Rural System's

The Forest Group

The Forest Group faces managing a major part of regional rural land, the land with trees, but within the context of the total ownership, the platform, and its contribition to prifits within annual total owner's budget. It faces threats of fire, climate change, air pollution, grazing, exotic species invasion, and habitat loss and other uses of the land while growing trees within a 150-year planning horizon(moving forward a year annually).

Using modern technology, well-established principles of forestry, and a new concept of the privately-owned total land system, The Forest Group of Rural System unifies the following diverse activities for reasonable profits over the long run:

1. GPS and GIS technology
2. Knowledge of the land
(See Arborday.org for 2008 tree hardiness zones.) 3. Use of alpha units (Special map units replacing or augmenting "stand" units)
4. Named Rural System Tracts (separate areas, like state forests or Forests of the U.S. Forest Service) with different objectives but unified management)
5. Coherent, unified management system
6. High payoffs from previous research
7. Intensive inventory software and computers
8. Specialized nurseries or cooperators
9. Superior growing stock and regeneration management
10. Computer analyses of potential production
11. Specialized units (e.g., walnut products and single-tree profit projects)
12. Associated profitable activity with other groups
13. Optimum tree spacing
14. The right species for the right site
15. Use of new site evaluation criteria and local yield curves
16. Protection of stems
17. Spot fertilization
18. Young stem release (alternative grazing and fire systems)
19. Special thinning procedures
20. Beta harvest regulation (in contrast of area and volume regulation)
21. Assistance in land valuation
22. Extensive reports and web site hypertext
23. Wildlife management (especially through the other units of The Deer Group, The Raccoon Group , and The Wild Turkey Group)

24. Recreational and multi-purpose trails network
25. Timber marking for maximum long term wood sale profit (including profit-based individual tree selection and removals)
26. Superior planned logging and harvests (gentle-on-the-land logging)
27. Intensive insect and disease profit loss controls
28. Watershed quality enhancement
29. Wildfire prevention, prescribed burning, and strategic fire control (The Fire Force)
30. Security (against thefts, trespass, littering, vandalism, and wildlife law violations)
31. Surveys (with reputable subcontractors providing services that can be integrated with the above)
32. Road layout and construction supervision to reduce erosion and impacts
33. Viewscape management and visual analyses 34. Means for surpassing SFI and ISO 14000 concepts
35. Solar drying and partial-seasoning
36. Short log mills that are product-oriented
37. Superior mill work and value-added sawing
38. Bark and mill-waste sales or heat co-generation of energy
39. Waste (bark and nut hulls) and ash recovery and land application
40. Road and trail management 41. Market-price-based product storage
42. Intensive cost and tax controls
43. Land insurance (fire, insects, storms and accidents)
superior products gently produced from
certified Rural System Tracts
44. Specialized product advertising
45. Specialized accounting and capital budgeting
46. Demonstrations and promotion of sophisticated, modern wildland systems
47. Knowledge-base building (expert systems, classical research, and studies)
48. Constrained optimization of the total system with modified expected present net value as an objective
49. "Scoring" or rating of forests and forest practices for personal reasons, pride of ownership, display on an attractive sign, potentially for testimony in legal action, and potentially for land valuation for land sale or reduced taxation.

The target is modest: 60% of the nation's total forest land now in private ownership.Rural System engages in diverse activities, not only on each site and within each ownership, but also regionally. The assumption is made that "perfect" forest management on one area within a poor, unhealthy, or dysfunctional region cannot be viewed as successful over many years. Staff has benefitted from work over 200 years in forestry -- in wildfire protection, management knowledge, forest nurseries, genetic improvement, soils research -- and more. Yet few acres of forests (of the 1500 logging operations in Virginia for example) are seen by professional foresters and the financial and other benefits of their advice, grounded in work over this long period are not experienced. The same is true for pasture and some other farm operations, but the differences are not as great.

Staff have a set of operating principles or policies. One is that trees harvested are not income. Forests are capital. Only the amount taken in excess of that which will leave intact the capacity to produce the same amount ... not only of wood ... but at least profit ... can be counted. Rural System forest land owners never "spend down" their capital. Similarly, soil, clean water, clean air, coal seams, annual animal populations are capital. Without them there is nothing producing income. Few have an accounting system to keep track of natural capital.

When economic considerations are disregarded and physical principles are the strict basis for managing forests, the results are that the value of timber production is unnecessarily reduced and the potentials of off-setting increases in non-timber benefits are not recognized. When land is allocated to deer or recreation, the owner may forego timber-based profit, thus experience an "opportunity cost."

When roads or ponds (etc.) are built, natural capital of one type is lost and replaced with another type of "capital." Progressively, "development" removes natural capital, preventing natural resource system capital from being sustained. Losses are replaced by "development" and other nominal resources (but whether of equal value is unknown but unlikely).

Sixty percent of the nation is privately owned.

We know we operate on second and multi- generation forests. About 60% of Virginia (15.4 million acres) is forested. Of these 77% are owned by non-industrial private owners, the proposed market for the Forest Group. Land owners gained about $195 million a year and that can probably be increased by at least $100 million under longterm management. Related recreation may contribute a billion dollars to the state income but that is a clouded statistic. Net growth of commercial wood (not just total wood but lumber and energy wood) is well below the potential of the land... but the longterm potential, without careful somewhat-costly management is unclear.

Staff tend to reduce wastes and to recommend taxing those wastes not reduced, not labor or production of the system. Taxes are seen as a way of discouraging wastes and things unwanted.

We invest in increasing the productivity of capital, given that land owner have that capital. We use "sensitivity analyses" to find the most limiting factor in a project or subsystem and find ways to invest (or tax) to gain cost effectiveness. Usually that factor which is limiting is natural capital, not labor or developed capital. Cut timber, for example, is limited by standing forests, not sawmills ... but there are other limits. Fish catch is limited by fish populations, not just boats or anglers ...but there are other limits.

For certain members of our staff ...

"Within the profession we are known as dirt foresters, and a great deal of our time in the woods is spent selecting and marking timber for harvest. Through the marking of timber, we become a part of a natural system that can teach us how to live more fully and with greater awareness. Approached in this way, the task of putting paint on trees becomes a meditation, even as we acknowledge that cutting trees is at its heart an economic decision. Each decision involves factors such as age, size, health, soil, slope, aspect, economic value, competition, potential growth, wildlife values, and more. You calculate all these in your forestry-educated brain. You raise your paint gun to deliver the death sentence, and then something unnamable crawls up from your belly and asks: Is this the right thing to do?"
from Southern Forests Network, October, 2008.

We encourage investment in Rural System Tracts and develop internal county markets. We exist to serve the people and lands of our counties. We have to have some semblance of a policy for the common good. We struggle to articulate that as "community-rooting of capital" (Herman Daly) and creating wealth.

Rural System Tracts are managed for owners but because they are viewed from a regional perspective, as clusters, advantages may be gained in pooled buying and selling, in arranging export offers, in reduced logging and transportation costs, in sharing equipment, and in avoiding duplicating effort. Owners of land may enroll all or parts of their ownerships. The concept is complex but contains elements of:

1. Voluntary membership
2. Partial or total ownership
3. Low risk of financial loss
4. Improved forests of the region (higher quality, potentially more profitable standing stock throughout the region)
5. Site-specific, silvic-intensive, GIS-based tree and stand information
6. Potentially profit maximizing, but always based on the landowner's objectives which may not include profit as an important objective. (Objectives include a set, usually defining a condition for inheritance, family pride and recreation, wildlife conservation (plants and animals), spring flowers, a place for reflection and psychological health (to "get away"), and a genuine contribution as a good citizen to the well being of the region through water supplies, air quality, scenic beauty, educational opportunities, and wildlife benefits).
7. A regional view that may (but not necessarily) provide economies (scale effects)
8. A preparation for future fossil energy shortages or non-availability
9. An increase in healthful local employment
10. Sophisticated, high-tech management including several levels of simulation and optimization
11. Employing high school, university, and graduate students to assist students and their parents and guardians in paying for their education at Virginia Tech of other affiliated universities
12. Using past research findings based on public tax investments in research over the past century
13. Using actual field results in future analyses and research
14. Using some funds to support future research
15. Independent of state and federal funds
16. Committed to perpetuating and improving the tracts
17. The actual income is supplied by funds derived from managing the land

18. Rural System Tracts are patrolled and protected.
19. Rural System Tracts are given a form of protection by many other means (e.g., testimony) from intrusions (e.g., impact analyses of powerline corridors and highways, System Central). Of course, "winning" in court conflicts cannot be assured and an owner may elect to be included or not in such protective action (e.g., rejection when there is a desire to sell under land condemnation).
20. Wilderness, park, reserve, and sanctuary areas may be selected and special provisions provided for their long-term protection. Large areas with research and educational events may be available to members of Rural System
21. Memberships in The Foresters with various levels and including awards for knowledge, practices, and special activity are an important component.

There are about 2 million acres in the multi-county region of primary interest of the Rural System (See for example Craig County Notes.) Of this, about 70% are forested. Of this area, figures differ on access and whether the trees can be (or should be) harvested. There are thousands of acres of state and federal land in the region that will be assumed to be under appropriate management. The Forest Group may seek contracts with agencies to do cost-effective management. In summary, there are at least 700,000 acres of privately-owned-potentially-productive-of-woodland in the region, the working domain of The Forest Group and other elements of Rural System

Wood (tree-size) growth in the region now exceeds harvest by a high ratio. Harvests can be increased, but the concerns are that quality growth is not occurring - on superior trees - on productive sites -- where access costs are reasonable and where other environmental impacts (erosion, compaction, etc.) are not extreme. There are too many "conditions." The problem is complex in the region, on National Forests, but especially so for the small acreage landowner. Staff of The Forest Group will have the means to solve these problems for the small unit and large-unit landowner. The staff can take the hassle out of problems for the out-of-state, absentee, or other owners that are busy with daily affairs and unaware of the complexity of forest-related decisions. It does what the owners wants, not simply cut trees for immediate income. It can assist in financial planning for college and other needs, even financial crisis management (forest banking) to prevent disastrous land impacts. It can present a viable alternative to the rapid turnover in ownership of forestland (on average every 12 years) by providing management, a flow of benefits, and reduce the harmful effects of a "cutout-and-getout" before land sale.

Forestry within Rural System is viewed as a total system. Such a system includes: reforesting and regenerating stands, providing protection, enhancing work that is cost effective, maintaining an inventory, conducting effective harvests, using proper transportation, marketing, processing, storing, preserving and taking other actions, all concentrating on adding value to wood products in the region, developing exports as appropriate, making genetic improvement, monitoring, and doing profit-making studies into all of the above. But even this is not the total money-producing system. The look needs to be on rural land platform, not just on the trees but on the productive alpha units and nearby units.This was never possible. It is now with computer work.

Rural System will seek to grow as an organization so positive that its influences can be felt throughout the region. It seeks to accept responsibility for management of lands in the region. These special places are living, working, profitable areas but also demonstration and research areas. They are self-sustaining and provide employment opportunities for local people.

Craig County, Christmas tree growing, September 2002

As one component of The Forest Group operation, there is the large-area maintenance work. It includes allowing a corporation or family to hold land for pride, estate values, speculative price increases, or any reason by applying the composite strategy of engaging in a contract:

1. To bring the land under sophisticated management
2. To gain full stocking of superior trees
3. To develop a harvest strategy that pays for taxes and improves the stand
4. To diversity products (such as Christmas trees and craft items)
5. To increase security and protection
6. To participate with other ownerships in

7. To gain profits from additional recreational opportunities and higher recreational quality.

The Forest Group's vision of forestry has the following elements:

1. Land, not merely trees, is what is managed.
2. That land has trees (or an actual or planned stand of seedlings after tree removal) puts it into one category of use. That use can rapidly change even though everyone is aware that forests take many years to develop.
3. Trees are part of a forest system that includes owners, surrounding land, water, location, taxes, markets, roads, the legal and economic environment, risks of loss, tax policy, current consumer preference, wildlife damage, game preference and hunting attitude, and tendencies toward outdoor recreation. It includes current wood use technology, regional wood prices, warehouse and stockpile capability, and modern sawmill techniques. Of course it includes energy-availability and biomass-energy demand.
4. To emphasize trees in such a system is akin to spending too much time in discussing "the lung" when the topic is the human body!
5. Every piece of land is unique. Computer technology allows that concept to be useful. Now characteristics of every site can be used to determine what trees grow best on what sites, but equally important in the larger system what species, at what age, in what arrangement, on what site, suffering what expected losses and costs, at what distance from a road and mill, given today's and technology and expected received funds, can be profitable.
6. Asking the question of profit is not a bad idea. Whether profit from trees (or other products) is used or not in the market, it can inform the rational land "owner" (public or private) about the dollars likely to be foregone if alternative uses of the land are made.
7. Annual financial equivalent returns to owners from land with trees should be accumulated as part of the rotation-length budget (recreation, views, game, etc.)
8. Regional values of land with trees (pure water, flood cost prevention, temperature influence, visual amenities, erosion control) should be computed, then a median estimate used to compute an annual value of forests to each citizen. Social value of forests is real, and can be computed, but not well at the stand or ownership scale.
9. As in other systems, efficiency in one place may not achieve the objectives of the system owners/operators. Not efficiency but achieving cost effectiveness of the total system is the mission. Of whom? Of what? It is hard to imagine the average C-grade graduate of current forestry schools as being able to be responsible for the total system. The net has been thrown too far; the catch is too great. Some still see the forester as the manager of the total system or the generalist who can manage some part, or the specialist who can plant, raise, and specify when to cut trees (not cut them, for that is the role of the specialist logger). These three identities capture the ambiguity within the "field of forestry," among people calling themselves foresters, and certainly among the public.
10. The vision of The Forest Group staff is that of land used to meet landowners' many (100+) objectives. Staff assist in formulating these objectives, informs the owner of the costs; provides necessary and appropriate legal, ecological and other constraints, provides a prescription and plan, and helps implement the total system over the long run.
11. The "profession" of forestry, once narrow and clear, is now so broad and multi-dimensional that it cannot be communicated well within or outside the university or agency.
12. The owner of a small-acreage forest may not be able to become profitable over a reasonable period. Economies of scale are difficult to achieve. Achieving them and providing annual- or periodic-income from the greater enterprise (before the typical end-of-rotation log sale) is a major dimension of The Forest Group activity.
13. Within The Forest Group there are people who have special knowledge of trees or some aspect of the total tree-related system. They may call themselves "foresters," at some risk in some circles. The emphasis within Ranging and Rural System is on the total system working for the land owner, bringing his or her land to full production of their specified benefits (and more where feasible) and values at reasonably low costs.
14. A concept of intergenerational justice (Portney and Weyant 1999) is present, assuming some degree of thankfulness for the resource inherited and now available for use and management, and intent on providing resources for survival in the future and productive potential of opportunities and options.
15. Few, if any, well-educated foresters can master the total system. Few members of the general public without the privilege of such education can do so. The Forest Group employees work as a group. They seek to "do forestry" for landowners. They will satisfy all aspects of their curiosity and encourage learning of all types but "to educate landowners about good forestry" is impossible. The vision is one of land under intensive contractual care, perhaps (but only partially) analogous to that provided by a superior lawn-care company, a frozen-food delivery service, or a furnace maintenance company.

The financial gains are made not only from trees and the work of foresters but from the total, managed productivity of the owned land and related enterprises of Rural System.

See also Wild South and links there. Lamar Marshall is the executive director. They have many links to forest and environmental organizations.

See Forest Threats (insects, etc.)

See Forest Index

See preliminary value and services note

Join Forest Landowners.com ($100 membership, 2008)

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Rural System
Glossary
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
July 1, 2005