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Kindhumans Profile: A few kind questions with Natasha Collins

Kindhumans Profile

Kindhumans Profile: A few kind questions with Natasha Collins

Natasha Collins, M.S.-Candidate of Forest Science at Colorado State University, is conducting her thesis research on corporate engagement with national forest projects.  In this article she gives an overview of the many benefits that forests provide, and details how private industry is becoming involved in supporting forest health. – KH


What services do forests provide?

Have you thanked a tree today? Forests cover approximately 30% of the globe’s land surface area and provide numerous Ecosystem Services.  “Ecosystem Services” refer to the benefits people receive from nature and can be categorized into four types: Provisioning, Regulating, Cultural, and Supporting Services.  Forests provide a variety of ecosystem services in all four categories.  Provisioning Services from forests include tangible goods, such as food and timber, that are sold in the marketplace and can be used for construction.  Regulating Services from forests, like climate regulation, control natural processes that can maintain and protect businesses and the resources they rely on.  Cultural Services are non-material benefits from forests, such as recreation, and can be critical for ecotourism businesses.  Lastly, Supporting Services encompass all natural processes that maintain the other Ecosystem Services and contribute to the overall health of forest ecosystems as a whole.


What are national forests?

In the United States, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is the federal agency in charge of managing almost 200 million acres of national forests and grasslands.  This covers about eight percent of the country’s total land area and about 20 percent of the nation’s forests.  National forests were first established with the Creative Act of 1891 giving the president the power to set aside land for national forests.  Today there are almost 190 million acres of national forest across the United States, mostly in the West.  Although historically strongly tied to timber harvest, these forests serve multiple uses including outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing, and watersheds.


What benefits do national forests provide?

National Forests provide a variety of benefits recognized by the Forest Service including clean water and air, scenic beauty, biodiversity, outdoor recreation, natural resource-based jobs, forest products, renewable energy, and carbon sequestration. Forests store over 80% of global terrestrial aboveground carbon, making them the world’s largest terrestrial carbon stocks.  National forest lands are the largest single source of water in the United States.


How is private industry involved in National Forest health?

The USFS is advancing both climate change mitigation (i.e., reducing the accumulation of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change) and climate change adaptation actions (i.e., making a system more resilient to the effects of climate change).  Undertaking these activities is costly and requires new partnerships and funding sources to tackle these efforts.  Partnerships between the Forest Service and private companies offer an opportunity for both groups to work together to achieve mutual stewardship goals.   For the Forest Service, private investors giving required money for restoration up front accelerates the pace and scale at which these projects can be undertaken.  For private companies, these projects can help maintain their bottom line by enhancing the Ecosystem Services that they benefit from.


What types of companies are involved in national forest projects?

A range of private companies engage in partnerships with the Forest Service, typically through third party non-profit organizations, like the National Forest Foundation or The Nature Conservancy.  These include companies from food and beverage, retail, manufacturing, recreation, utility (water and power), insurance, impact investing, and entertainment sectors and companies of all sizes.  Projects related to climate change adaptation and mitigation include watershed restoration, fuels management, and reforestation in which the methods of forest thinning (the removal of vegetation, commonly smaller trees), prescribed burning (controlled burning of an area), invasive species removal, and planting trees are employed.


Why is private industry involved in national forest health?

Sustainability is becoming intertwined with profit as companies across the United States adopt internal environmental goals and produce sustainability reports. Pressures from consumers, investors, and competitors seem to be driving this shift.  Links between a company’s business sector, the benefits they receive from national forests, and types of projects they engage begin to emerge.  Overall, common projects for companies to fund on national forests include watershed restoration, reforestation, and fuels treatments.  In general, projects for watershed restoration yield benefits to water provision, fuels reduction projects yield benefits for wildfire mitigation, and reforestation projects result in carbon sequestration and yield benefits for air quality and climate regulation.  Companies that rely heavily on water for their supply chain can be motivated to engage in watershed restoration projects to improve water quality and yield.  Such companies include water utilities, beverage companies, and manufacturers.

Reforestation projects seem to be the most common, with many companies engaging in tree-planting projects.  Companies use “buy one, plant one” schemes were customers can buy a product and in so doing fund the purchase of one tree seedling to be planted.  Some companies use these reforestation efforts to claim carbon offsets (the reduction or sequestration of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide), and use them to meet “carbon neutral” or other company environmental claims.  Lastly, fuels reduction projects can benefit power utility and insurance companies in terms of reduced wildfire risk, as well as increase forest health and habitat for companies that rely on recreation.

Forests yield a variety of benefits for society and national forests are arguably one of the greatest and most under-recognized public goods available to people in the United States. The next time you drive past a National Forest sign, or spend time in one, please, salute the trees!

Author Profile:

Natasha was born and raised in Colorado, and currently lives in her home town of Fort Collins. After graduating, Natasha worked as a sea kayak guide in southern Patagonia, Chile.  The incredible beauty of these remote places stood in stark contrast to the disorganized management of these national parks and natural resources, and inspired her to go back to school to study forest policy and management. She is passionate about environmental stewardship and how cross-sectional partnerships and collaboration can work to achieve mutual goals. She is currently studying sustainable enterprise and how the private sector can – and does – play a role in forest management.

“I think that kindness is a choice and one I try to choose it more often than not.  I am grateful for those around me that choose to be kind and I believe that it has an expansive effect on people by being contagious.” – Natasha Collins 


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