Roger Tuuk & John Shafer
Father and daughter: Rebecca Tuuk with her father, John Shafer. © Rebecca Tuuk

Stories in Tennessee

Saving a Forest, Saving the Earth

Our Working Woodlands Program in Tennessee

A Special Place in Tennessee

John Shafer was 106 years old and part-owner of a gorgeous piece of wooded property in north central Tennessee near Sparta. It’s 3,120 acres of dense hardwood forest that includes rugged bluffs, waterfalls and caves. In springtime, the ground is carpeted with wildflowers as water trickles down streambeds. In the fall, one can hear acorns raining down from the canopy as colorful leaves flutter down.

The property was originally purchased in the early 1940s by the family lumber business after John Shafer scouted the tract. Shafer knew this was a strong forest because he knows trees as few people do. He has a Ph.D. in botany and taught at Virginia Tech as a young man. He is also one of the pioneers of cross-breeding chestnut trees to make them resistant to the scourge of chestnut blight, which virtually wiped the majestic tree off the continent early in the 20th century.

Shafer and his wife assumed personal ownership of the property in 1977. Shafer took care over the years to harvest trees sustainably on the property and maintain the forest’s health and character. He even planted several hybrid chestnuts successfully on the land. He now wants to preserve the land and its forest as do his daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Roger Tuuk. None of them want to see these woods carved up and developed in the future.

Protecting a Legacy

“I have been a nature lover since I was a boy,” said Shafer. “It is a beautiful piece of property. We were looking to put some kind of limitation on the property to keep it undeveloped and intact.”

That’s where The Nature Conservancy stepped in. We have a new program called Working Woodlands that helps landowners gain income from their property while ensuring their forest remains healthy and productive for future generations.

Through the Conservancy, the Shafer-Tuuk family has put a working forest conservation easement on their property. The easement is a binding legal agreement that stays with the property in perpetuity, preventing development, agricultural conversion or unsustainable forestry practices. But this easement still allows sustainable harvesting of timber. The Conservancy is also ensuring the forest will be managed in an ecologically-sound way through Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) C008922 certification. Wood products harvested from the property can command higher prices in some markets, thanks to FSC certification. Wood products harvested from the property can command higher prices in some markets, thanks to FSC certification.

Benefitting from the Carbon Market

In addition, the Conservancy is helping to provide the family with a new income stream from the growing voluntary carbon market.

Here’s how it works. Trees capture carbon from the carbon dioxide in the air as they produce oxygen. An acre of mature forest can capture a ton of carbon every year. Because scientists and economists can quantify the carbon-capturing power of forests, wooded properties enrolled in carbon markets can sell carbon credits to businesses seeking to offset their carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition to carbon offset sales, the Shafer-Tuuk family can continue to sell timber from their property. Shafer’s vision for the property has been to keep this forest healthy and productive long into the future both as a family income source and a healthy natural area. “We don’t need every last dollar,” he said. “We are interested in long-term management of this forest.”

“This agreement protects our land forever,” said Rebecca Tuuk. “I highly recommend Working Woodlands. It will help us protect the animals and plants that are on the land. With the human population expanding as it is and putting pressure on the environment, we feel it’s a good way to keep some places wild.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Trish Johnson, Director of Forest Conservation for the Tennessee Chapter, at or 931-265-1637.

Note: Shortly after this story was published, Mr. Shafer passed away at the age of 106.