Large private and industrial forest holdings in the United States cover about 62 million acres, including much of the country's choice forest land. Acre for acre they contribute far more than their proportionate share of annual timber production and of employment in the woods and in associated processing industries. Many hunters and fishermen use these larger forest land holdings in the course of a year, as well as numerous campers, picnickers, and hikers. Clearly large private and industrial forest holdings are significant, not only to the owners, users, and workers involved, but also to the public at large. The public interest in their management is not in dispute any more than is the private interest. The essential challenge is to manage these lands to serve both public and private purposes in an effective and balanced manner.
The principal uses of large forest holdings in which the public is interested are:
- Timber production for lumber, pulp, and other products;
- Outdoor recreation for hunting, fishing, camping, and other activities;
- Watershed protection for reducing sharp fluctuations in runoff, possibly prevention of soil erosion, and regulation of underground water supplies;
- Forest preservation for particular species, ecological systems, and possibly wilderness areas;
- Research for the improvement of growing stock, forest practices and management generally. Characteristically the larger holdings have involved each of the main uses in some measure. Failure to take account of one or another of these uses in a management program will still have an effect on both the forests and on the public, if only by default. The several uses are knit together one with another, and with the economy and society as a whole. Most large forest property owners now recognize this; it is the premise upon which they work out their management programs.
Primarily the public is concerned that those with the decision power over the large private and industrial forest holdings conduct themselves as good businessmen and responsible citizens. To do both of these may not always be as easy as it would seem or as one would like it to be. From time to time difficult compromises have to be made by persons who have to meet payrolls and satisfy the expectations of stockholders for dividends and who at the same time wish to be conservators of that part of the national estate which they own or manage. The public interest requires that both these roles be played simultaneously with neither one upstaging the other.
The essence of the public concern regarding the management and use of large forest holdings may be crystallized as follows:
- Management at the highest level of foresight and competence possible;
- Sustained increases in yield of all forest products and services;
- Provision of non marketable (or semi marketable) forest services, such as outdoor recreation;
- Adequate returns to owners, operators, labor, and other factors of production;
- An emphasis on research in its various aspects: genetics, silviculture, management, economics, processing, marketing, among others;
- Public and private policies which favor these objectives and which are reasonably consistent with each other;
- In short, a view of large private and industrial forest properties which encompasses public and private welfare; the needs and priorities of economic development of the specific holdings, the region, and the nation; and a careful respect for ecological constraints in the interest of long-term development and use.
These stated objectives which the public through the several levels of government and through other organizations has a right to insist on can furnish a kind of check list for gauging the total merit of any significant decision regarding large forest holdings. Such a check list will not yield quick and ready answers to specific decision problems, but it can guide decisions. Taken together these objectives can best be achieved through a blend of private and public actions, characterized both by a degree of competition and a degree of cooperation. Altogether, an environment is setup which may be called one of "controlled tension" among the several parties concerned.
One matter of importance to the country as a whole is that future requirements for lumber be satisfied at as low a cost as possible, having in mind the time dimension of the problem so that cheap lumber now will not be obtained at the expense of high priced lumber later on. Lumber is still a basic construction material, perhaps the basic one, its use running at about 35 to 40 billion board feet a year. To be sure, the use of other construction materials has increased over recent decades—steel, aluminum, plywood, particle board—but lumber holds its own surprisingly well even at prices which have been increasing persistently as compared to those of competing materials.
Looking to the future it seems likely that the country will face difficulties in obtaining enough high grade softwoods for lumber, even though total growth of all species will at least equal total drain. This is a principal finding of the timber resources review conducted several years ago by the US Forest Service. Projections made by Resources for the Future for its forthcoming comprehensive study of Resources in America's Future point in the same direction.
There is another matter in which the public has high stakes. This is for more and higher-quality outdoor recreation on all sorts of land and water areas, including the large private and industrial forest holdings. The demand for outdoor recreation as a whole is increasing at perhaps 5 to 10 percent a year. In many forests recreation already may have become the dominant use.
Many of the larger forests products companies provide campgrounds, hunting and fishing arrangements by lease or without charge, lodges, and other facilities. A recent survey of recreation on forest industry lands conducted by the American Forest Products Industries indicates that 85 percent or more of the private forest lands are open to berry picking, picnicking, hiking, swimming, and camping. About one-fifth of the companies operated public park and picnic areas, some with boat ramps, playgrounds, and even ski lifts.
Undoubtedly during the coming decade it will be desirable, and probably necessary, to make even greater use of the large private forest holdings for public recreation; otherwise this important potential source of outdoor recreation will not make its contribution to meeting the growing demand. It may be questioned whether the private companies can or should continue to provide such recreation free of charge. The establishment of reasonable fees for recreational use might be fairer to the owners and would probably lead to still further improvement in the facilities and services. In addition, the charging of fees might encourage the provision of additional recreational opportunities on public land.
The growth of recreation demand appears to be so overwhelming that it may become desirable for government to provide incentives for introducing and expanding public recreation on such private lands. If the matter can be handled privately a no-charge basis or by charging reasonable fees, so much the better. But if this does not suffice, then it may well be in the public interest for the government to consider providing grants-in-aid, technical assistance, tax benefits, or some other form of incentive for the increased use of private holdings for public recreation.
A final matter of concern to the nation is the need for a vigorous and many-sided program of research on forest development and use. Much research already is being done by the large companies as well as by government. On the whole, there would appear to be good cooperation between them. Obviously it will be important to direct research to the newer uses of forest lands, such as use for outdoor recreation and watershed management, and to the techniques of multiple purpose management, as well as along more established lines. A reasonable coordination among programs should be maintained, and a good balance struck between basic and applied research.
Adapted from a paper presented by Joseph L. Fisher, president of RFF, to the Forest Land Use Conference of American Forest Products Industries, Inc.