Non Timber Forest Product Resources
The boreal, temperate, and subtropical forests of the United States have both an extensive diversity and density of nontimber forest products. Nontimber forest products (NTFPs) broadly include all non-industrial timber vegetation in forests and agroforestry environments with, or potentially with, commercial value. Other terms synonymous with nontimber forest product include special forest product, non-wood forest product, minor forest product, alternative forest product and secondary forest product. Other terms synonymous with harvesting include wildcrafting, gathering, collecting and foraging.
Some commonly collected nontimber forest products (NTFPs) in the U.S. are wild mushrooms, berries, ferns, tree boughs, cones, moss, maple syrup, honey, and medicinal products such as cascara bark and ginseng. NTFP is not a biological or ecological category; it is a political and economic category that serves to highlight forest resources that are by-passed or overlooked in forest management as a viable income source.
ARE NTFPs VALUABLE?
When considered individually, most NTFP species are not as valuable in terms of short-term profits as products such as industrial timber, coal and gas. However, when multiple species are managed for over time, the value of NTFPs can begin to close that gap, if not exceed it in some situations. Adding non-resource extraction income opportunities that mesh well with NTFP management, for example, biodiversity conservation easements and ecotourism, and the value of managing for NTFPs can be even greater.
DOES NTFP HARVESTING HAVE NEGATIVE CULTURAL OR ECOLOGICAL IMPACT
Some species with commercial value are culturally and ecologically sensitive, factors that can affect commercial viability and sustainable harvesting. For every species that is harvested commercially, there are likely to be people who harvest for noncommercial reasons such as family tradition or subsistence. Commercial operations are likely to work best and have the least risk of a negative cultural impact in areas where there is no competition from noncommercial harvesters. These areas include private lands and parts of public lands away from easily accessed common public areas.
WHAT ARE NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN RIGHT CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING NTFPs?
Native American Indian tribes lived (and still live) in the geographic area of the U.S. for at least 14,000 years. Hunting and gathering, and for some, farming, were instrumental to their subsistence and culture. Today, many tribes have rights granted through treaties, usufruct traditions, and other mechanisms. Visit this webpage for some links to useful background readings.
WHY ARE NTFPs AN IMPORTANT COMPONENT TO SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY?
Nontimber forest products can be used to supplement or supplant timber cutting from forest ecosystems, depending on local variables such as species abundance, accessibility, labor availability, cultural factors and forest management knowledge. For example, even-aged timber management in coniferous forests reduces the forest complexity and diversity that helps mitigate against catastrophic fire, disease, and erosion problems. Active management for NTFPs can play an important role in maintaining ecosystem complexity and biodiversity, simultaneously allowing for a broader selection of extractable products for commercial, recreational, and subsistence uses. At present the lack of investment (e.g., loans, grants) and infrastructure (e.g., university courses, extension programs) in the U.S. hampers the growth of NTFP-based businesses and the large potential they have to increase economic diversity and wealth for both rural forest communities and urban production centers.
HOW COULD THESE PRODUCTS HELP ME ADD VALUE TO MY FORESTLAND?
Even with little active management, some NTFP industries, such as floral greens and medicinals,, have a long history in the U.S. economy, and thousands of new NTFP businesses have emerged in recent decades, though a large percentage struggle lack of investment mentioned above. These businesses contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year. By managing your forestland so that NTFP diversity is allowed to flourish, you can potentially increase the long-term value of your forests, while simultaneously playing an important role in biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest management.
WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP ME DEVELOP NTFPs ON MY LAND?
This website has many publications, images, and other information that can help you manage your NTFP resource, for example, by designing processing, reaching markets, and writing business plans to raise capital. It is also a good portal to other websites and resources such as forestry extension programs. An important source of information about NTFP markets, production, regulations and other aspects of commercial production is other businesses. Look for their products on store shelves, online markets, and ask your local extension agent for case studies and examples.
WHY IS BIODIVERSITY IMPORTANT?
Biodiversity is the basis of life on earth. NTFP development can help make it economically practical for non-industrial landowners to manage for greater biodiversity on their lands by providing direct revenue from raw and value-added nontimber forest products and compatible income generators such as payments for ecosystem services, ecotourism, and more.
IS COMMERCIAL HARVESTING A DETRIMENT TO NTFP SPECIES & ECOSYSTEMS?
Many wild species populations respond favorably to some disturbance of the ground, cutting of branches, or thinning of populations. Some species are likely adapted to anthropogenic (i.e., caused or created by humans) activity, especially species such as ginseng and camas that have been intensively harvested for thousands of years in their native habitats. Landowners interested in restoring historical anthropogenic ecosystems rich with harvestable NTFPs will find books like "Keeping it Living" by Deur and Turner, "People and Plants in Ancient Eastern North America," and "People and Plants in Ancient Western North America" by Paul Minnis invaluable resources.
Any negative impact from harvesting is trivial when compared to NTFP species loss and habitat destruction from major environmental disturbances such as mountain-top removal, road construction, herbicide spraying, and the conversion of forests for development. Commercial harvesters are commonly portrayed in the media, by government managers, and others as resource thieves using unsustainable practices, despite the lack of credible research studies to verify such accusations. There is always a bad apple in every basket but it is counter- productive to sustainable management to perpetuate claims based on thin data. In reality, most commercial harvesters have an economic incentive to steward the resource. When you talk with them you find that most are concerned about ecological health, that they experiment (through trial and error and direct observation) to increase productivity and protect habitat, that they educate each other on best practices, and that they are willing participants in collaborating with scientists and managers on NTFP research. If you are interested in peer-reviewed, scientific literature that supports these claims see this webpage. The American Herbal Products Association has a thoughtful section, Good Collection Practice, on wild harvesting in its publication, Good Agricultural and Collection Practice Guidance Document.
WHERE CAN I GET ADVICE AND TRAINING
Your local university and state extension offices can be helpful for locating information and other for other assistance with commercial NTFP development. The U.S. extension system is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices. These offices are staffed by one or more people to provide practical, research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes. Use the Ask Extension tool at this website and you will be connected with a local extension agent that will try to help you directly or connect you with local experts.