Matt Dudek is a graduate student in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning, the School of Government, and a CERC intern working with the Cape Fear Council of Governments.
Last week Monday Mikki Sager and Calvin Allen from the North Carolina chapter of the Conservation Fund came to speak about community forestry at the BEST STEP Steering Committee meeting in East Arcadia. The Conservation Fund is promoting opportunities through the National Community Forestry Service Center for communities to purchase forestland for economic development, and is offering their assistance to help communities find the funding and to build the capacity for communities to sustainably manage the property themselves.
Additionally the National Community Forestry Service Center has identified South-East and North-East North Carolina as two regions with prime opportunities to buy timberland based mainly on proximity to national forests, private timberland ownership, and a few other conditions.
Over the past forty years forestry has changed. Half of all timberland has changed hands in the past decade. Over 30 million acres of forestland have changed hands since 1996, and experts predict another 12 to 15 million will transfer out of the timber industry ownership in the next decade to the relatively new Timberland Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). TIMOs alone have already bought one third of the 30 million acres of land that have been transferred since 1996.
TIMOs and REITs, unlike the traditional timber industry, are not local businesses, do not have long-term goals for forest land and are accountable to investors for short-term profits. This means timber jobs are not long term, profits are shipped out of town, and TIMOs will only consider maximizing profits.
The Conservation Fund sees community forestry as a way to help bring sustainable forestry and jobs to distressed areas with abundant timberland resources.
The Conservation Fund lists the following points in its definition of community forestry:
1. Community forestry means the local community has a say and a stake in how a forest is managed.
2. Community forestry practices provide economic, environmental, and social benefit for the community.
3. Sustainable forestry is maintained as a long-term industry in the local area.
4. The profits from timber harvesting and other activities stay in the local community.
5. Local control is retained through local management and oversight through the ownership structure.
A community forest could be used for harvesting timber and non-timber forest products, hunting, fishing, eco-tourism, grazing small livestock, gathering firewood, etc. The Conservation Fund will also help communities acquire, finance, plan, conserve and manage working forests.
The BEST STEP cluster will be looking into community forests, if you or your community is interested in potentially using community forestry as an economic development tool, or as a way to maintain local control over timberland please get in contact with Calvin Allen, program director, at the Conservation Fund. (email@example.com)