Meeting the Challenges of Forest Conservation
Our Forests, Our Way of Life
Forests are intrinsic to our way of life. We hunt and hike and bird watch in them, and depend upon them for wildlife habitat, water purification, timber and jobs.
In Minnesota, for example, the timber industry is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in the state, based on employment numbers alone, and generated more than $6.4 billion in forest product shipments in 2002.
The future of the nation’s forest-based economy and communities is in question because the future of the industrial forestlands that support them is in doubt.
It’s a story that is playing out in Minnesota, across the Great Lakes states and throughout the country, as the shifting economics of the forest products industry create unprecedented changes in timberland ownership.
In recent months, large parcels of industrial forestland have been subdivided and sold, putting jobs, wildlife habitat and public access—everything we value about forests—at risk.
Challenge and Opportunity
The scale of these land sales is unprecedented. It’s not just the scale and pace of the land sales that is daunting. The resulting subdivision, fragmentation and development of large blocks of forestland are also cause for concern.
In the past, lands were held and managed by private forestry companies for up to 150 years. Committed to the productivity of the timberland, private companies managed their lands for long-term gains not necessarily short-term profit. All of that is changing as the lands are subdivided and sold.
Some new owners, with an eye on quick bottom line profits for shareholders, are more likely to cut timber for short-term gains, then subdivide and sell the lands for recreational development—all within a span of a decade.
This creates huge problems for local governments responsible for supplying services to new and scattered homes. Resulting land ownership patterns also prohibit the types of large-scale management that fosters a healthy environment.
The continuing fragmentation of forests is one of the most pressing threats to plants and animals and also greatly compromises timber harvesting. Appropriate timber harvesting can be beneficial to plants and animals while supporting many other values such as hunting, birdwatching and water quality protection.
By conserving large blocks of working forestland, we can preserve the vital connection between healthy forest-based industries, healthy forest ecosystems and healthy forest-based communities. By protecting our forests, we protect our way of life.
Spotlight on Minnesota
Consider this: by 1929, the end of the frenetic big pine logging era in Minnesota, so much lumber had been removed from the state’s forests that it could have filled a train full of boxcars stretching from the Earth to the moon and halfway back.
With its original forest cover nearly halved over the last 200 years, Minnesota still has about 16 million acres of forest. For years, much of that forest and timberland has been held by private, industrial owners, but all of that is beginning to change.
Today, as Minnesota’s forestlands stand at a profound crossroads between conservation and consumption, the Conservancy is working with the tools of the Forest Legacy Program as well as with partners like Blandin Foundation, the Conservation Fund, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, landowners and communities to preserve the forests that are such an important a part of Minnesota’s past and so vital to its future.
Major Land Sales
December 2004, Boise Cascade sold 2.2 million acres at sites across the country.
Spring 2005 International Paper, the largest timberland holder in the United States, sold 1.1 million acres.
Spring 2006 International Paper, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund protect 218,000 acres of U.S. forestland through historic land acquisition project
Partnership and Preservation
In Minnesota, one of the Conservancy’s most important partners is Blandin Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to strengthening Minnesota’s rural communities.
To help prevent further forest fragmentation, Blandin Foundation and the Conservancy have established a $6 million fund that will help ensure sustainable forestry, protect wildlife habitat and guarantee public access in the forests around Itasca County, which has the largest concentration of privately held industrial forestland in the state.
These kinds of large-scale forest conservation initiatives are necessary to offset large-scale changes in forest ownership. With the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, just six states account for 60 percent of the large, relatively undisturbed forest blocks remaining in the United States and Minnesota is the only state east of the Rocky Mountains to make the list.
See our forest conservation projects around the world.