Northern Forest Futures Project

Policy and Planning

[image:] Pine seedling

Legal, Institutional and Economic Framework for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management

What society permits or restricts, encourages or discourages, all influence the sustainability of forest resources. Forest sustainability is less likely where there are no rules or guidelines protecting resources or where laws and regulations are not enforced; more likely where society has developed social institutions to guide forest management. This criterion addresses the likely characteristics of change.


Key Findings

  • The impact of the legal, institutional, and policy framework differs enormously between publically managed forests and those held by private owners; three-quarters of the forest land in the North is privately owned, mostly by families and individuals.
  • Numerous laws, policies, and regulations affecting forest-land management have been enacted at national and State levels; Best Management Practices, which are in place across the North, are periodically reviewed and updated.
  • More than 30 million acres of forest land across the North are certified under one or more forest certification systems; the future of these programs depends on the demand for certified products, the requirements imposed by the various certification programs, and the willingness of landowners to participate.
  • An estimated 7.2 million acres of forests and nonforested (primarily agricultural) land are enrolled in conservation easement programs across the North; enrolled acreage has been increasing substantially and will continue to do so as long as owners see this as a viable option and organizations see value in acquiring and holding the easements.
  • Of all tax policies, those governing property taxes have the greatest potential to influence the behavior of family forest owners; although all Northern States have programs that can help defer or reduce annual property taxes on forest land, the future of tax policies is unknown and will likely hinge largely on issues that are larger than forestry.
  • For owners that are primarily interested in financial gain, taxes can have an important impact—tax policies are one factor that led to the shift from vertically integrated forest companies (companies that own both forest land and the mills that processed timber from that land) to real estate investment trusts and timber investment management organizations.
  • To augment the private natural resource professionals across the North, numerous programs and services have been established including cost sharing; technical assistance; financial incentives; and delivery of tools, training, and publications. For example, 9 percent of the nonindustrial private forest land—land not owned by forest products companies—is managed under a management plan associated with the Forest Stewardship Program of the U.S.
    Forest Service. Forestry assistance programs will continue to evolve to meet changing needs and the reality of decreasing budgets, continuing the trend of prioritizing where and how limited resources are spent.
  • Partnerships among various institutions and organizations have become increasingly common for addressing large-scale, complex issues; this trend is likely to continue in the future.
  • Public input on strategic-level forest management decisions is common on public lands and is increasingly common on large private holdings, especially those enrolled in certification programs; a continuing push for transparency in decisionmaking will likely cause an increases in public participation.

From Future forests of the northern United States, NRS-GTR-151, 2016.

Maps and Figures

[map:] Forest ownership across the North
Forest ownership across the North
[map:] Proportion of nonindustrial  
private forest land (land not owned by forest products companies) in the North that is covered by management plans prepared with U.S. Forest Service funding in accordance with the Forest Stewardship Program
Proportion of nonindustrial private forest land (land not owned by forest products companies) in the North that is covered by management plans prepared with U.S. Forest Service funding in accordance with the Forest Stewardship Program

For additional detail, see Criterion 7: Legal, institutional, and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management in the Future forests of the northern United States.