Family forest owners (FFOs) control 263 million acres (or 35%) of U.S. forests. In the eastern U.S, FFOs control more than 50% of the forests (Butler, 2008). The average age of FFOs is over 60 years old. It is estimated that over 75% of family forest land is owned by people over the age of 55 and nearly 50% is owned by people over the age of 65 (Butler, et al. 2016). In the coming years, nearly 3.8 million FFOs will be deciding the future of their land. We are, in fact, in the midst of the largest intergenerational shift of land our country has ever experienced.
Given the significant amount of land under the control of family forest owners and the tremendous amount of public benefits that flow from this land, it is imperative that we gain a better understanding of how estate planning decisions for these land assets are being made, what factors influence these decisions, what impact these decisions are having across the landscape, and how we can reach family forest owners to inform their decisions about estate planning for their land. A mix of methods will be used to achieve the goals of this proposal. The methods are complementary to each other. Findings and data from the methods of some goals will be used to achieve other goals. The research described in this proposal seeks to help fill this gap in the literature and the results that stem from it will have immediate impact through the use of the findings for the development of effective family forest owner programs and policies.