Emma Sass and Brett Butler
Forests provide benefits at local, regional, and global scales. Families and individuals own more wooded land than any other group in the U.S., and their decisions about how to manage and care for their land have broad impacts. Understanding these woodland owners in Kentucky, including what they do with their land and why, and what their challenges and needs are, is important to help support healthy forests and vibrant communities now and into the future.
Here, we use “woodland” as a broad term to include woods, woodlots, timberlands, and forests – any patch of trees that’s more than one acre in size. Families and individuals who own wooded land – collectively, “family woodland owners,” can be one person, a joint ownership of spouses or other individuals, family partnerships, family LLCs or LLPs, and family trusts or estates. We use “ownerships” to refer to all the owners of a piece of woodland.
To better understand family woodland owners, the USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program conducts the National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS). The survey asks landowners about who they are, why they own their wooded land, what they have done with it in the past, and what do they intend to do with it in the future. Below we present results from 181 randomly selected Kentucky woodland ownerships with 1+ acres who responded to the survey in 2017 and 2018.
Family Woodland Owners Count!
An estimated 8.8 million acres of wooded land in Kentucky are owned by an estimated 410,000 family ownerships. Family ownerships control 71% of Kentucky’s wooded land, more than any other ownership group, including the state or federal government or forest industry.
Size of Holdings Makes a Big Difference
The average wooded land ownership (with 1+ acres) in Kentucky has 22 acres of wooded land. 67% of the ownerships have relatively small holdings between 1-9 acres, but 48% of the area of wooded land is owned by ownerships with 100 acres or more. This is important because size of holdings limits what an ownership can do with their land, such as timber harvesting, wildfire protection, or control of invasive species, and often impacts what programs they are eligible for. Because of the increased management options, program involvement, and other dynamics of larger ownerships, all following results are for family woodland owners with 10 or more acres.
Beauty, Wildlife, and Nature are What Matter
The most commonly cited reasons for owning woodland in Kentucky are related to the beauty and privacy the wooded land provides as well as protecting wildlife habitat. The goal of passing land onto future generations and land investment is also important to many owners. Hunting and other recreation is highly regarded as an important reason for owning wooded land in Kentucky.
They Love Their Land
Most family forest owners in Kentucky have a deep love of their land. The vast majority of owners, 81%, agree or strongly agree with the statement “I want my wooded land to stay wooded.” 73% of owners agree or strongly that they have a strong emotional tie to their wooded land, and 78% say they know their wooded land well.
In the past five years, around one in eight (12%) family woodland owners have cut or removed trees for sale, and one in three (33%) have cut trees for their own use. 20% have improved wildlife habitat, and 15% have reduced invasive plants. Only 3% have a written management plan and 6% have received woodland management advice in the previous five years.
They are Older
The average age of primary decision makers for family-owned woodland in Kentucky is 64 years. 17% of acres are owned by people who plan to transfer some or all of their wooded land in the next five years, and a majority of ownerships (57%) are worried about keeping the land intact for future generations. 73% of primary decision makers are male.
Woodland conservation and management depend on the people who own it – in Kentucky, most of these acres are held by individuals and families. Owners care about and manage their wooded land, but often the traditional forms of engagement, such as having a management plan or working with a professional, are not widely used. Understanding the threats to the land – including the loss of forest through development, parcelization, invasive plants, disease, and insects, and other issues – is critical for conservation efforts. Using a common language and designing policies and programs that meet the needs of landowners and professionals will have a major impact on the current and future owners and the vital lands that they own.
For more results, visit the USDA Forest Service’s National Woodland Owner Survey website at www.fia.fs.fed.us/nwos. To learn more about the services and resources available to woodland owners in your state, contact your local forestry agency or association.
Emma Sass is a Research Fellow with the Family Forest Research Center and University of Massachusetts Amherst. Brett Butler is a Research Forester with the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station and Family Forest Research Center.