DEBATE OF '98- responsibilities of forest land owners

mcour at mcour at
Mon Apr 20 11:24:22 EST 1998

In article <353A0EE3.6B6408A at>,
  Joseph Zorzin <redoak at> wrote:
> Do land (especially forest land) owners have any responsibility to the
> rest of mankind regarding what they do with that land?

Legally, no.

Morally, yes.

In the United States, our constitution makes the landowner legally the sole
steward of his property.  The government can only remove those stewardship
rights by paying for the land.  This is generally a good idea because a
plurality of land stewards (including the government)will serve a plurality of
interests in many ways.  If a single steward (the government) were to exercise
too much control, mistakes would be farm more devestating.  Let's not forget
that the government is not far removed from the whim of the voters who are not
the best people to be making broad land-use choices.  Private ownership works
because the private owner has a strong stake in doing what's best for his

However, morally, we (landowners) have an obligation to steward our land for
the benefit of mankind.  However, this can be accomplished in many ways.
Mankind needs energy, food, housing, timber, recreation, and forest.  If a
landowner sees fit, he might be justified in converting timber to farm land,
or farm land to apartments.  It strikes me that the nebulous "open space" in
suburban zoning ordinances is one of the worst possible usees of land.  Most
of this open space is simply grass that has to be cut on endless acres of lawn
that contribute neither to mankind's food supply, his housing needs, or his
need for a roof over his head.  However, mowing all this grass does contribute
to air pollution.

Personally, I'm in the process of converting my 5.5 acres of woodland into a
small farm.  On a nearby farm, I am in the process stopping about 50 acres of
old farmland from reverting back to woodland and returning it to agricultural
use.  From a timber point of view, we simply cannot afford to let the farmland
return to woodland because we're paying $80/acre anually in property taxes on
it and we can't get a tax break for managing it for timber unless we realize
timber sales of a few grand each year, which isn't possible for many more
years.  However, by using the 50 tillable acres as farmland, we will make the
entire 100 acre property tax exempt and save $8000 annually in property taxes.

If our tax burden were different, we might be inclined to plant only 20 acres
or so and manage the balance of the property for timber.  However, there is no
way we can keep paying $8000 annually while we wait for 50 years for those
trees to reach their peak merchantable value.

Michael Courtney

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