A view of the sky as observed through leafy, green treetops.
Trees A stand of leafy, green trees located in Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau. © Byron Jorjorian

Stories in Tennessee

Working Woodlands

One family leads the way in conserving private forestlands in Tennessee.

Around the country, states like Tennessee are losing healthy, mature forests to development, pests, catastrophic wildfires and a changing climate. Many of these forests are in private ownership. The Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program helps those landowners ensure that their forests remain healthy, productive and profitable for future generations.

A father and daughter wearing orange vests pose next to a tree.
Rebecca Tuuk and John Schafer Rebecca Tuuk and her father, John Shafer, enrolled a portion of their forested property in The Nature Conservancy's Working Woodlands program. © Courtesy/Rebecca Tuuk

One Family’s Experience

John Shafer was 106 years old and co-owned 3,120 acres of beautiful forestlands that had been in his family’s lumber business since the 1940s. Over the years, he took care to harvest trees sustain­ably on the property. “We are inter­ested in the long-term management of this forest,” said Shafer.

In 2016, Mr. Shafer, his daughter and her husband enrolled their property in Working Woodlands. Doing so involved securing a working forest conservation easement—a binding legal agreement, permanently tied to the property, which prevents development, agricultural conversion or unsustainable forestry practices. The easement does allow for the sustainable harvest of timber.

“We were looking to keep the property undeveloped and intact,” added Shafer, who passed away soon after the agreement was signed. “Our family also needs the property to continue to produce income.”

TNC assisted the Shafers, and others with property enrolled in Working Woodlands, with identifying ecologically-sound management practices required to qualify a property for Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) C008922 certification. Wood products harvested in this way can command higher prices. TNC is also helping the family sell carbon credits to businesses seeking to offset emissions.

“This agreement protects our land forever,” says John Schafer’s daughter, Rebecca Tuuk. “I highly recommend Work­ing Woodlands to private forest owners seeking to protect nature and their own livelihoods.”

Orange ribbon tied around a hemlock tree.
Hemlock Forest Stand A hemlock tree marked with an orange ribbon will be sustainably logged as part of TNC's Working Woodlands Program. © Kelly Donaldson

New Funding in 2018

In 2018, TNC received $5 million for Working Woodlands projects aimed at conserving and connecting forested wildlife corridors in portions of the  Central Appalachian Mountains located in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awards these funds, through a competitive process, to organizations illustrating innovative conservation ideas.

“The innovation in this case involved pairing Working Woodlands with the NRCS’s Healthy Forests Reserve Program, a similar conservation easement program that pays landowners for securing working forest easements,” says Will Bowling, TNC’s Central Appalachians project director in Kentucky. “This program had not been funded for a few years, so this RCPP funding fills in some gaps.”

Greg Meade, TNC’s conservation forestry program manager in Virginia, says the program is a natural fit for these three TNC programs, adding, “We have similarly important forests from a climate resiliency standpoint, and for wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration potential.”

TNC has developed ranking criteria to ensure the funding targets the highest priority properties. Eligible landowners can apply for funding through the RCPP program. TNC will assist approved landowners with securing a conservation easement, developing a management plan, pursuing Forest Stewardship Council certification, and earning revenue through the sale of sustainable timber and carbon credits.  

“All three states have been working together, hand-in-hand, to advance this project,” says Bowling. “It’s exciting to be working across state lines and collaborating on this important work.”

Working Woodlands is based on a simple principle. Landowners agree to keep enrolled acres in a natural state. In return, they benefit from assistance with improving the value and the health of their forest.

Director of TNC's Working Woodlands Program