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Sustaining Pennsylvania’s Signature Landscape: The Center for Private Forests at Penn State

Posted: October 15, 2014

The Center for Private Forests at Penn State was created in 2011 to help forest landowners understand and sustain the natural resources in their care.

Forests form the cornerstone of life in Pennsylvania, occupying 17 million of our 28 million acres. More than 70 percent of our state’s forest is in private hands: individuals, families, non-forestry corporations, and organizations. The Center for Private Forests at Penn State was created in 2011 to help these forest landowners—740,000 across the Commonwealth, according to recent estimates—to understand and sustain the natural resources in their care.

Responsible forest stewardship is essential to our quality of life, but private landowners face a number of challenges in maintaining the health and well-being of their forests, from implementing sustainable management practices to taxation and estate planning to community relationships. The Center equips private landowners with the knowledge and resources they need to become effective stewards of their woodlands, so that—together—we can sustain our state’s signature landscape for generations to come.

Our Mission: Based in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Penn State, the Center draws upon expertise and assets across the College of Agricultural Sciences and the University to provide research-based solutions to the challenges faced by private forest owners. By cultivating faculty and student engagement as well as connections with local, state, and federal agencies, the Center is focusing attention and resources on:

  • Outreach: The primary mission of the Center is outreach to the hundreds of thousands of private forest landowners who stand to make a difference in the health and longevity of our forests. Through educational publications, webinars, conferences, field days, peer to peer education, and more, the Center helps landowners become skilled stewards of their woodlots.
  • Research: The Center encourages researchers to consider how their work in disciplines as diverse as wildlife management and rural sociology can be applied to the needs of forest landowners. Many of the researchers affiliated with the Center are actively involved in current outreach efforts, ensuring that their research remains attuned to the needs and priorities of private landowners.
  • Education: Through the Center, Penn State undergraduate and graduate students learn interdisciplinary approaches to the challenges and opportunities offered by private forest ownership, and curricular changes initiated by the Center ensure that all Ecosystem Science and Management majors are exposed to these issues.

Our Initiatives: Since its establishment in 2011, the Center has focused its efforts and resources around several key initiatives, which collectively aim to make the expertise of University researchers and forestry professionals available to private landowners across Pennsylvania. These efforts include:

  • Pennsylvania Forest Stewards (PAFS): The PAFS program, with support from the Bureau of Forestry, enlists private forest landowners to become ambassadors of the Center’s mission. Each class of participants receives forty hours of training in a variety of subjects related to forest stewardship. In exchange, participants agree to volunteer their time sharing what they have learned with other landowners through presentations, published articles, face-to-face conversations, and other forms of outreach. In one year’s time, our volunteers collectively reached more than 600,000 private forest landowners and members of the public across the state. This innovative program ensures that landowners know how to access the expertise they need to properly care for their forests.
  • Private Forest Landowner Conferences: The Center’s biennial Private Forest Landowner Conference brings together private forest landowners, resource professionals, and service providers for productive and informative exchange. The Center’s inaugural conference, held in the spring of 2013, attracted nearly 500 participants and featured ninety-nine presentations, addressing topics from forest finance to forest recreation to forest policy and advocacy. Our next conference is scheduled for March 20 and 21 2015, and we expect it to be received with even more enthusiasm.
  • Legacy Planning Assistance: Legacy planning is just as important as forest management for ensuring our forest’s long-term health and well-being. Much of the Center’s outreach work focuses on legacy planning—initiating conversations about how today’s owners can plan to pass these forests on to the next generation. Without a plan, landowners risk losing their land to development, subdivision, conversion to non-forest uses, or prohibitive estate taxes. By helping landowners navigate the legacy planning process, the Center allows landowners to pass on both their land and their values to the next generation.

The conservation of Pennsylvania’s private forests has an important impact on overall environmental health and diversity, animal and plant species, and quality of life for individuals and communities across the region. The Center is committed not only to collaborating with Pennsylvania landowners and Penn State faculty and students to create best practices for sustainable forest management, but also to establishing a model for other land-grant institutions, government agencies, and organizations.

Your Support: While the Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, Penn State Extension, and other state-funded agencies have been key supporters of the Center’s mission, state financial support for private forest management has steadily declined during the past two decades, and this trend is expected to continue despite growing demand for services. Private philanthropy is essential if we are to maintain and grow our outreach programming, create new opportunities for students and young forest professionals, and expand our presence in the regional and national conversation about the economic, social, and ecological benefits of sustainable forests. Your contribution to the Center for Private Forests at Penn State can make a crucial difference for the future of Pennsylvania’s forests and its owners.

You can learn more about the center by visiting the Center for Private Forests Website or call 1-800-235-9473.