Income diversification, small forest-style
By Stephanie Vasquez
Institute for Culture and Ecology
We Oregonians love our forests and the clean water and weekend recreation they provide. A good portion of them are owned and managed by small forestland owners, who are as diverse as the woods themselves. What may not always be clear, is the person who owns that small forest must make a living if they want to keep it from being sold to developers. Often, small woodland owners must choose between income from cutting timber every 30 or so years — which doesn’t always provide all the income they need — or from selling it off to someone who would turn it into a subdivision.
But new research seeks to provide these landowners another option, blending personal economic stability with ecological stewardship to create a "livability portfolio."
The Livability Portfolio
Who wouldn’t like to diversify their income in times like these? Businesses with multiple revenue streams weather financial storms much better than those depending on just one product, and we’ve learned not to keep all our retirement eggs in one basket. With the construction market down, small woodland owners who depend on timber sales may be feeling pinched by low prices; especially when their crop takes decades to grow and they get one chance at selling it. A few bad years of a depressed lumber market is much more difficult to weather than a few bad years of poor shoe sales for a company that can react quickly with design changes.
A livability portfolio does not necessarily mean that the small woodland owner will never cut down trees. What it does mean is that they are educated about the full range of income possibilities from their land beyond timber harvests — such as carbon and ecosystem credits, conservation easements, ecotourism, and products like truffles and mushrooms — and have considered them as part of their management plan. This diverse portfolio maximizes economic opportunities and ecological health and diversity. For example, many huckleberry species are native to Oregon, flourishing in areas cleared by wildfires, controlled burns and recent timber harvests. Jointly managing for timber, huckleberries and other nontimber forest products is a change in the regular business process that provides sustainability in terms of ecological diversity and economic sustainability.
Stephanie Vasquez is a research associate with the Institute for Culture and Ecology and new initiatives program manager at Conservation Services Group. She is a Forest Grove Parks and Recreation commissioner, a member of NW Association of Environmental Professionals, SAVE Energy Coalition and Future of Energy; an associate of Alliance to Save Energy; and a former board member for Forest Grove Community School.
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