Land transactions in the U.S. are occurring at a faster rate than any time in history; and as the trend continues, average parcel size is decreasing.
Seventy-eight percent of forestland in the northeast (14.4 million acres) is privately owned, a vast majority of parcels being between 10 and 100 acres. These “Family Forest Owners” are often rural residents who value their forest for its scenic beauty, wildlife, and recreational opportunities, but seldom think of their forests as a source of revenue from timber harvesting.
One year ago, Finch Forest Management began to offer customized forest management services to Family Forest Owners. The innovative Family Forest Owner Program (FFO) helps landowners with 2,600 acres or less create a sustainable land management plan that is tailored to their goals while also assisting with third-party responsible forestry certifications such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), and American Tree Farm System ® (ATFS).
With a growing number of customers who are going green, procuring certified fiber is a must for Finch Paper to continue to compete in today’s market. However, only a small fraction of northeast forests — just 8% — have earned certifications from the SFI and FSC. This makes procuring certified fiber in a shrinking wood basket even more of a challenge.
Finch foresters have extensive experience in helping landowners achieve SFI and FSC certifications, and the FFO program allows qualifying landowners to join together and share otherwise hefty certification costs. Without this program, certification might be unattainable for small landowners, but through cost-sharing, they are able to enjoy the benefits of having a certified forest, including higher forest value.
FFO has established a growing list of clients in its first year, from rural family farms, to an eco retreat in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Through a series of consultations, Finch foresters understand a forest owner’s unique goals, which can include wildlife management and/or revenue generation to offset property taxes. Some even wish for their forest habitat to be suited for something as specific as wild mushrooms or honey bees.
Finch Forester Mike Federice met with a landowner who was a beekeeper and wanted to create a habitat for honey bees. They developed a forest management plan that included a combination of black locust, black walnut, oak, and spruce that will provide food and shelter for bees and other wildlife such as grouse, turkey, and deer, while providing for a valuable timber harvest in the future.
Offering forest management services tailored to the needs and goals of small landowners is a simple yet revolutionary concept. It has never been done in industrial forest management and never been implemented privately. The client receives a long-term forest management plan to ensure the long-term health of their forest, and Finch benefits from local, sustainable sources of certified fiber.