Current Challenges and Realities For Forest-based Businesses Adjacent to Public Lands in the United States

Emily Jane Davis, Jesse Abrams, Eric M. White, Cassandra Moseley


Through contracting and timber sales, the private sector is engaged in management of national forest lands and local community economies in the United States. But there is little recent research about current relationships between these lands and timber purchasers that could better inform future timber and biomass sale and business assistance policies and programs. We conducted a survey of timber-purchasing businesses active in six USDA Forest Service regions where ecosystem restoration and wildfire risk reduction policies have been prevalent to examine their characteristics, reliance on federal lands, challenges, and needs for assistance. We found that a majority of respondents in all Forest Service regions purchase small diameter timber (8 inches dbh or less) and had sought business assistance, most commonly from accountants and lending institutions. Those with the greatest dependence on federal timber—76 percent or more of their supply from federal sources—were less likely to have sought assistance of any kind. We also found several differences between businesses located in different Forest Service regions that could indicate a need for region-specific pilots, programs, or resources that focus on the particular characteristics of businesses in those areas; or flexibility in implementation of national-level programs to allow regional adaptation. Results suggest that more attention to the timing, quantity, and types of supply that federal lands offer and how this may affect business success is needed, particularly to understand how design of timber sales, service contracts, and stewardship contracts and sales may better serve businesses and allow them to produce community economic outcomes.

Keywords: forest-based businesses; public lands, USDA Forest Service; timber purchasers; timber; business assistance

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.