Forested stream

Forested stream

Dear Friends,

We are pleased to share with you the first annual report for the Center for Private Forests at Penn State. As you will learn, we are making strides forward on many fronts. We have initiated several new projects while continuing to focus on core values of forest stewardship. We are hosting the second statewide Private Forest Landowners Conference, have increased our professional staff, and are benefiting from your support.

Across the United States, The Center for Private Forests at Penn State is one of a kind. We are making bold moves to connect people to people through shared interests in the health and vitality of privately held forests. We are finding the need to tell your story about forests increasingly compelling as you and others who express a love for forests work to enhance woodland stewardship for future generations. Together we are doing important work and we look forward to working with you and others to increase awareness and understand of the need for conserving our working forest landscape.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments about our work.

In Stewardship,
Jim Finley
Director, Center for Private Forests at Penn State


The benefits derived from Pennsylvania's private forests are diverse and widely enjoyed by all. Individuals own forests for privacy, wildlife, recreation, heritage, and income production values, but we all benefit from the critical ecological services such as clean air and water and wildlife habitat provided by these private forests. Private forests contribute significantly to personal enjoyment through recreational pursuits such as birding, hunting, angling and other activities. As well, the flow of goods and products from private forests is an important economic driver in many rural and urban communities, providing nearly 100,000 jobs and adding an estimated 14 billion dollars to the state's gross product. The contribution of Pennsylvania's private forests to our overall quality of life is inestimable.

The breadth of benefits private forest offer to all of us underscores the importance of a focus on this resource. Beyond the needs of current owners and private forest stakeholders, there is an ethical need to ensure we provide for future generations of owners and users. For private forests to continue providing these benefits there is a clear need for focused research, education, and outreach on private forestry issues. The more critical challenges include forests being divided into smaller and smaller tracts, how forests are passed to the next owners, sustainable forest management and regeneration, cross-boundary cooperation, taxation, and community support for retaining working forest landscapes. Without addressing these and other issues, the flow of benefits and values from private forests will likely decline.

As educators, we also recognize our responsibility to share knowledge with the current and future generations of resource owners and managers. In Pennsylvania today, with vast acreages of land held by private individuals, natural resources management is less about managing the resource, and more about assisting the individuals who own the resource in making sound decisions for their forestland. The Center for Private Forests provides a focus on, not only the resources held by private individuals, but also the unique traits and values they possess, which are conduits for promoting a broader message of forestland conservation.

Center Initiatives

Private Forest Landowners Conference

The 2013 Private Forest Landowners Conference in Altoona was the first major Center effort. The conference brought together myriad partners who supported the two-day event through sponsorships, vending, speaking, and participation. Almost 500 participants attended sessions on topics ranging from backyard woods to cutting firewood, from timber taxes to trail cameras. The Center, in response to calls for more opportunities for landowners to learn how to better care for their woods, is organizing the second Private Forest Landowners Conference, again at the Blair County Convention Center, March 20 and 21, 2015. The Conference will offer eleven workshops during each of nine concurrent sessions, three keynote presentations, a choice of seven pre-conference tours, and a selection of vendors and exhibitors to visit.

PA Forest Stewards Volunteer Program

Using Biltmore Sticks
Using Biltmore Sticks

Since the fall of 1991, 617 people have completed volunteer training as Pennsylvania Forest Stewards. The PA Forest Stewards is a cooperative effort of the Center for Private Forests, Penn State Extension, the USDA Forest Service, the Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, representatives of the forest products industry, and various environmental and conservation organizations.

Now housed in the Center for Private Forests, the original intent of PA Forest Stewards was to build a network of volunteer forest landowners, who would leverage Extension's capability to reach Pennsylvania's private landowners, and who could influence their friends and neighbors more effectively than an educational institution or government agency. With their strong commitment to outreach, their application of sound forest management practices on their own properties, and their access to tools and resources from the program, PA Forest Stewards volunteers have succeeded in wielding substantial influence in their communities. They have been the force behind the creation of a growing number of local woodland owner associations throughout the state -- associations that now provide additional educational programming for landowners. We estimate that the combined membership of the twenty-three associations is around 1,781 -- the largest voice for forest owners in the state.

PA Forest Stewards volunteers have become active participants in local and state government, and many serve on natural resource committees. Many PA Forest Stewards volunteers lead tours and conduct educational programs for people of all ages in their communities. They work closely with their local Bureau of Forestry and Extension foresters, conservation districts, and conservation organizations. Their involvement helps shape policy decisions that favor good wildlife and forest management practices and support for private forest landowners.

The 2013 survey of existing PA Forest Stewards found that they contributed 14,582 hours of service (seven full-time equivalents) in various forms of outreach, touching more than 600,000 people with a stewardship message.

Applied Research

Greening the Lower Susquehanna

Through a cross-disciplinary project, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, team members from the Center for Private Forests worked with three communities in Dauphin, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties to improve water quality, control storm water, and improve wildlife habitat through the use of green infrastructure. The ultimate goal of the project was to improve the Chesapeake Bay by encouraging upstream communities to reduce their storm water, overland flow, and erosion. Team members were responsible for the initial community engagement and education portions of the project to get community buy-in, build ownership, and find common ground so that future landscape plans would have higher success rates. Three communities completed the process and received planting and site work to improve their natural areas during this program year -- engaging 438 homeowners in a new process for landscape design and green infrastructure planning. Three more communities are working with team members to develop plans for their communities.

Cross-boundary Management

The growing number of private forest landowners and smaller parcels presents a challenge in maintaining forest health and forest cover. One strategy to address this challenge is to encourage individual landowners to think not just of their own lands, but as part of a larger forest landscape. Within this landscape, individuals who share an understanding of how to care for their woodlands can lead to significant improvements in forest health. The Center for Private Forests has begun a partnership with ClearWater Conservancy in Centre County to explore ways to bring landowners within a watershed together around shared values and goals that could lead to improvements in forest and water resources. The identified landscape includes about 150 parcels ranging from single home lots to relatively large forest, farm, and family trust lands. Initial steps involve interviews with key individuals living in the project area to identify needs, levels of cooperation, and willingness to participate in information sharing and learning activities. After this initial project, the Center hopes it can use lessons learned to work with communities to create cooperative projects designed to improve habitat, water, and forests.

Forest Legacy

Beech trees in fall
Beech trees in the fall

Engaging future generations in continuing to steward forests is a highly desirable goal for many forest landowners. Yet the planning process can be cumbersome and contribute to family conflict. Through research we have conducted, we know that many current forest owners hope to pass their land forward to one or many children. Heightening landowners' awareness of the need for legacy planning has been a major focus of the Center for Private Forests since its inception. This year the work has included presentations, workshops, and the creation of materials designed to help forest landowners understand the options available to pass land forward. In addition, we co-organized a full-day "Expand Your Base" workshop to help foresters and other natural resources professionals begin talking with landowners about the future of their lands and to share planning tools and resources. The workshop used presentations and discussions around our understanding of private forest landowners and their hopes for their land, tools for communicating around forest values and helping landowners engage their families in conversations about the future of their land, and a presentation from an attorney who works with landowners to ease the land transfer between generations. Thirty-five foresters took part in the training. In addition, the Center is working with the Bureau of Forestry and a statewide taskforce to expand this outreach focus by further refining existing tools and messages for delivery by service foresters and others who work with private landowners.

Caretakers of the Forest Documentary

The Center is currently working with Penn State Public Media to create a documentary of the United States' private forests, focusing on the crucial role of these lands in providing economic, ecological, and social values to the nation, and the need to work with private landowners to conserve working forests. A film trailer, under development and funded by the Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, will be used to find funding support for the full project. Trailer filming will occur in the summer and fall 2015. The full documentary will be in production for eighteen to twenty-four months, and we anticipate its release in early 2017. The Center is receiving strong support from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and University Development Offices in this endeavor.

Forest Leaves Newsletter

Forest Leaves -- a quarterly newsletter providing timely tips and stories about caring for one's woods -- continues to be one of the most widely distributed forestry publications in the state. This resource for landowners continues as a joint venture among Penn State Extension, PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry, the Pennsylvania Tree Farm® committee, the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, and the Center for Private Forests. All partners contribute funds, content, and distribution support for this publication.

Starting in 2003, subscribers had the opportunity to elect to receive Forest Leaves via e-mail. This e-delivery option enabled us to increase the frequency of the publication from quarterly to monthly in 2014. The hardcopy newsletter remains on a quarterly schedule. The monthly e-newsletter allows information to be conveyed in a more timely fashion and enables us to publish longer, more in-depth pieces. We anticipate that the e-delivery format will enable us to increase circulation of this newsletter cost-effectively.

Organizational Structure

A key focus for the Center for Private Forests during the past year was to ensure the effectiveness of our work in reaching and connecting private landowners by establishing a strong organizational foundation. In February, a team of landowners, agency partners, and Penn State faculty from various disciplines came together to form a Steering Committee for the Center. Bringing a wide range of expertise and experiences with them, the Steering Committee will:

  • help to identify and prioritize core areas of research and outreach methods to help private forest landowners care for their woods,
  • continue to build our organizational capacity through a capital campaign to support the work of the Center for Private Forests well into the future, and expand our ability to engage landowners and other partners through the establishment of collaborative working groups focused on key topics of relevance to private forest landowners

Developing a visual identity for the Center for Private Forests has been another key focus of our work in 2014. With the assistance of the Development Communications team at Penn State, we have created several outreach pieces to help publicize the work of the Center and to create more visibility among landowners throughout the state.

Professional Staff

PA Forest Stewards 2014
PA Forest Stewards 2014

Jim Finley has worked in private forest lands issues since 1970 while working for the USDA Forest Service. He joined the faculty at Penn State in 1975 and has conducted research and outreach focused on private forest landowners and sustainability. In 2010, Jim was appointed Ibberson Professor of Forest Management in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

Allyson Muth began at Penn State in 2004 as a Forest Stewardship Program Associate working with the Pennsylvania Forest Stewards Volunteer Program and conducting outreach to forest landowners across the state (and beyond). Allyson has a strong interest in collaborative and peer learning and in creating dialogue to advance understanding of forest stewardship issues and opportunities.

Leslie Horner joined the Center following receipt of a generous gift from the Hamer Foundation. Leslie Horner, who was selected following a national search, joined us as a Forest Stewardship Program Associate in October 2014. Leslie's experience in forestry, watershed, habitat, and community outreach will enable us to expand our applied research and project capabilities.


The Center is currently focusing on development and recently received a gift of $500,000 covering five-years of work from the Hamer Foundation to increase its capacity to work with private forest landowners on stewardship issues. In addition the Center has learned of the potential of receiving a land gift. The five-year goal for the Center is to raise its endowment, which is currently at about $500,000, including two planned estate gifts, to at least $5 million. An endowment at this level, leveraged through Penn State's Development Office, would provide continuing support to the Center director and associate, and provide project support.

Friends of the Center

Friends began donating to the then PA Forest Stewards Endowment Fund following its inception in 2007. When the Center was formed in 2011, the PA Forest Stewards Steering Committee transferred the initial Endowment to the Center as the umbrella administrative structure for the volunteer program. The Endowment Fund provides operating resources to continue the education and support of the PA Forest Stewards volunteer program, build capacity, conduct outreach to private forest landowners, conduct research on issues private forest landowners face, and educate students.

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802