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Non-Timber Products of the Forest

Utilizing Secondary Forest Products for Additional Income


Think of a forest as having the potential to grow and provide a great variety of products, excluding timber harvesting, that can support a full income or supplement an existing income. It is understood that timber-based products do provide a large source of income for forest owners. But there is also a healthy market in many rural areas for non-timber forest products.

A report called Non-Timber Forest Products - The OTHER Forest Products, compiled by Jim Chamberlain, Robert Bush, and A.L. Hammett, takes a stab at broadening the forest product perspective by expanding the definition of a forest product. This publication, as well as the the popular press, forestry organizations and forest agencies, is embracing the concept of making money from the forest without selling timber and trees.

There has been an increase in the number of conferences dedicated to the marketing of these "lesser-known forest products" for personal income. The United States Congress, through its U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Forestry and Public Land Management, included non-timber forest products in a discussion to explore opportunities and constraints of increased harvesting of non-timber forest products on National Forest lands. Non-timber forest products are now a part of the public debate.

So What is a Non-timber Forest Product?

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are also called secondary forest products, minor forest products, special or specialty non-wood forest products and non-traditional forest products. A problem with some of these terms is they underrate these products by using terms like "minor" or "secondary". They are not these at all. You must remember that many of these forest products have as long a tradition in human history as do timber products. Actually, these "minor" products were collected by hunter/gatherers long before the tools were developed to harvest forest trees.

You might want to visualize these alternate products of the forest as being plants and their parts. They are collected either under the forest canopy or at the edges of the forest but are not considered a product directly manufactured out of wood. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in their publication Income Opportunities in Special Forest Products, suggests that aromatics, nuts and fruit, pine straw, mushrooms, botanicals, decorative greenery, honey, syrup and dyeing are only a small part of a vast potential for producing and processing NTFPs.

More About the Secondary and Specialty Forest Product

The terms "secondary forest product" or "specialty forest product" can be confusing. Many of these secondary products are considered a NTFP but are problematic because some can also be considered a part of the process of producing solid wood products. Some examples of these products include bark mulch, wood chips and charcoal. Forest marketing experts suggest that, unlike traditional solid wood products, NTFPs are usually marketed in diverse trade outlets. Timber-based forest products are usually available only at local lumber dealers.

Specialty wood products are considered non-timber products if they come from trees or parts of trees but not from sawn wood. Specialty wood products mostly come from trees that have not been cut to produce these items and are processed directly into specialty wood products without being processed into lumber. Examples of these products are floral products, cypress knees, handicrafts, wood carvings and turnings, burls, utensils, and containers.

Businesses providing special forest products for market has improved many rural local economies in the United States and Canada. There are a reported 138 NTFPs made from 80 forest species in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula alone. More than 500 medicinal plants, many of which are forest species, have been cataloged as NTFPs in the United States. These products include ginseng root, sassafras oil, wintergreen oil, balsam gum and witch hazel extracts. More than 200 botanical forest products have been identified in British Columbia.

Advice for New Entrepreneurs

Starting any new business is risky. Entering the specialty forest products market should not excluded from such risk and a personal evaluation of your goals, skills and financial condition need to be done. A market evaluation is a must and you need to identify the potential market to include buyers of your product. A great resource published by the U.S. Forest Service is available to help you. The bulletin is called Income Opportunities in Special Forest Products, Self-Help Suggestions for Rural Entrepreneurs. It is free online and reading at least the introduction would be time well spent.

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