Extension in Pennsylvania: Diverse partners working together

Extension in Pennsylvania: Diverse partners working together

Finley, James C


At the turn of the 20th century, timber harvesting and other factors resulted in the high-value hardwood forests we see in Pennsylvania. One-half million private forest landowners own three-quarters of this forested area. Providing resource management information to these forest landowners demands that agencies and organizations cooperate to use limited human and fiscal resources effectively. This article describes a statewide commitment of diverse partners working together to support private forest landowners and sustain the state’s hardwood forests. Keywords: education; forestry extension; nonindustrial private forestland; private forest landowners

Pennsylvania forests present a unique situation. Because of heavy harvesting from 1880 to 1920, second-growth forests across the commonwealth are approaching economic maturity. Pressure to harvest this resource is generated by worldwide demand and elevated prices for the species found in these high-value forests. This pressure bears heavily on the more than 500,000 private forest ownerships that dominate the landscape and make up almost three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s forests.

Private forest landowners are critical to the future of the state’s forest industry; they supply nearly 80 percent of the industry’s raw material. Timber sustainability is a concern because less than 20 percent of the owners have a forest management plan. A recent study (Pell 1998) raised concerns about the condition of residual stands and their potential to produce forest crops of comparable timber quality in the future.

Pennsylvania’s forests are extensive, covering nearly 60 percent of the state’s 28 million acres. Forest industry is the number one manufacturing sector and fourth largest employer in the state, with 90,000 employees and annual value of shipments at $5 billion. Pennsylvania supports the largest volume in select hardwood species in the nation, principally red and white oak, black cherry, white ash, and sugar maple. In addition to timber, private forests provide myriad benefits such as recreation, aesthetics, and environmental services.

The goal of Penn State extension forestry is to sustain and improve Pennsylvania’s diverse forests by providing education and information to private forest landowners and to the broader forestry community. Since private forest landowners dominate the resource base, most of the extension outreach programs are targeted to them. Varied ownership characteristics, such as tenure, parcel size, and landowner knowledge, confound efforts to develop a comprehensive outreach program. State-level staffing for extension forestry is currently at 2.2 full-time equivalents (FTE), including a .75 FTE youth specialist. While nearly all of the counties have local extension offices, few have staff members trained in natural resource management. Four regional forestry agents provide 3.0 FTEs to 18 counties, principally across Pennsylvania’s northern tier.

Penn State extension uses the “diffusion of innovation” model (Rogers 1971), focusing on three of its principal elements: awareness, knowledge, and adoption. Awareness, although central to the model, is difficult and demanding on staff and fiscal resources. Early in the state’s Forest Stewardship Program, a statewide media campaign demonstrated the diffIculty of reaching forest landowners through television and radio (Luloff et al. 1993). Nonetheless, in a state with an average ownership tenure of about 10 years (Birch and Stelter 1993), resulting in more than 40,000 new landowners annually, there is a need to increase landowner awareness of forest management issues.

The knowledge step in the model is the principal focus of the state’s forest resources extension outreach effort. The approaches and tools used to disseminate information and knowledge vary by audience or community of interest (e.g., private forest landowners, timber harvesters, environmental and conservation groups, state service foresters, and county extension staff). Penn State’s extension program provides materials and training for agencies and cooperatives to assume an active role in knowledge dissemination. Extension specialists deliver program elements as requested. This approach empowers people to develop the types of programs and materials that best suit their specific needs.

Adoption occurs slowly in the natural resources arena. Measures of success often are not clear or easily measured, given the lack of resources and the fluid nature of ownerships in Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania forestry extension efforts have evolved from partnerships formed with program participants, perhaps the best measure of adoption is the growth of partnerships among those with shared vision for the state’s forest resources.

The following sections describe more fully the role of partnerships in private forest landowner education in Pennsylvania. These include partnerships with county extension agents, volunteer landowners, state agencies, youth education, and forest industry.

County Extension Agents

Having a cadre of nonforestry extension agents versed in forestry activities emerged as an essential objective. We recognized the necessity of encouraging county extension staff to be more active in our private forest landowner programming efforts. In the late 1980s, a series of natural resources in-service training for county extension staff evolved into the Natural Resources Extension Institutes (NREI). NREIs normally extend over two or more days, immersing county agent participants in a specific subject or programming area. To encourage agent participation, we cover much of their costs using funds from the Renewable Resources Extension Act. NREIs have covered resource management, 4-H and youth, wildlife management, and, most recently, whitetailed deer. Agents are encouraged to develop a county-level program using materials and program elements introduced at the NREI. A recent review of past participants found they had increased natural resources programming in their counties. By delivering their own programs, they invest local resources and staff in natural resource outreach. New York recently adopted the NREI model, offering a successful introductory course in 1999; New York and Pennsylvania jointly conducted an NREI in fall 2000 and plan another in spring 2001.

Volunteer Landowners

Another partnership program is Pennsylvania’s VIP/Coverts, comprising the Volunteer Initiative Project, supported by the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program, and Coverts, funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society. VIP/Coverts is a volunteer recruitment, training, and activist program modeled after the successful effort for private landowners launched in Connecticut and Vermont in the late 1980s. The primary objective in Pennsylvania is to encourage volunteers to increase awareness and knowledge among their peers, stimulating an interest in adopting or writing forest stewardship plans. Pennsylvania’s volunteers also work with county extension or Bureau of Forestry staff, or establish self-defined outreach projects such as youth education, demonstrations, trails, and county forest landowner associations,

A significant outcome of the VIP/Coverts project is the establishment of 14 county and multicounty forest landowner associations, covering nearly a third of the state’s 67 counties. While this was not originally a planned outcome, it is perhaps the most important one. These local organizations link extension, county service foresters, and other agencies and organizations. Together, they address natural resources issues that affect private forestland. These associations focus on delivering natural resource-related information to their members as well as others in their communities. Extension and other agencies serve in advisory roles, “leading” from behind. The members define organizational goals and objectives, seeking information and input from those they believe are most capable of meeting their needs.

Following the model developed in the Vermont Coverts Program, the Penn State School of Forest Resources encouraged the VIP/Coverts volunteers to organize their own state-level organization to guide development of the program. While extension and the Bureau of Forestry serve in an advisory capacity and finance program elements, the state-level organization reviews curricular materials, suggests training programs, and generally leads the program.

State Agendes

Cooperative Forest Management (CFM) is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and state government that provides landowner assistance to improve forest resource management on private forestland. Pennsylvania normally maintains a complement of 42 CFM service foresters. The large number of private forest landowners and the relatively short tenure of ownership make servicing individual landowner requests for assistance prohibitive. Instead, the state director of the Bureau of Forestry has encouraged CFM service foresters to increase their involvement in extension-type education efforts, thus leveraging their limited service capacity. Natural resource extension specialists now participate in the quarterly CFM forestry meetings, presenting training on the use of educational materials, methods, and research findings. The Bureau of Forestry is evaluating the feasibility of reporting results and impacts of their education programs using the objectives and measures guiding extension’s new four-year Plan of Work. This will allow both agencies to report the importance and shared impact of their education programs.

Youth Education

Pennsylvania has the highest population of rural residents in the nation. Many of the state’s 501 school districts serve rural areas, where many schools have forestland on their property. Too often, these school forests receive little or no planned or structured use. A regional natural resources extension agent, with cooperation from CFM service foresters, recently began writing forest stewardship plans for schools. These plans bring together parents, school administrators, and, most importantly, students to develop educational programs and conduct service projects in the woodlots. To date, six of these plans have been completed, two are in development, and seven more are scheduled. This is an excellent example of how partners interested in resource issues can work together to share information, knowledge, and resources.

Forest Industry

In 1995, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) initiated the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The stated objective of SFI is “to perceptibly improve the performance of member companies” (AF&PA 1994). This objective meshes well with Pennsylvania’s extension forestry mission. Cooperating with SFI, extension has provided technical assistance in developing outreach publications, slide sets, and curricular materials on ecology, silviculture, wildlife management, and best management practices. In addition, extension cooperates in delivering programs and in providing training for industry and Bureau of Forestry staff who volunteer to deliver training sessions for timber harvesters and forest landowners.

Pennsylvania’s SFI is providing unique opportunities to work with industry and to use recent research findings to improve timber harvesting practices. For example, findings from a statewide Timber Harvesting Assessment Project (Pell 1998) serve as a basis for developing both education and training tools in the Master Loggers Program and in developing an advanced forestry course for loggers and resource professionals. Another education program under development for SFI by extension and supported by the Audubon Society of Pennsylvania and the Procter and Gamble Foundation, matches forest conditions to wildlife inventory data (Fredericksen et al. 2000).


Pennsylvania’s forests are at a crossroads. Worldwide demand for the state’s hardwood timber is increasing (Birch 1996), while nearby metropolitan areas are exerting influences on traditional forest uses. This combination of pressures on Pennsylvania’s private forests highlights the urgent need to educate the forestry community about these issues and their consequences for sustainable forestry. Carrying out this education endeavor is an enormous task. Pennsylvania’s forestry extension activities depend on partnerships to develop and deliver educational programs.

Forestry extension specialists work closely with government agencies, forest landowner organizations, schools, and forest industry to develop new and innovative forestry programs. For example, VIP/Coverts volunteers and county landowner associations provide ready audiences with which we can share information. NREI is training nonforestry extension agents, encouraging them to organize forestry activities. This nucleus of agents at the local level promotes both the awareness of forestry and the dissemination of knowledge. In Pennsylvania, people at the local level are becoming the educators and leaders of forest-based activities in their communities, while extension specialists facilitate and prepare educational materials on request.

Literature Cited

AMERICAN FOREST & PAPER ASSOCIATION (AF&PA). 1994. Sustainable forestry: Principles and implementation guidelines. Washington, DC.

BIRCH, T.W. 1996. Private forest landowners of the northern United States, 1994. Resources Bulletin NE 136. Radnor, PA: USDA Forest Service.

BIRCH, TX, and C.M. STELTER. 1993. Trends in owner attitudes. In Proceedings of Penn State Forest Resources Issues Conference. Penn’s Woods-Change and Challenge, eds. J.C. Finley and S.B. Jones, 50-60, University Park, Pennsylvania.

FREDERICKSEN, TS., B.D. Ross, W HOFFMAN, E. Ross, M.L. MORRISON, J. BEYEA, M.L. LESTER, and B.N. JOHNSON. 2000. The impact of logging on wildlife: A study in northeastern Pennsylvania. Journal of Forestry 98(4):4-10.

LULOFF, A.E., K.P. WILKINSON, M.R. SCHWARTZ, J.C. FINLEY, S.B. JONES, and C.R. HUMPHREY. 1993. Pennsylvanias Forest Stewardship Program media campaign: Forest landowners and the general public’s opinions and attitudes. Report submitted to State Forester, Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and USDA Forest Service, Northern Area State and Private Forestry.

PELL, JA 1998. Variables characterizing timber resource sustainability of recently harvested tracts across Pennsylvania. Master’s thesis, Pennsylvania State University.

ROGERS, E.M. 1971. Communication of innovations. 2nd ed. New York: Free Press.

James C Finley (4@psu.edu) is associate professor and Michael G. Jacobson is assistant professor, School of Forest Resources, Pennsylvania State University, 7 Ferguson Building, University Park, PA 16802.

Copyright Society of American Foresters Mar 2001

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