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

Restoring Tennessee's Forests

Partnerships are key to conserving Tennessee's public and private forests.

Tennessee boasts 14 million acres of forest, but it didn't always look that way. Instead, a mosaic of rich and complex prairies, glades, woodlands and other grasslands once dominated up to 64 percent of the landscape now considered forest. These woodlands thrived due to frequent, natural fire disturbances that all but disappeared after more people settled into the landscape.

Today, The Nature Conservancy and partners are employing geospatial and other technology to identify where native woodlands and forests once naturally occurred. Then, we aim to restore and manage both habitat types to their glory, throughout Tennessee.

Restoring Woodlands

Beautiful, rich and complex prairies, glades, woodlands and other grasslands once occurred across Tennessee. On these lands, frequent fires pruned back all but the most fire-tolerant tree species while prairie grasses and wildflowers thrived in the sun.

Without fire, forests have grown unchecked to develop closed tree canopies that block sunlight, which has altered native plant and animal communities. In fact, many of Tennessee's rare and declining plant, insect, reptile and bird species are associated with fire-adapted habitats.  

TNC is committed to serving a transformative role in restoring these nearly lost landscapes and with them, their characteristic plants, animals and incomparable beauty. Specifically, we intend to increase the pace and scale of restoration to approximately 100,000 acres per year through two major forest restoration strategies:

  1. Employ science-based mapping to prioritize locations for woodland restoration, together with federal and state agency partners, on the Cumberland Plateau to catalyze thousands of acres of woodland restoration.
  2. Launch Fire Strike teams to boost and leverage federal and state agency resources in order to deliver fire to the highest conservation priorities beyond current efforts to restore shortleaf pine-oak woodlands on TNC preserves.
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

Working Woodlands

Around the country, states like Tennessee are losing mature native forests to development, pests, catastrophic wildfires and a changing climate. Many of these forests are in private ownership.

Through a program called Working WoodlandsTNC assists private landowners with improving the value and the health of their forests. In return, landowners enter into an agreement to leave the land undeveloped, forever.

Once enrolled in Working Woodlands, landowners have an opportunity to profit from the sale of sustainably harvested timber. They can also sell carbon credits to businesses and individuals seeking to offset emissions. TNC provides guidance for these transactions thanks to a team of scientists and econ­omists capable of securing timber certifications and quantifying the carbon-cap­turing power of forests.

Two people wearing orange vests stand in a forest.
Father and Daughter Rebecca Tuuk stands in a forest with her father, John Shafer. © Courtesy/Rebecca Tuuk

Faces of Conservation

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 h...

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.”

The Nature Conservancy assisted the Shafers 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. The Conservancy 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.”

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Partnership In Action

In 2019, TNC signed a historic agreement that established the University of Tennessee (UT) as the first academic institution to enroll in Working Woodlands. The agreement includes seeking Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) certification—the most rigorous available for conserving working forests—for approximately 11,400 acres managed by UT’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA).

The agreement with UT also supports calculations to predict future growth and carbon sequestration rates. This data will inform a carbon market where companies purchase carbon credits from willing sellers to offset their production of carbon dioxide emissions.

TNC is also working with University of the South ("Sewanee") on a forest management plan for a 13,000-acre forested landscape known as the Domain also located within the Cumberland Plateau. 

A primary component of the management plan includes pursuing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The partners are also drawing upon ecological and cultural data to inform additional actions that will include prescribed burning and restoration of shortleaf pine habitat to benefit some wildlife species.

  • Brochure on our Working Woodlands program in Tennessee.

    Working Woodlands Brochure

    Learn more about how The Nature Conservancy's Working Woodlands program is advancing our mission in Tennessee.

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