Fragmenting Forests and the Wood Industry
Nonindustrial private forests (NIPFs) are an important part of the timber supply chain. Roughly 70% of the forests in Tennessee are owned by individuals, and 43% of are on parcels of 100 acres or less. As these small forests areas become even more common, there are questions about the outlook for log supply for the wood products industry.
The forest industry has traditionally managed large timber tracts to supply their mills; however, many of these lands are being sold. The expansion of urban areas into the surrounding farms and forests is also resulting in the breakup of forested areas. As the forest base is broken up into smaller “parcels”, there is concern about the stability of the log supply for the wood products industry.
Recent research suggests that some degree of forest parcelization may not have a large impact on timber supply. An analysis of the forest industry in Michigan found that mills that were dependent on NIPFs for logs were able to compete effectively in the marketplace. These companies in general were able to harvest the same types of products and to be as profitable as the mills that depended on large forest holdings.
Unfortunately, the study also found that such firms harvested less intensively and were more likely to harvest profitably on smaller stands. This suggests that some of these stands may be being high-graded: cutting only the high-quality trees and leaving the poorer ones behind. So, although smaller forest owners may be able to supply the wood products industry, it isn't necessarily true that they do a better job of forest management. There is also a concern about the practical lower size limit for a “working” forest that can supply the wood industry. Very small stands may not be economically practical for loggers.
Tennessee already has a significant portion of its wood resource in small, private forests. This resource supplies the large and important wood products industry in the state. As the trend of forest fragmentation continues, and demand for wood products increases, it will become increasingly important to continue proper forest management practices.