Methods Of Forest Law-Making
24 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2013
Date Written: August 1, 1995
Within the United States, natural forestland is a precious and unique resource providing timber for construction and paper, a habitat for wildlife, as well as recreation areas and aesthetic value for visitors. The fact that a large portion of forestland in the United States is privately owned and not subject to uniform federal control exacerbates the potential conflict between each of these uses as well as the decision to convert forestland to farmland. This article reviews the development, goals, and various state legal instruments, or “methods,” of private forestland management that directly influence forested property in private ownership. The current state methods can be summarized as: (1) the prescription or regulation of forest practices by statutory and common law constructs; (2) the furnishing of incentives to encourage desirable behavior, and the assessment of charges to discourage undesirable behavior; and (3) the encouragement of voluntary measures that promote land-management practices preferred by the public. Through thorough, objective analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of each of these methods, the author judges the efficacy and likely future implementation of these methods by state legislators and regulators.
Ownership of private commercial timberland can be categorized into three general groups: agriculture, wood industry, and other private owners. These three groups are quite disparate in their interests and practices. Legislation that attempts to control privately owned forestland primarily addresses the goal of promoting forest regeneration for sustained timber production. Additionally, it seeks to protect forestland resources, wildlife habitat, and soil and water quality. Finally, and most controversially, a recent trend is the recognition of recreation and aesthetics as legitimate goals of private forestland management legislation. However, upon analysis of the legislation from five states which explicitly include protection of forest aesthetic or recreational value as a legislative goal, as well as the law of Oregon which mentions aesthetics in the context of protecting scenic views from highways, it is clear that aesthetics are not given much protection in practice under such legislative schemes.
Regulations are widespread, but certainly not uniform. They attempt to specify the uses a private owner may make of forestland without violating constitutional restrictions against the taking of private property without just compensation. Conflicting goals, differing agency structures, and changing political climates are disadvantages to the regulation method. As incentives are politically more palatable than direct regulation, they are often more readily enforceable, and therefore more efficient than direct regulation. Many states utilize a system of tax incentives to achieve a wide range of goals, and it is likely that – along with other forms of incentives – they will be used more often in the future. However, little use is made of disincentives, measures that make the undesirable activity more difficult or more costly, such as environmental charges. Opportunities exist for state legislatures to employ environmental charges to discourage undesirable activities much like the bottle-bill legislation influences people not to discard bottles into non-recycling facilities. The benefits of disincentives include greater compliance, administrative ease, and efficiency. They could be more profitably utilized that is presently the case.
Voluntary programs can also be extremely effective, as has been demonstrated by the results of avid, mostly voluntary recycling in Germany and Denmark. Common elements of effective voluntary programs are: public conviction that the programs are worthwhile; widespread compliance among similarly situated people; and ease of compliance. Although not a primary method of private forestland management, voluntary compliance schemes may become more important in the future, as the public's desire to protect and to preserve the environment increases.
Keywords: forestland preservation, priavate commercial forestland, regulation v. incentives, effective voluntary programs
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