Nature Notes 7- Forests October 28, 2020
This Nature Note topic is a little different. Rather than talk about a specific feature of nature, I want to broaden our look a bit and look at the big picture. As scouts, we spend time in the forests. Many of the wonders of nature occur in these forests, and perhaps we take these forests for granted. So let’s consider a question.
Our current topic: Who owns the forest?
This is a question I have asked my scouts in Forestry Merit Badge class. I get a lot of blank stares. No one has ever put that question before them. Some will answer “the government”, or “farmers”, or “I don’t know”. You might try this with your scouts, especially if it’s a “city” troop or pack. If you hike or camp in a forest, it might be interesting to know. Here are some statistics: out of about 750 million acres of forested land in the U.S. (that figure has remained relatively stable since 1900, and is about 2/3 of what it was in the late 1700’s), about 40% is owned by “nonindustrial private landowners”. That’s you, me, farmers, scout camps, hunt clubs and someone who inherited granddad’s farm and doesn’t know what to do with it. About 30% is owned by the federal government (National Forests, National Parks, military reservations, etc.). Almost 10% is owned by states, counties and cities. Forest industry owns about 20%. These are the companies that harvest and replenish timber for our forest product needs. Why is this important to know? Well, first of all, the owners get to determine to a large extent what happens on their land. With about 40% of the forest owned by some government, various laws and regulations tightly control activities on these lands, whether it is for recreational use, timber harvesting, hunting, scenic or historical preservation, etc. The lands owned by forest product companies are primarily managed to grow and replenish wood for our daily needs – building products, paper, packaging, furniture, cabinets, interior trim, flooring, utility poles, fencing, railroad crossties, etc. The other 40% ownership is a wide range, but most of that is also under various regulations by different government agencies to control and protect the wildlife, watershed, soil, etc. Note, for example, the need for licenses wherever you hunt or fish. Scouts in general have never had this explained or brought to their attention. So if you talk about conserving or protecting “the land”, the first step is to consider who owns the land. Who pays taxes on these millions of acres? In some cases, no one pays taxes on government-owned land and land owned by organizations such as the Boy Scouts. Different owners have different objectives for their land and will manage it for that objective – within the regulations set forth by various government agencies. That’s where land managers and foresters come into play. They will manage the land in accordance with the objectives of the owner and all of the rules. Or in the case of many small tracts, it is not managed at all, but left to become unproductive and often unhealthy and high-risk forests.
So consider for yourself who owns the forests you use for your scouts. What is their objective? Discuss it with your scouts. Again, you are introducing them to a thought that has probably never entered their heads before, BUT is important to consider when you think about what all goes on in that forest – by nature and by man. As scout leaders I think we need to introduce questions such as these to those that will need to understand the world we live in and the land they will need to be responsible for in some way in the future.