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A position statement of the Virginia Division of the Appalachian Society of American Foresters


Position

The preservation of private property rights is critical in maintaining the productivity and health of Virginia's forest lands. Strong market environments, in conjunction with government programs that promote the conservation of Virginia's forest land base, will ensure that private forest landowners continue to generate income from their property while providing the Commonwealth with clean water and air, forest products, wildlife and recreation opportunities, and aesthetic benefits.

Issue

Contributions of forestry to Virginia's economy and environmental quality are the result of the free market actions of more than 440,000 private forest landowners. These private citizens own 77 percent of Virginia's forest land and are largely responsible for one of the greatest environmental success stories of the twentieth century, the restoration of healthy and productive forests across Virginia. Despite an increasing population, Virginia now has more forestland than at anytime during the past century.

Sufficient production of all types of forest resource values is critically dependent on the continued productivity of privately owned forests. Sustainable management of private forests is possible only when owners are willing to invest capital in their forests based on the prospect of a fair return in the market place. As some government regulations significantly decrease or make uncertain the prospects of a fair return on investment, the capital to manage private lands disappears. When prospects for fair returns diminish, alternative land uses such as development and urban sprawl are promoted.

Rationale

  • Private forest lands provide 75% of Virginia's wood industry supply, which in turn supports Virginia's number one employer—the forest products industry, employing about 248,000 Virginians;
  • Timber, wildlife, recreation, non-timber forest products, and public resource benefits from Virginia forests provide over $30 billion annually to the Commonwealth's economy;
  • Voluntary government programs that promote active forest management and the ability to generate income from forest products create positive incentives for private landowners to provide public values and directly contribute to the sustainability of Virginia's forests;
  • Non-voluntary ordinances designed to protect public resource values are often counterproductive in that they erode landowners' ability to actively manage their forests, diminish incentives to provide public values, and contribute to the decline of Virginia's forest land base;
  • Cost of services studies conducted throughout Virginia reveal that, on average, forest landowners consume about $0.40 of public services for every tax dollar contributed, while lands converted from forest to development consume about $1.30 of public services for every tax dollar contributed.

Action

The Virginia Division of the Society of American Foresters believes that Virginia's forest resources can best be sustained by a freely functioning, market based system in which private forest landowners balance the economic and environmental needs of the present and future. In addition, the Society acknowledges the legitimate role of government programs that encourage landowners to conserve their forests and that enable landowners to reach their economic and ecological goals in the context of sound forest stewardship using sustainable forestry practices.

Rather than attempting to protect aesthetic and other environmental benefits via ordinances that limit the management options of private forest landowners, the Society encourages local and state governments to ensure the sustainability of private forests by promoting voluntary programs such as land-use taxation, agricultural-forestal districts, purchase of development rights (PDR), cost-share incentives, and landowner education. Where government programs negatively impact property values and management options, the Society urges the development of reasonable and affordable processes for private forest landowners to seek just compensation for a regulatory taking under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

SAF Point of Contact

Dylan Jenkins, Virginia Tech Department of Forestry, (540) 231-6391, Fax: (540) 231-3330, Email: dylan@vt.edu.


ABOUT THE SOCIETY

The Society of American Foresters, with about 17,000 members, is the national organization that represents all segments of the forestry profession in the United States. It includes public and private practitioners, researchers, administrators, educators, and forestry students. The Society was established in 1900 by Gifford Pinchot and six other pioneer foresters.

The mission of the Society of American Foresters is to advance the science, education, technology, and practice of forestry; to enhance the competency of its members; to establish professional excellence; and to use the knowledge, skills, and conservation ethic of the profession to ensure the continued health and use of forest ecosystems and the present and future availability of forest resources to benefit society.

The Society is the accreditation authority for professional forestry education in the United States. The Society publishes the Journal of Forestry; the quarterlies, Forest Science, Southern Journal of Applied Forestry, Northern Journal of Applied Forestry, and Western Journal of Applied Forestry; The Forestry Source and the annual Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters national convention.