The Journal of Extension -

February 2013 // Volume 51 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // v51-1iw8

Real Forestry for Real Estate

Virginia is poised to see an unprecedented change in forest land ownership. To provide new landowners with information on sustainable forest management, we developed a two-part program, Real Forestry for Real Estate. First, we assembled New Landowner Packets, which contain a variety of sustainable forest management resources. Second, two continuing education classes will provide real estate professionals with an understanding of the importance of forestry and tools which can help them better appreciate the properties they are selling. The courses will be used to recruit real estate professionals to be disseminators of the information packets to rural land clients.

Jennifer Gagnon
Extension Associate
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia

Jason Fisher
Forestry & Natural Resource Extension Agent
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Central District
Halifax, Virginia


Approximately 12.9 million acres, or 80%, of the forest land base in Virginia is privately owned; 10.1 million of those acres are owned by non-industrial private forest landowners (NIPF's) (Virginia Department of Forestry [VDOF], 2011). These forests provide $23 billion annually to the economy of the commonwealth and over 144,000 jobs (Rephann, 2008). Additionally, they provide non-monetary benefits such as clean air and water, aesthetics, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration. For Virginians to continue to reap these benefits, forest stewardship is essential. However, many of the 373,000 NIPF landowners in Virginia do not employ professional foresters (Butler, Miles, & Hansen, 2011; Langer, 2008). And most lack the knowledge and technical skills to implement forest management activities on their own (Measells et al., 2006).

Disseminating appropriate forest management information to landowners in the Southeast is challenging because they are a heterogeneous group. Closer to urban areas, forests are more likely to be owned by individuals who value aesthetic and recreational values, whereas in more rural areas, forests tend to be owned by folks with timber production and profit in mind. A similar correlation exists in relation to parcel size—the larger the parcel, the more likely the landowner is to be interested in timber harvesting (Majumdar, Teeter, & Butler, 2008).

Another challenge is that family forests are undergoing an unprecedented transfer of ownership. In Virginia, 20% of private forests are owned by people over 65; they own 38% of Virginia's forestland (Birch, Hodge, & Thompson, 1998). This land will soon be either transferred to heirs or sold. In fact, 1 in 5 acres is owned by people who plan to sell or transfer some or all of their land in the next 5 years (USDA Forest Service, 2008). Most people (74%) buying forestland in Virginia are first-time forest owners. They tend to be well-educated and economically privileged (Hodge, 1993; Kendra & Hull, 2005), and think of themselves as responsible, caring stewards of the land (Bliss & Martin, 1989). However, they often cite lack of knowledge as a reason for not engaging in forest management activities (Measells et al., 2006) and may not be aware of traditional sources of forest management information, such as Extension.

Real Forestry for Real Estate Program

Transfer of forest ownership presents an excellent opportunity for forestry Extension professionals to make contact with new landowners, share management information, and encourage a view of woodlands as potential sources of income, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, firewood, and ecosystem services, all of which may be improved by active forest management.

To reach landowners early on in their tenure, the Virginia Forest Landowner Education program (VFLEP) has developed a new program, Real Forestry for Real Estate (RFRE). This program has two components.

New Landowner Packets

First, we developed New Landowner Packets. The goal of these packets is to make new forest landowners aware of:

  1. The importance of the resource they now own
  2. Opportunities for education and technical assistance
  3. Voluntary conservation programs, such as Tree Farm

Packets contain a broad array of information, including materials from the public, private, and forest industry sectors. The materials were selected to appeal to a wide array of forest landowner motivations and to increase their awareness of the many natural resource services available. Included in each packet is a postage-paid postcard that can be returned to the VFLEP to receive more information on forestry Extension programs.

Forestry Education for Real Estate Professionals

The second component of this program involves dissemination of the New Landowner Packets. Delivery of information packets to landowners can be challenging. In Ohio, a welcome wagon approach was used to introduce new landowners to forest management information (Apsley, Bagley, & Samples, 2005). This approach invited landowners to pick up forest management information packets at their local Extension office. Approximately 5.5% of the people who received invitations picked up the packets. We hope to build on this approach, having the packets hand-delivered by a professional with whom they have already established a relationship, their real estate agent.

To recruit real estate professionals, the VFLEP developed real estate continuing education courses that are offered 6-10 times per year throughout Virginia. The courses focus on the importance of forests and forestry, and provide real estate professionals with tools that may help them better market their product (i.e., rural land). At the end of each class, we discuss the New Landowner Packets and distribute a set number to each participant with instructions to hand them out to clients interested in purchasing forested lands.


We will measure project effectiveness using three approaches. First, after 1 year, we will contact real estate professionals who received the packets to determine how many were distributed. Second, the number of postcards returned requesting more information will be tallied. Finally, participants in all of the VFLEP's programs will be asked if they found out about the programs through the New Landowner Packets.


RFRE is a way for Extension to form new partnerships (with real estate professionals), to provide new forest landowners with sustainable forestry information early in their tenure and to influence their behavior. Some of the actions we would like new landowners to take include:

  • Attend natural resource educational programs
  • Become aware of natural resource agencies and assistance they provide
  • Form a relationship with a professional forester
  • Write a forest management plan
  • Become involved in landowner associations

Through these actions, new owners should acquire the knowledge and skills to be good stewards of the land (Measells et al., 2006), thereby protecting the future of Virginia's forestlands.

The RFRE model can easily be adopted by other state forestry Extension programs and natural resource agencies. The New Landowner Packets can include any information deemed appropriate for a particular location. Presentations used for the continuing education classes can be customized, or different topics may be presented, depending on local needs and concerns. Other natural resource disciplines, such as agriculture, may also find this approach useful for reaching new clients. Assistance for anyone interested in adopting the RFRE program can be provided through the VFLEP.


Thanks are given to the Virginia Tree Farm Committee for providing valuable input and seed money for this project and the American Tree Farm System for awarding an Education Grant for project continuation.


Apsley, D., Bagley, S., & Samples, D. (2005). Using a welcome wagon approach to reach out to woodland owners in Appalachian Ohio. Journal of Extension [On-line], 43(1) Article 1IAW4. Available at:

Birch, T. W., Hodge, S. S., & Thompson, M. T. (1998). Characterizing Virginia's private forest owners and their forest lands. NE-707. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 10p.

Bliss, J. C., & Martin, A. J. (1989). Identifying NIPF management motivations with qualitative methods. Forest Science, 35(2), 601-622.

Butler, B. J., Miles, P. D., & Hansen, M. H. (2011). National woodland owner survey tabler Web-application version 1.01. Amherst, MA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. Retrieved from:

Hodge, S.S . (1993). Beliefs, attitudes, demographics and knowledge: The social dimensions of harvesting decisions made by private forest-land owners in Virginia. PhD Dissertation. Michigan State University, East Lansing MI. 158p.

Kendra, A., & Hull, R. B. (2005). Motivations and behaviors of new forest owners in Virginia. Forest Science, 51(2), 142-154.

Langer, J. (2008). Family forest owners: Insights into land-related stewardship, values, and intentions. GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. Retrieved from:

Majumdar, I., Teeter, L. D., & Butler, B. J. (2008). Characterizing family forest owners: A cluster analysis approach. Forest Science, 54(2), 76-184.

Measells, M. K., Grado, S. C., Hughes, H. G., Dunn, M. A., Idassi, J. O., & Zielinske, R. J. (2006). Educational needs of southern forest landowners. Journal of Extension [On-line], 44(5) Article 5RIB4. Available at:

Rephann, T. J. (2008). The economic impact of agriculture and forestry on the commonwealth of Virginia. Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia. Retrieved from:

USDA Forest Service. (2008). Who owns America's forests? Forest ownership patterns and family forest highlights from the national woodland owner survey. NRS-INF-06-08. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 8p.

Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). (2011). 2011 state of the forest. Charlottesville, VA: Virginia Department of Forestry. 22p.