Nontimber Forest Products
The plants and fungi harvested for their nontimber forest products (NTFP) are fundamental to the functioning of healthy forests and vital to the cultures and economies of the people of the U.S. Southern forests are a treasure trove of nontimber-based species. SRS scientists provide global leadership in research and technology transfer regarding NTFPs.
The region’s biological diversity provides an abundance of opportunities to harvest NTFPs for economic and cultural gains. The harvesting and use of forest biodiversity is embedded deeply in the culture of the first people to inhabit the region. Many people who dwell here today also have profound connections to the plants and fungi that provide NTFPs.
Among the southern NTFPs are many of global value and uniqueness. For example, saw palmetto (Serenoa repens (Bartram) Small) berries from the forests of Florida, Georgia, and other coastal states are used as medicine. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.), with a natural range from Georgia to Canada and west to the Mississippi, is mostly harvested from only five southern states. The fruit of pawpaw (Asimina triloba (L). Dunal) and persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L) are enjoyed by many residents who forage our forests for food.
Though the South is the source for many NTFPs that supply global markets and diverse industries, their full valuation to these economies is lacking. Similarly, the impacts of harvesting NTFPs on forest biodiversity are not fully understood, impeding management decisions and actions.
For the most part, the economic and ecological contributions of NTFPs remain invisible and enigmatic. Greater knowledge is needed to determine sustainable sourcing of these products and ensure their long-term viability.
No one knows how many gallons, pounds, and tons of non-timber forest products are harvested – there are too many products, too many units of measurement, and not enough data. “If we don’t know the volume, we can’t figure out the value,” says USDA Forest Service scientist Jim Chamberlain. “Value has two pieces to it, volume and price.”
Dr. Jim Chamberlain is an SRS research scientist with the Forest Inventory and Analysis program and a global expert on nontimber forest products management, production, and valuation. Chamberlain has worked in forestry and forest products management for more than 45 years, with much of that time spent working in south and southeast Asia and central Europe.
For the last 24 years, he has focused his research on the economic and ecological impacts of harvesting NTFPs, particularly food and medicine, in Appalachia, the southern region, and the nation as a whole.
He has published and presented extensively on the subject, including a comprehensive national assessment of these NTFPs, relative to climate change. He is now leading the IUFRO Task Force “Unlocking the Bioeconomy and Nontimber Forest Products,” a team of more than 70 experts from over 25 countries to define and examine the role of NTFPs in a bioeconomy.