|The Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative|
Landowner cooperatives have organized across the U.S. to facilitate
profitable and sustainable management on private forestlands. In Virginia, the Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative is ready to take off.
Harry Groot: Harry is a landowner, farmer, and sawmiller in southwest
Virginia who’s been running his own wood products business for years. Next
Generation Woods produces value-added wood products from timber
Harry harvests from local forestlands using “worst-first” harvest
planning and low-impact logging techniques. Harry has seen that
integrating sustainable forestry and value-added processing makes good
forestry pay for landowners.
a strategist. He knew that more landowners in his region would embrace
forest management that protected the ecological integrity of their forests
while earning them income from timber and other products. And he knew how
to make it work.
simple enough, but Harry and other landowners knew they needed a highly
organized structure for providing forestry services for landowners,
processing timber, and developing stable markets for their products. After
exploring similar efforts across the U.S., they decided that forming a
landowner cooperative was the best strategy for making that happen.
strategy is based on two of the primary doctrines of community forestry:
landowner, forester, logger, or sawmill operator will tell you that
today’s timber market is designed to benefit large companies. In the
South, this has created a market concentrated in the hands of
externally-owned corporations that rely on directing the profits from
forest products away from landowners and workers. The level of market
concentration that has been achieved in the South has left landowners with
limited options for forest management and timber sales, and communities
without local processing capacity as small mills have died out.
are a lot of landowners who are dissatisfied with the options available to
them. They’ve had bad experiences with timber harvests, or simply hold
negative assumptions about logging. They want to conserve forestlands, but
they want to be able to earn some income to help cover their costs, and
they want to keep the profits from timber harvests in the local
community” explains Harry.
organizing in co-ops, landowners are able to achieve an “economy of
scale” that gives them better access to forest management services,
markets for timber, and information and support. Enter the Blue
Ridge Forest Cooperative. Harry started discussing the co-op
idea with several landowners in 2001, and word quickly spread. 36
landowners have inquired so far- all of them heard about the co-op by
forestlands range in size from 40 to 2,500 acres, and their combined
holdings total around 10,000 acres.
expect a handful of the landowners to join as full members from the start,
and others to wait and see how it works.” says Harry. The co-op is also
considering offering stock options from non-landowners who want to support
days, Harry and the landowners are hard at work. Last summer the
landowners attended a course with forestry experts from Virginia Tech to
learn how to inventory their timber. Now, several of the landowners are
working on their own forest management plans with a lot of support and
encouragement from the folks at the Community
Forestry Resource Center in Minnesota. The co-op was recently
incorporated, and will be gearing up production this year.
where the financial payoff comes. The landowners could stop at developing
good management plans and simply sell their timber to mills or loggers,
but their income from these sales would be minimized and would likely fall
short of making good management, especially forest restoration in degraded
stands, profitable or cost-effective.
today’s market, the real profits from wood products don’t go to
landowners or even forest workers. Jim Birkemeier, a forester, landowner,
and co-op organizer in Wisconsin, is fairly obsessed with helping
landowners and forest workers secure a greater share of the “wood
products pie”. After years of experience with co-ops, he has shown that
landowners dramatically increase their profit share when they organize
co-ops for forest management and timber processing. He estimates that
landowners only receive 18% of the value of a finished wood product in the
larger retail market, while landowners in co-ops can receive as much as
31%- that’s a 72% increase.
to make a good profit, the co-op won’t be selling timber, but will be
selling finished products instead. Harry will be leasing his processing
facilities, which include a Woodmizer portable mill, solar kiln, and a
Woodmizer molder, to the co-op and doing the processing. He has already
developed a market in the local region, but the co-op will be working hard
to expand this market.
of the co-op’s marketing strategies is getting Group Certification under
Stewardship Council’s (FSC) Family Forests Program. “The
Family Forest Program has really made certification practical for small
producers.” Harry explained. The group will pay one fee, and the co-op
will be responsible for ensuring that each member’s forestry operations
and the processing activities meet FSC standards. This will allow them to
sell all of their products as FSC-certified, creating a real market
advantage as consumer awareness of forestry issues continues to increase.
Why isn’t everyone doing this?
are an uncommon phenomenon in the forest products industry but their
popularity is growing. Some forestry co-ops have not succeeded, while
others are thriving. For those who are determined to develop an
alternative to the dominant systems for forest management and wood
processing, it’s impossible to go it alone.
many people, organizing a co-op or association is the only way they can
begin to establish an infrastructure for profitable sustainable forestry
in their region. In the mountains of North Carolina, a co-op is forming to
provide sustainable forestry services to landowners and produce finished
wood products for the local “green building” community.
you consider forming a co-op in your area? Absolutely. Will it work
everywhere? Probably not. But, if you have a small handful of like-minded
folks who are willing to work together to make it happen, it’s worth
pursuing. Start talking, start meeting, and contact the Southern Forests
Network to learn more about resources and support for starting a co-op.
you’d like to learn more about the Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative:
landowners practice profitable sustainable forestry."
Box 510, Christiansburg,
more information about forestry cooperatives:
The Community Forestry Resource Center is located in Minnesota. They’ve been working for years to support the development of forestry cooperatives and facilitate Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The Center has developed an impressive collection of resources, such as organizing manuals for co-ops and templates for sustainable forest management plans.
more information about Forest Stewardship Council certification:
Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization devoted to
encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC sets
high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally
responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way. Landowners
and companies that sell timber or forest products seek certification as a
way to verify to consumers that they have practiced forestry consistent
with FSC standards.
was the world’s first independent forestry certifier. Established in
1989, we pioneered the concept of forest and forest-products
certification, which has since taken hold around the world. Today,
SmartWood is the world’s leading nonprofit forestry certifier. Through
independent auditing, certification and the promotion of certified forest
products, SmartWood's purpose is to improve forest management by providing
economic incentives to businesses that practice responsible forestry.
SmartWood is a program of the Rainforest Alliance, a global nonprofit