Accelerating Adoption of Sustainable Practices for Small Forest Producers

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2014: $47,167.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2017
Grant Recipient: Northwest Natural Resource Group
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Lindsay Malone
Northwest Natural Resource Group

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Additional Plants: native plants, trees, ornamentals


  • Crop Production: forestry
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, afforestation, biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    More than a century of managing industrial tree plantations for single species, even-aged, short-rotation timber has altered the forest composition and landscape of western Washington and Oregon (Franklin, 1998). As companies have divested their timber holdings closest to the metropolitan regions, much of this forestland has been purchased by small forest landowners (Bradley et al., 2009). Forest owners managing these former plantations face vulnerabilities to fire, pests, disease and extreme weather events, all of which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change (Halofsky et al., 2011). Research also links monoculture, short-rotation forestry to low water levels that adversely impact salmon survival (Perry, 2007, Jones et al., 2009), and climate change is expected to further stress salmon runs (Mantua et al., 2010). Bringing these lands back to their full potential for economic and ecological health requires an active approach to sustainable forest management. Ecological thinning is a production method that is based on frequent, ecologically sensitive harvest operations that leave standing merchantable timber as a long-term investment in the forest’s ecological and financial capital. This production method releases resources for dominant trees to improve structure and growth, improves soil and understory structure, diversifies native species composition, and, thereby, enhances habitat and biodiversity (Carey, 2006). It can also provide diversified financial value to the landowner over the long-term by enabling an array of native, merchantable timber species and the production of non-timber forest products (Helgerson & Bottorff, 2003). There are significant barriers that inhibit the adoption of ecological thinning and harvest practices by small forest producers. First, producers lack tools and information that enable effective forest management decision-making and project implementation. Many producers are unaware that active management is necessary to restore forest structure and assume that just letting the forest ‘take its course’ is the best path to long-term sustainable production. Second, for those interested in active management, uncertainty around the short- and long-term financial and ecological implications of various forestry strategies can lead to inaction. In addition, unlike other small agricultural crop producers, small forest producers manage production over the course of decades instead of years. This means that many producers, particularly those who recently purchased or inherited property, have never harvested during their entire ownership and have limited experience stewarding or managing their forest on an annual basis. This project will address these barriers by conducting research with nine producers and using a first-of-its-kind web-based decision support tool to improve long-term decision making and accelerate adoption of ecological forestry practices. The Forest Planner has been developed by Ecotrust and is available for free to landowners in Oregon and Washington to evaluate forest management outcomes, including timber stocking and yields, carbon sequestration, and others; offering a wide spectrum of management practices that can be customized to each landowner’s property. Landowners can easily map their properties, define basic forest inventory data, and then visualize and compare different management scenarios with side-by-side graphs and maps based on millions of forest growth-and-yield simulations. The 2006 National Woodland Owner Survey found that 33,000 family forest owners covering 428,000 acres in Oregon and Washington did not have written forest management plans but looked to the internet for forest management information (Butler, et al. 2007). Our research questions are whether this free Internet-based decision support can leverage the advice of forestry professionals to improve decision-making and management planning capabilities for these family forest owners, including how landowners consider the Forest Planner’s results in their plans for ecological thinning and restoration projects in the near term. We hypothesize that this tool will help landowners weigh revenue expectations, ecological goals, the potential for carbon crediting and the impact of management decisions by neighboring landowners. We also hypothesize that landowner research trials will reveal where tool results provide the most value in the forest planning process, which will serve to inform the educational outreach phase of the project. To answer these questions, we will conduct interviews with producers to collect qualitative data about their decision-making processes. We will also record changes that producers make to their forest management plans and record the number who choose to implement ecological thinning and restoration projects. Results will be relevant beyond forestry to other areas of agriculture by demonstrating how information about long-term results can assist producers in transitioning to more sustainable production methods. Ecotrust and NNRG will use the research results to make modifications to the tool and outreach materials and will then launch an educational campaign to train producers and professionals in the use of the tool and facilitate adoption of ecological thinning projects that will improve forest health, resiliency and long-term productivity. This educational campaign will consist of three producer workshops, one webinar for forest professionals and at least 30 follow up landowner site visits in the second year of the project. Workshops will occur in areas where clusters of small forest landowners have newly purchased property, including South Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula and Northwest Oregon. The final result of the project will be professionals empowered to use a new tool to support sustainable forest practices and small forest producers managing for enhanced long-term productivity, environmental quality and quality of life.

    Project objectives from proposal:




      1. Research landowner decision-making processes and the impact of Ecotrust’s Forest Planner on these processes – By September 2015, NNRG and Ecotrust will complete research with nine producers on current forest management decision-making processes and the ways in which scenario information impacts these decisions. Ecotrust’s Forest Planner is intended to help landowners weigh revenue expectations, ecological goals, the potential for carbon crediting and the impact of management decisions by neighboring landowners. Our research will ask: Does this free Internet-based decision support tool improve decision-making and management planning capabilities for forest producers? Which tool outputs are most helpful in supporting decision-making? How do landowners consider the Forest Planner’s results in near-term plans for ecological thinning and restoration projects? Are landowners able to use the tool on their own or do they need assistance? NNRG and Ecotrust will complete initial landowner surveys, site visits, forest scenario trials and final surveys with nine producers to answer these research questions.  






      1. Incorporate research results into outreach plans and materials – From July to October 2015, NNRG and Ecotrust will analyze research results and incorporate results into plans and materials for outreach. Each of the research questions have the potential to influence the design of educational workshops, materials and site visits. For example, if producers report that the tool outputs are most useful for informing the creation of management plans, then workshops will include information about how to integrate management plans and tool results. If producers report that tool outputs enable a switch from non-management to active ecological management, recruitment for the workshops will focus on landowners where non-management poses the greatest risks to forest health and long-term economic viability.






      1. Educate producers and professionals about the use of a new planning tool to assist decision-making – From October 2015 to May 2016, NNRG and Ecotrust will conduct an education and outreach campaign, including three workshops, one webinar for forestry professionals and 30 individual producer follow up site visits. By May 2016, 49 producers and professionals will understand how to use information generated by the Forest Planner to assist decision-making.






      1. Remove barriers to sustainable forest management by giving producers and professionals better information about expected long-term outcomes – By the end of the second year of the project in September 2016, at least 49 producers and professionals will have used the Forest Planner to generate information about expected long-term outcomes from active forest management.






      1. Directly assist landowners in implementing ecological forestry projects – By the end of the second year of the project in September 2016, at least five producers will incorporate information from the Forest Planner into plans for ecological thinning projects and will complete thinning projects across at least 100 acres.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.