American Family Forests

There are about 4 million individuals, families and trusts who own 32% of all family forestland in the continental US, defined here as forest between 10 and 999 acres, for a total of 198 million acres. America's family forest owners are a diverse mix of people who have many and varied reasons for owning land. They include rugged timber men, country folk, urbanites, farmers, environmentalists, avid hunters, overworked professionals, and a host of others. Family forests are perhaps the last frontier in which to develop long-term sustainability concepts, and they are the forests most at risk of being fragmented and converted for development.  To address this, GISF is working on three current projects:


  • The Sustaining Family Forests Initiative has developed a practical set of tools to help conservation and forestry professionals reach family forest landowners with effective stewardship messages and develop programs that serve the needs and values of the landowners.  The project applies a social marketing approach—the use of commercial marketing techniques to affect positive social change—as a promising means by which to influence family forest owners to take steps to conserve and sustainably manage their land. SFFI takes advantage of the wealth of data collected via the USDA Forest Service's National Woodland Owner's Survey to determine specific landowner concerns and their reasons for managing forestland.  Partners include the Family Forest Research Center at the USDA Forest Service, MeadWestvaco Company, American Forest Foundation, USDA--National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry. SFFI's key tool is TELE, or Tools for Engaging Landowners Effectively, a website which helps natural resource professionals to engage more family forest owners in a meaningful conversation about their woods. 

Download TELE presentation

  • The Effects of Federal, State, and Local Taxes on Family Forest Owners. A wide range of policy tools have been adopted to encourage sustainable family forest management, including technical assistance, outreach education, financial incentives, regulations, as well as public ownership. Among these policies and programs, financial incentives, particularly tax incentives, play a prominent role.  It is the goal of this project to: 1) review and compare existing state and local family forest tax policies in all 50 states, 2) analyze the historic and projected impacts of tax policies on family forest owners, and 3) identify tax policies that would best encourage keeping family forests as forests and increasing sustainable forest management. The American Forest Foundation granted funding to support this project, which is led by the Family Forest Research Center, a collaborative effort between the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Environmental Conservation.  Partners include the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, the University of Minnesota, Idaho State University and UMass Extension.  Project reports are available on the Family Forest Research Center website.  A Yale Forest Forum was held on the topic in October 2010.  Convened in collaboration with the Family Forest Research Center (FFRC), the Yale Forest Forum on Tax Policies and Family Forest Owners brought together forestry professionals and academics, tax program administrators and specialists, conservation leaders and forest landowners from around the country to discuss these issues and to generate new and integrative insights for promoting forest conservation.  A summary of the two-day forum’s discussions and insights can be found in the YFF Review, Volume 12, Issue 2.


  • Understanding Connecticut Landowners.  Even though Connecticut is one of the nation's most densely populated states, it is also one of the most heavily forested - nearly 60% of the land base is in forest and 77% is owned by private landowners. This means private landowner management and ownership decisions have enormous influence over the quality and extent of Connecticut forests.  The Understanding Connecticut Landowners project consists of a special landowner survey, conducting landowner focus groups, analyzing and publishing results, and finally, updating messaging, publications, and landowner service delivery strategies to keep Conecticut's forest as forest. 

For more information about any of these programs, contact Mary Tyrrell 203-432-5983.

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