OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Family land ownership issues

FamilyMillions of acres of family-owned forest land will change hands in the United States within the next decade. Most of these transfers will happen with virtually no planning.

In Oregon more than half of the forest landowners are over 65. The situation is similar in other states. Although most of these landowners say they want to keep the land in the family and pass it on to the next generation, few have taken the steps to do so.

Passing forest land on to the next generation is a process of financial, legal, and emotional dimensions. In order for both the land and the active commitment to its stewardship to successfully transfer, three transactions must occur:

  • The land itself
  • Commitment to good management
  • Passion for the land

Succession planning is difficult at the best of times. When forest land is at stake, the differences among family members in values, goals and lack of critical skills can lead to disaster. Without an effective plan, the owners' intentions may not be followed. This may put the future of the land in doubt. Whether the property is to stay in the family, be given protection in a conservation easement, or another agreed-to outcome, family communication is critical.

Effects on the community

Impacts on the landscape also loom large. Many family forest lands lie on the edges of metropolitan areas. They provide important economic, ecological and social amenities to communities throughout Oregon and the nation. With a change of ownership comes a potential for change of use.

The US Forest Service projects that about 23.2 million acres of forestland will pass out of forest use over the next 50 years. Most of these acres will be privately owned, nonindustrial forest lands converted to residential subdivision.

The fate of family forest lands is an issue not only for the families involved, but also for communities. It is an important social issue, with implications at a landscape scale.

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