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Forestry co-ops take root.

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When Don Flournoy decided to thin a portion of his 235-acre Sugar Bush Farm, he wanted to use a "light-on-the-land" logging method that would not damage his property. He knew right where to find help: The Ohio Forestry Cooperative.

The organization of Ohio forest landowners put Flournoy in touch with a horse logger who uses lightweight equipment suited to his mixed-hardwood forest. The results left him satisfied--"very satisfied," says Flournoy, an international telecommunications consultant and professor at Ohio University in Athens.

For forest landowners such as Flournoy, the Ohio Forestry Cooperative is providing support and critical links that are helping them manage their forests sustainably for wood, water, wildlife and recreation. Ultimately, the co-op may make the difference between lands that remain forested and those that become parceled into smaller and smaller tracts that are no longer economically productive or ecologically functional.

Other forestry co-ops in different parts of the country are providing similar services to landowners.

A "bootstrap" operation first incorporated as the Ohio Premium Pine Cooperative (OPPC) in 2004, the co-op began as a group of tree farmers who banded together to market their pine products. As they worked to improve their pine plantings that had been established on "beat-up" hill farms, some members realized that the services of the cooperative could, and should, be extended beyond pine to sustainable management and marketing of their members' hardwood forests, as well.

They recently reorganized as a "holistic" forest cooperative, offering landowners services that range from marketing and logging contract preparation to forest management plans.

Forest needs vary greatly

Not all forests need the same treatment, says Pete Woyar, a consulting forester and for 28 years a forestry instructor at Ohio's Hocking College. Determining what a landowner wants and what the land will support is a careful process, he says. Members of the newly reorganized Ohio Forestry Co-op recruited Woyar to help match their members with on-the-ground specialists for land management.

The co-op also provides education, information about conservation easements and other tax-related benefits. Sometimes all a forest owner needs is someone to turn to for advice, Woyar says.

The Ohio cooperative is one of a growing number of regional organizations the members of which share a commitment to ecological care of the land. Others include the Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative in southwest Virginia, Living Forest Cooperative in northern Wisconsin and the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative in western Massachusetts.

Landowners in each of the groups have banded together for the long-term stewardship of forestlands, healthy communities and local economic development. Now the groups are connecting with each other. The National Network of Forest Practitioners is connecting them for peer-to-peer learning and networking, while supporting them by providing education, technical assistance and targeted services around financing and marketing.

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The Ohio Forestry Co-op is in the process of applying for certification under the Forest Stewardship Council for its members' forests, which total more than 5,000 acres and growing. That would offer a market for "green" building materials from sustainably managed forests, says Terry Jeffers, a landowner and the cooperative's president.

Management plan essential

A condition of FSC certification is development of a forest management plan. By working as a group, the co-op members can hire a forester to craft management prescriptions on their separate properties for a better price than each of them could get on his own, Jeffers says.

The forest owners also hope to pool their forests' potential for storing carbon and are moving into carbon-offset sales. NNFP is assisting them in marketing the carbon credits. Colin Donohue, NNFP's executive director, explains that carbon trading seems to be at a tipping point. "While sales of commodity credits from forestland are currently marginal, there are opportunities for branding and marketing of Family Forest credits that are from "Green Certified" lands in the current voluntary market.

"If the United States establishes a cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon omissions, there will be tremendous potential for these rural landowners to profit," Donohue continues. "We're helping the co-ops get ahead of the curve."

Along with these tangible goals, the cooperative is focused on small landowners working together to improve forests for the future, says Flournoy. He remembers his parents hand-planting more than 500 acres of pines on their worn-out cotton farm in east Texas. They never saw the benefits of their labor, but their children did.

"And ours will, too," Flournoy says. "Our children and their children and their children, along with the rest of society. That's why we do this work."

For more information, contact: Terry Jeffers, landowner and president, Ohio Forestry Cooperative, 408-354-8384, tlplaw@comcast.net.

Editor's note: Little is a California-based writer.
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Author:Little, Jane Braxton
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:775
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