Timber market research, private forests, and policy rhetoricThis article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
The development of the profession and practice of forestry in the United States can be linked to urgent concerns regarding timber shortages in the late 19th century (Williams 1989). These were based largely on perceived failures of forest landowners to protect or invest enough in the productive capacity of their forests (Manthy 1977). The South, as the only major timberproducing region of the United States in which private interests have almost exclusively controlled forests and where unfettered interaction between private buyers and sellers has determined timber prices and harvests, provides the clearest example of the way the private sector manages forests. It provides a setting for evaluating core assumptions regarding markets, market failure, and conservation rhetoric, and for examining the potential role of various policy approaches for attaining conservation goals. We examine the history of research into private timber management and the function of private timber markets in the South. In particular, we examine research that provides insights into the behavior of private forest owners and the structure of private timber supply. We also examine how this body of research has been influenced by and in turn may have influenced policy perspectives regarding forests in the United States. Research on the function and structure of timber markets, especially in the South, has clearly illustrated that the private sector can generate an orderly market for a commodity (timber) with a long production period. Investment responses to scarcity signals in the South demonstrate that timber capital is viewed as a reasonably liquid asset and that market failure with respect to intertemporal allocation does not hold. In an interesting reversal of rhetoric, it appears clear now that timber production from public forests more strongly influenced by policy shifts and administrative process is much less reliable or stable than private timber supply. Policy concerns regarding southern timber markets have evolved partially in response to an improved understanding derived from timber market research. Current concerns focus on the ability of forests to provide a broad range of resource values, and improved understanding of how timber markets operate is required for a full understanding of the ultimate sustainability of forests, their functions, and their derivative benefits.