Manomet report studies impact of massive turnover of timberland in New England's Northern Forest

Scientists call for data collection, tracking, policies, landowner incentives to encourage biodiversity and sustainable forestry

The Forest Conservation Program of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences is calling for measures to protect New England's Northern Forest in a new report that documents the impact of the dramatic turnover of timberland ownership of the Northeast's 26-million-acre forest region.

The report--Changing Forestland Ownership Patterns in the Northern Forest and Implications for Biodiversity--was initiated by Manomet scientists in the Spring of 2004 to study the impact of ownership changes on biodiversity and implications for sustainable forestry across Northern New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

According to John M. Hagan, program director of Manomet's Forest Conservation Program, there has been a major change in U.S. timberland ownership in the past decade. But nowhere has this landowner shift been as remarkable as in Northern New England where a whopping 23.8 million acres--an area equivalent to 85 percent of the Northern Forest--changed hands between1980 and 2005. Of that total acreage, 84 percent was sold in Maine alone.

"Traditionally, the forest industry and corporations that harvest and manufacture products from the forest have been the owners of timberland," Hagan explained. "But over the past decade, forest products companies have divested their timberland for the cash value by selling to new landowners who tend to be cash-rich investors, such as insurance companies and pension owners.

"Unlike the traditional forest product companies, many of these new owners are not as interested in a public discussion on the sustainability of the land they own" he noted. "But many important social questions remain, such as, 'What will these new owners do with the land? Will they be responsible stewards? Will they take care of the things people care about such as plants and animals? Will they own the land over the long term?'"

The goal of the report was to quantitatively document change in timberland ownership with special emphasis on implications for biodiversity conservation. In addition to Hagan, the study was researched and written by Lloyd C. Irland, a noted forest economist of the Irland Group in Wayne, Maine and Andrew A. Whitman, a forest ecologist with Manomet. The 34-page report can be downloaded at www.manomet.org

The scientists, who focused on owners of larger tracts of land over 5,000 acres, used a variety of data sources, as well as personal interviews conducted through a biodiversity survey with 36 respondents.

Concluding that there is a lack of data sources on landowner biodiversity policy, the report called for three key recommendations:

  • development of new data sources to better assess forest biodiversity at the state and landowner (or township) level;
  • development of incentives to encourage landowners to participate in sustainable forestry certification, and
  • development of state-level processes for annual tracking of large parcel transactions.

The scientists noted in the report that many of the new landowners declined to participate in the biodiversity practices survey. However, Manomet's Forest Conservation Program already has begun to initiate exchanges with some of the new landowners by establishing projects to protect forest plants and animals. The objective over the next year will be to build relationships with the new landowners to ensure they have tools and knowledge to be good environmental stewards of their land.

As the largest continuous forest area east of the Mississippi, the Northern Forest is important to the economic, social and environmental welfare of bordering communities in the Northeast. Located only a day's drive to a quarter of the U.S. population, the area has been a prime recreation destination since the 1800s, and is regarded as a cultural and ecological asset of U.S. significance. Some 10 million people visit the area annually.

According to the Northern Forest Alliance--a coalition of conservation, recreation and forestry organizations--forest resources contribute $26 billion to the regional economy each year through forest-based management, recreation and tourism. The forest-based economy provides employment for 250,000 people in the region.

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Research for the study was sponsored by the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry (NCSSF). The NCSSF program is conducted by the National Council on Science and the Environment with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the National Forest Foundation. For more information on NCSSF, visit www.ncssf.org.

Manomet's Forest Conservation and Management Program
For the last decade, the public has debated the fate of the Northern Forest through referenda and other forums, weighing biological diversity and scenic value against economics and cultural tradition. Manomet is leading the largest landscape level study of biodiversity ever undertaken in the managed forests of Maine. Its goal is to maintain biological diversity, inform public debate and support the evolution of forest management and conservation strategies.

About Manomet
Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences is one of the nation's oldest, independent, environmental research organizations. The Massachusetts-based center conducts original science on natural systems and brings people together to develop conservation strategies. Programs are focused on areas where scientific expertise can bring about meaningful and lasting conservation change: Regional Conservation Planning, Habitat Protection and Bird Conservation, Forests, and Wildlife and Agriculture. For more information, visit www.manomet.org


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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