Photo of James L. Chamberlain

James L. Chamberlain

Research Forest Products Technologist
1710 Research Center Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24060-6349
Phone: 540-231-3611
Fax: 540-231-1383

Current Research

Inventory Methods for Non-Timber Forest Products: Methods are lacking to estimate the amount of plant material available for harvest in natural populations. This research focuses on developing knowledge and creating models to predict harvestable biomass based. This requires: 1) undertaking forest-based studies to generate data on plant characteristics; 2) examining relationships between desired organs and measurable plant parts, and; 3) creating models that allow for estimating volumes of the desired organs. This research is leading to knowledge that will significantly improve the inventory of non-timber forest resources.

Forest Inventory Tree Data to Improve Knowledge of Non-Timber Products: A goal of this research is to develop knowledge about the distribution and abundance of NTFPs by using FIA forest inventory data. This requires: 1) describing NTFPs that are included in FIA forest inventory data; 2) examining the situation with selected species; 3) incorporating data from other sources, and; 4) assessing ways to improve existing inventory data to embrace a greater array of products. This research will provide significant gains in the utility of FIA inventory data by allowing its usefulness to other products.

Non-Timber Forest Products Output: This initiative is developing mechanisms to track production of NTFPs. We are crafting, testing and implementing replicable approaches to acquire regular data on volumes and values of non-timber products at the first point of sale. In the spring of 2016, the team launched the RootReport, an online platform designed to collect data, and to make the results available and useful. The site summarizes results from previous years, provides market assessment fact sheets and other resources for forest farming and stewarding NTFPs. The goal is to expand coverage of medicinal forest products across the Nation, and to include other market segments.

Ecological Impacts of Harvest on Medicinal Plant Populations: Most raw material for the global medicinal herb market is “wild-harvested” from natural populations with no empirical evidence of the ecological impact. Little is known about the level of harvesting that is sustainable, or post-harvest recovery of NTFP populations. The goal of this research is to quantify the impacts of harvesting on plant populations. This requires long-term commitment, investment and multiple years of data. Results will aid efforts to determine sustainable harvest intensities and development of improved management plans.

Sustainable Sourcing of Foraged Foods: Demand for food foraged from forests has increased over the last 20 years, with growing interest in local and unique culinary experiences. The goal of this research is to develop knowledge needed to improve management of these resources. This requires: 1) quantifying the volume and value of products to communities; 2) understanding the relationships between overstory canopy to plant development; 3) developing methods to inventory and monitor product availability, and; 4) examining micro and macro-production challenges.

Forest Farming NTFPs on Private Lands: There is growing interest to produce NTFPs on private forestlands. Forest farming, an agroforestry practice, is becoming popular as landowners want to diversify forest income but don’t want to cut trees. The goal of this research is to develop knowledge that will lead to integration of forest farming production by private landowners. The team is examining how forest landowners can work collectively to grow and market NTFPs. Another element of the team is examining community food forests as urban-based production to address food security and nutrition concerns. Results could provide new and novel income streams for private forest landowners.

Research Interests

As a Research Forest Products Technologist, I am interested in utilization of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and the sustainable management of forest resources to ensure that NTFPs are available to members of society in perpetuity. As a forester and forest products specialist, my early work focused on timber products and managing forests for products from trees. After serving as an agroforestry Peace Corps Volunteer and later working on agroforestry issues in developing countries, I came to realize that there are more products harvested from forests than just timber. Long before we had technology to cut timber, people were foraging forests for food, medicine and other sundry items. That practice continues today, yet very little is done to ensure that harvests are sustainable. There is a huge under-documented industry that benefits from products harvested from forests that are not timber. In general, there is a lack of knowledge on the volumes and values of these products and ways to manage forests for these products. The overall hypothesis driving my research is that NTFPs are socially, ecologically, and economically valuable to the United States, and that directed research is needed to generate results that will elevate these natural resources to a level that attracts actions to improve management for the people who use them.

Why This Research is Important

This research is important for several reasons. The paradigm of ecosystem management cannot be fully realized until all plants and animals are included. We do a tremendous job managing forests for timber and wildlife, but we do very little to manage those same forests for food or medicine. Forests are more than trees! To manage for biodiversity, we must consider the understory vegetation that is harvested for subsistence and commercial gain. The people who harvest these products are underserved, and often represent a part of society that lives on the margins of the economy. They rely on these plants for income to make it through rough times, and for many families the consumption of these products helps to ensure food security. Further, the value of the forests products industry will not be completely understood until the segments of the industry that include food, medicine, floral and decorative products are included.


Ph.D. in Forest Management for Non-Timber Forest Products, 2000
College of Natural Resources, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Master Of Arts in Economics, 1996
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Master Of Forest Science in Social Dimensions of Forestry, 1986
School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University
B.S. in Wood Products Engineering, Forest Products Marketing, 1979
College of Environmental Science & Forestry, State Univeristy of New York
A.A.S. in Forest Management, 1976
Paul Smiths College

Professional Experience

Adjunct Faculty, Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, College of Natural Resources & Environment, Virginia Tech
Research Forest Products Technologist, SRS-4801, Forest Inventory and Analysis

Leading, planning and conducting pioneering research to expand the scope of the FIA program to assess the status and trends of the Nation's non-timber forest resources, and develop new techniques to incorporate NTFPs into all elements of the FIA program

Research Forest Products Technologist, SRS-4352, National Agroforestry Center
Research Forest Products Technologist, SRS-4702, Forest Products Conservation
Post-Doctoral Research Associate, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech
Graduate Research Assistant, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech
President, Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association
Program Director for Asia and Pacific, Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association
Forester/Ecologist, Midas Agronomics -- Bangkok Thailand
Agroforestry Specialist, Winrock International
Agroforestry Specialist, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Inspector, In-Service Utility Poles, Jason Associate
Graduate Research Assistant, Yale, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Agroforestry Intern, CARE International
Agroforestry Volunteer, US Peace Corps, Philippines
Assistant Plant Manager, Excel Wood Products
Sales Representative, Jay-K Lumber Co.
Forest Technician, Paul Smiths College
Environmental Management Specialist, The World Bank
Agroforestry Specialist, Pacific Management Resources -- Bangkok, Thailand

Professional Organizations

  • IUFRO, Non-Wood Forest Products, Deputy Coordinator (2010—Current)
  • Society of American Foresters (SAF), Member (1987—Current)
  • IUFRO, Non-Wood Forest Products, Coordinator (2000—2010)

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Half of States in the Southern U.S. Allow Harvest of Non-timber Forest Products in State Forests; can also Document Illegal Harvesting (2016)
SRS-2016-178 Little is known about of the harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in state forests of the southern U.S. Forest Service scientists documented the most commonly harvested NTFPs on state forests and found that of the 12 southern states that have state forests, seven allow some harvest of NTFPs and have policies and practices in place to regulate harvest activities. Of those seven, six have evidence of illegal harvesting.

Volumes and values of nontimber forest products in the United States (2018)
SRS-2018-46 Wild-harvested plants and fungi from U.S. forests are critical to the food and financial security of millions of Americans. These nontimber products are essential to healthy, vibrant, and resilient forests. The National Assessment is a comprehensive synthesis of the state-of-scientific knowledge that provides valuable insights to advance conservation and management of under-recognized natural resources and products.

Wild American Ginseng Shows Indications of Economic Overharvest (2019)
SRS-2019-25 Overharvest can occur in open access marine fisheries, leading to lower total economic profits. Could the same occur with medicinal forest products? A team of USDA Forest Service botanists and economists collaborated on a study that suggests American ginseng is subject to a backward bending supply curve.