IUFRO Spotlight #63

What's in the future for Non-Timber Forest Products?

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The Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently published "…the most comprehensive assessment covering the production and management of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and resources – as well as the cultural, social, economic, and policy dynamics that affect them." The assessment covers every state in the U.S.

But the findings can be utilized far beyond the U.S. borders.

"Every country that has non-timber forest products can take advantage of the findings in this report," said Dr. James Chamberlain of the U.S. Forest Service and one of the report's authors. He is also a Deputy Coordinator of the IUFRO Research Group on Non-wood forest products.

Sixty scientists and non-timber forest products experts across federal, state, tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations, research institutions, and universities contributed to the report.

"Non-timber forest products are used for myriad purposes, providing cultural, social, and economic functions around the world. People harvest and use these products for food, medicine, arts and crafts, and religious and cultural rituals.

"They also harvest, trade, and sell NTFPs in local to global markets. This is a comprehensive report that can be used by other countries to help inform and shape policies that balance sustainable use and conservation of these natural resources, alongside ensuring benefits for harvesters and producers," he said.

Think of edible fruits, nuts, berries, mushrooms, maple syrup and other saps, fuelwood, forage, wooden baskets, decorative wreaths, plant-based medicines and Christmas trees – that's not an exhaustive list, but it gives an idea of just how ubiquitous non-timber forest products are.

In 2013, Dr. Chamberlain said, the Forest Service recognized the possibility that climate changes could affect these products and resources and initiated a national level comprehensive assessment of the effects and their implications.

The report finds that it is difficult to determine whether the trends or changes in ecological phenomena are the results of climatic variability or other factors.

However, the report states, NTFPs of the United States at the end of the 21st century may be significantly different than those of today due to changes resulting from stressors such as drought, fire, insects, disease and climatic variability.

It goes on to say that variability in temperature and in seasonality will alter the growing environment for plants and fungi harvested for non-timber forest products. This may reduce the range and abundance of some while increasing those for others.

Physical and phenological characteristics of plants and fungi will change in response to altered climatic conditions, which in turn affects their availability and suitability for use. (Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena – flowering, breeding, etc. – especially in relation to climatic conditions.)

Non-timber forest product species that occur in specialized habitats or climatic conditions likely will be more vulnerable to variability than those that grow across a range of conditions, the report notes.

Most models project that U.S. species habitat will move up in elevation or northward in latitude as suitability at lower elevations and latitudes declines. Populations of species that do not keep up with the pace of change will decline, be extirpated, or go extinct. Responses to climatic change along with harvest pressure may increase risk for some populations and species.

To give just two examples of potential changes foreseen in the report: loss of mangrove forest and arable land in Caribbean and Pacific coastal areas due to sea level rise; and decreasing habitat suitability for sugar maple and inconsistent temperature swings in the northeastern U.S., adversely affecting the production of maple syrup.

"Non-timber forest products need the same recognition that is given to other natural resources," Dr. Chamberlain said. "We have to develop adaptive management strategies that conserve the resources and support the harvest of the products, along with public-private partnerships that reinforce this approach.

"As well, we should invest in accelerated research that will lead to knowledge sufficient to support active management and work with harvester communities to improve their understanding and incorporate local and traditional ecological knowledge.

"This report speaks specifically to the situation in the United States and shows us that non-timber forest products are significant to a large segment of our population. They are integral to our society and the many cultures that make up the nation," he said. "They contribute significantly to local, regional, and national economies and require management similar to other natural resources, particularly timber.

"But other countries can use it to help inform and shape policies that balance sustainable use and conservation of their natural resources, alongside ensuring benefits for harvesters and producers," Dr. Chamberlain said.

To Dr. Chamberlain, the key takeaway from the report is that NTFPs are important to the economy, to culture and to society and should receive the same understanding and management that exists for other forest resources.

The full report can be found at
: https://doi.org/10.2737/SRS-GTR-232 

For more information on the IUFRO Research Group, visit:


IUFRO Spotlight is an initiative of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. Its aim is to introduce, in a timely fashion, significant findings in forest research from IUFRO member organizations and/or involving IUFRO officeholders to a worldwide network of decision makers, policy makers and researchers.

IUFRO will encapsulate, and distribute in plain language, brief, topical and policy-relevant highlights of those findings, along with information on where/how to access the full documents. The IUFRO Spotlight findings will be distributed in a periodic series of emails as well as blog postings.

The findings reported here are submitted by IUFRO Member Organizations. IUFRO is pleased to highlight and circulate these findings to a broad audience but, in doing so, acts only as a conduit. The quality and accuracy of the reports are the responsibility of the member organization and the authors.

Suggestions for reports and findings that could be promoted through IUFRO Spotlight are encouraged. To be considered, reports should be fresh, have policy implications and be applicable to more than one country. If you would like to have a publication highlighted by Spotlightcontact: Gerda Wolfrum, wolfrum(at)iufro.org.

IUFRO Spotlight #63 published in November 2018
by IUFRO Headquarters, Vienna, Austria.
Available for download at: 
Contact the editor at office(at)iufro.org or visit https://www.iufro.org/

Imprint: https://www.iufro.org/legal/#c18944

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is the only worldwide organization devoted to forest research and related sciences. Its members are research institutions, universities, and individual scientists as well as decision-making authorities and other stakeholders with a focus on forests and trees. Visit: https://www.iufro.org/


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