Q: What public policy issue does research suggest could have the greatest impact on the threat of parcelization of forest land?

We’ll get to the answer to this question in a moment. First let me tell you that it’s been a very busy few weeks for Vital Forests/Vital Communities, and like the leaves outside my window, the dust is still settling.

I’ll save for another day stories about other September events including the Forestry and the BioEconomy Conference, Goods from the Woods, and the Governor’s announcement of the signing of the second Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership conservation easement on 51,000 acres – nearly 80 square miles – of Itasca and Koochiching County lands. Whew! Instead I will focus these few lines on some reflections about the September 12-13 Family Forest Stewardship Conference – Sustaining Our Commitment, Advancing the Agenda.

Over 100 folks joined us at Saint John’s to check in on the status of our collective efforts to advance the goal we agreed to in 2006 of increasing by one million the number of acres of family forest land under sustainable management. We have agreed to use stewardship plans as a measurable indicator to which we can hold ourselves accountable.

Participants spent the morning hearing about work accomplished over the past year, and the afternoon strategizing on where to focus our efforts going forward. Presentations and other details about the conference are on the conference home page, including some nifty images of Tom Kroll’s Oak Management Tour.

Conference proceedings , ably drafted by Dovetail Partners, Inc.’s Katie Fernholz, summarize the Action Agenda proposed by participants. These plans are more than aspirational “nice-to-do” ideas. Rather, the key players in getting this work done – Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Forestry Association, University of Minnesota Extension, and others – have reviewed these specific steps and explicitly signed on to walk their talk. Check out the proceedings to see how you can plug in. Together, we can continue to make real progress toward this important goal.

Click on the image to participate in our Getting to the Next Million Acres Poll

Okay – now for the answer to the public policy question I posed at the beginning of my post.

Research suggests that health care could have the greatest impact on the threat of parcelization of forest land. This surprising finding came out during the keynote given by Catherine Mater of the Pinchot Institute. Catherine spoke about her not-yet-published research results on what offspring of current private forestland owners think about maintaining their family forestlands.

Catherine MaterCatherine’s research shows strong concerns among the next generation of landowners about the rising costs of health care and their ability to handle unexpected medical expenses. In fact, dealing with catastrophic health costs is cited most often by family forest land owners as the number one reason that prompts them to sell their forest land. Many times these sales result in parcelization, which in turn fuels forest fragmentation. (A study of these trends in Itasca County was recently released by the University of Minnesota’s Mike Kilgore et al. Click here to access the study)

Tree SnakeAs the U.S. Forest Service’s Brett Butler, another keynote presenter, observed in his commentary on Catherine’s presentation, it is reasonable to consider that the single most important public policy opportunity to address the threat of parcelization may be universal health care!

That gives all of us something to think about as the next Presidential election cycle heats up.