


Environmental Quality Incentives Program:


Conservation Reserve Program:




Table 6. State Appropriations for Private Forests Protection and Management Services (1998). ($ in 000).



































Rhode Island






So. Carolina






So. Dakota




























New Hampshire






New Jersey






New Mexico


West Virginia




New York






No. Carolina






No. Dakota




Table 7. Percentage of Forestry Extension Services Allocated to Activities, 1979 –1999.



Env. Quality


Env. Ed.

Cont. Ed.














1. A National Investment in Sustainable Forestry: Addressing the Stewardship of Nonfederal Forestlands through Research, Education, and Extension/Outreach. 2000. National Coalition on Sustaining America’s Nonfederal Forests. Falls Church, VA. 22 pp.

2. Allocating Cooperative Forestry Funds to the States: Block Grants and Alternatives. 2001. Pinchot Institute for Conservation. Washington, DC. 50 pp.

3. Ellefson, Paul V., Antony S. Cheng, and Robert J. Moulton. Regulation of Private Forestry Practices by State Governments. 1995. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 605-1995. St. Paul, Minnesota. 225 pp.

4. Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. Public Law 101-624, 101st Congress. Title XII, pages 12-1 – 12-2.

5. Forested Landscapes in Perspective: Prospects and Opportunities for Sustainable Management of America’s Nonfederal Forests. 1998. National Academy Press. Washington, DC. 249 pp.

6. Larson, Loren R. II, Larry E. Biles, and Donald E. Nelson. Extension Accomplishments Reported for Natural Resources Programming During the Fiscal Years 1989 – 1991. 1992. USDA – Extension Service. Washington, DC. 191 pp.

7. Renewable Natural Resources Education: Improving the Environment and the Productivity of Forests and Rangeland Through Extension Education. 2000. A Report to Congress on the 1996 – 2000 Renewable Resources Extension Program. USDA – CSREES, Washington, DC. 86pp.

8. Sampson, Neil R., and Dwight Hair. Natural Resources for the 21st Century. 1990. American Forestry Association, Washington, DC. 349 pp.

9. Sharpe, Grant W., Clare W. Hendee, and Shirley W. Allen. Introduction to Forestry – Fourth Edition. 1976. McGraw – Hill Book Company. New York, NY. 544 pp.

10. The Federal Role in the Conservation and Management of Private Nonindustrial Forest Lands. 1978. USDA – Soil Conservation Service. Washington, DC. 63 pp.

11. The Principal Laws Relating to Forest Service Activities. 1983. Agriculture Handbook No. 453. USDA – Forest Service. Washington, DC. 591 pp.

12. The Role of Research, Education, and Extension in Sustaining America’s Forest Resources: Why You Should Care. 2000. USDA – Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Washington, DC. 15 pp.

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