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Center for Private Forests at Penn State

The mission of the Center for Private Forests at Penn State (CPFPS) is to foster the retention, stewardship, and management of private forests by conducting applied research on stewardship issues and creating collaborative learning opportunities for students and stakeholders through participative outreach with private forest landowners, educators, volunteers, agencies, organizations, and the general public.

Funding source: Privately Funded Through Gifts to the Endowment for Private Forests at Penn State

Forests dominate the land cover in Pennsylvania, occupying 17 of our 28 million acres. Private forests, those owned by individuals, families, non-forestry corporations, and organizations, account for 12 million of these forested acres (71%). Recent estimates indicate Pennsylvania has nearly 740,000 private forest landowners, or about one of every seven households. Many forestland holdings are in small parcels (1 to 10 acres) accounting for three million acres (25% of the private forest acreage). Only 3.5 percent of the state's private forest landowners control parcels of more than 100 acres, but these large tracts cover many acres and are, therefore, extremely important to conservation efforts, the forest industry, and for provision of myriad social and ecological values. Addressing the needs of all forest landowners, both small and large, is challenging and requires continued development of applied research and outreach mechanisms tailored to the unique challenges of managing forests in the complex ownership matrix.

Individuals own forests for privacy, wildlife, recreation, heritage, and income production values, but we all benefit from their critical ecological services, such as clean air, water, and wildlife habitat. The flow of goods and products from private forests is an important economic driver in many rural and urban communities, providing nearly 100,000 jobs and adding an estimated 14 billion dollars to the state's gross product. As well, private forests contribute significantly to our economy through recreational pursuits such as birding, hunting, angling and other activities. The contribution of Pennsylvania's private forests to our overall quality of life is inestimable.

The suite of stakeholders benefiting from private forests underscores the importance of a focus on this resource. Beyond the needs of current owners and private forest stakeholders, there is an ethical need to ensure we provide for future generations of owners and users. For private forests to continue providing these benefits there is a clear need for focused research, education, and outreach on private forestry issues. The more critical challenges include forest parcelization, estate planning, sustainable forest management and regeneration, cross-boundary management, taxation, ecosystem services, and community support for retaining working forest landscapes. Without addressing these and other issues, the flow of benefits and values from private forests will likely decline.

As educators, we have a responsibility to share knowledge with the next generation of resource managers. In Pennsylvania today, with vast acreages of land held by private individuals, natural resources management is less about managing the resource and more about working with the individuals who own the resource to help them make good decisions for their forestland. CPFPS will provide a focus on not only the resources held by private individuals but also the unique traits and values they possess, which are conduits for promoting a broader message of forestland conservation.

 

Specifically, the CPFPS seeks to increase understanding of the prevalence and importance of private forest lands, and the threats affecting their future functions and values. It will accomplish this by creating opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student education and research on issues related to the management of private forests and seeking collaborative solutions to the challenges affecting private forest lands and owners. An important component of this process is the recognized strength of peer-to-peer and collaborative learning, which is the model used in the PA Forest Stewards volunteer program. It is further important to enhance the ability of natural resource professionals to serve private forest land stakeholders.

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Center for Private Forests at Penn State