The Mountain Forest Stewardship Co-op

In Western North Carolina, the latest forest-conservation trend has an unusual face: loggers. Recently people who practice low-impact logging with horses and oxen came together to define a new industry. After years of practicing some of the oldest traditions in forestry and offering some of the most precise timber harvesting services anywhere — but rarely making a good living at it — the loggers formed the Mountain Forest Stewardship Cooperative.

One of the co-op’s main goals is to make low-impact logging economically feasible for loggers, landowners and foresters. By processing wood into final products instead of selling logs, the co-op increases its profits. The extra profit margin makes sustainable forestry an easier choice for forestry professionals and landowners. Another goal is to provide more accessible services for landowners. The co-op wants to increase the availability of specialized services for sustainable forest management and restoration.

A third goal is to provide local sustainable-wood-product choices and offer a local wood-products market that restores our forests and economies instead of degrading them.

Across the South, this new forest-products industry is forming. The industry is based on sound forest management, local ownership and preserving the South’s forest-based heritage. It is a movement of family landowners, loggers, forestry professionals, environmentalists, sawmill operators and others who believe the best opportunity we have to conserve our forest landscapes, save our wildlife and revive our rural economies is a sustainable, forest-based economy.

The sustainable-forest-products industry is based on three principles:

  • Forest management must focus on restoration and maintenance of ecological integrity. Healthy forests are better for wildlife, recreation and our economy.
  • Keep it local to keep it profitable. Corporate ownership of the South’s forest-products industry has brought declines in local economic returns even as harvest levels have increased. Business and land ownership, value-added processing and sales should all be local whenever possible to maximize economic returns to local people and communities.
  • Focus on community-based strategies. Strategies that are built by local communities to address local needs are more sustainable ecologically, economically and socially.

Here’s why sustainable forestry works:

  • Landowners can produce regular income from timber and other products while maintaining a functioning forest. Most of the South’s timber harvest comes from private lands, so pleasing landowners is crucial, and they are demanding better forestry. If landowners are under economic pressure to sell or develop their forestland, periodic income from harvests and public forestry programs can relieve the pressure.
  • Local ownership and processing maximizes economic benefits to rural communities. Maximizing local processing in locally-owned businesses means more jobs with better pay. In addition, profits stay local rather than being spent outside the community or exported to stockholders.
  • Sustainable forestry preserves our heritage while sustaining our economy. Rural communities can rely on sustainable, land-based economic development and local entrepreneurship rather than industrial or business recruiting.

The Mountain Forest Stewardship Co-op is committed to cultivating a strong forest-based economy in Western North Carolina that restores our forests, provides good jobs and keeps the profits of our land and labor in local communities. Currently, all of the co-op’s wood is harvested from local family forests using logging with horses and oxen, and all wood products are processed by local mills. Co-op members provide millwork, including flooring, trim and paneling, and will consider any product request. Co-op members do both timber harvesting and processing, so they can fill unusual custom orders.

The co-op is not certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but members plan to be. Certification is similar to organic certification in farming and ensures excellent forest management, fair wages for workers and low-waste processing. Look for the FSC label when you shop for wood products to know your purchase supports forest restoration, not forest destruction.

For information about the co-op’s products, call 277-9008. Only a small inventory is kept and most sales are by pre-order, so the best time to call is when you’re still planning your project. This year, the co-op plans to start selling some products through local retailers. For more information about sustainable forestry and community-based efforts in the South, go

[Alyx Perry is with the Southern Forests Network. Perry can be reached at]