Wildlife Thrives in Sustainably Managed Forests


Private forest owners in the U.S. care for more than 450 million acres of forestland – 60% of the nation’s forests – and the thousands of species that call our forests home.

A Collaborative Approach to Species Conservation

The Wildlife Conservation Initiative (WCI) is a voluntary, collaborative partnership between the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc. (NCASI) to conserve fish and wildlife species in private working forests.

The WCI has a simple objective: to conserve common, at-risk, threatened, and endangered species through active forest management of private working forests.

Learn More at WildlifeConservationInitiative.org


Private forest owners are critical to conservation success

The WCI was founded on the recognition that private working forests are an important conservation tool. NAFO members own and manage more than 46 million acres of private working forests in 34 states – the scale needed to achieve real conservation success.

Collaborative Conservation Outcomes

Collaborative conservation through the WCI delivers positive outcomes for wildlife. The USFWS has cited the benefits of active forest management, private land access for researchers, and forest certification as significant contributions to species conservation, negating the need for regulatory intervention. These successes are the result of proactive and voluntary conservation efforts, with government and private working forest owners working together.

In this way, the WCI advances collaborative conservation efforts on working lands and helps the Endangered Species Act work better for at-risk species, forest owners, and the USFWS.

A first-of-its-kind Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

In 2023, NAFO, the USFWS, and NCASI signed a groundbreaking MOU formalizing the WCI as a programmatic partnership for voluntary and proactive collaborative conservation. The MOU codifies the value of active forest management in private working forests as a powerful conservation tool.


Young Forest

Open fields and grasslands, low, thick brush, and young forests are home to species needing conservation attention such as the Kirkland’s warbler, the New England Cottontail rabbit, or the American Woodcock. Other wildlife species depending on young forest for at least part of their habitat include wild turkey, grouse, American elk, white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail rabbit, black bear, and native pollinators including honey bees and butterflies. Young forest is often a critical need, especially where intermixed with more mature public forest reserves.

Open canopy

Open canopy forests are those where the dominant trees are more widely spaced, and the trees have not grown together into a continuous canopy. Because sunlight gets through to the forest floor, plants that require sunlight to grow thrive here, benefiting at-risk species including the gopher tortoise, Louisiana pine snake, southern hog-nosed snake, and gopher frog. Numerous at risk plant species that need disturbance and sunlight are also found in open canopy forests.

Riparian and aquatic

Most forest landowners of today implement state Best Management Practices (BMPs) during harvests that are designed to protect water quality by leaving a buffer along watercourses called a Streamside Management Zone (SMZ). SMZs not only protect water quality; they also keep in place buffers of forested landscape along rivers and streams, providing wildlife travel and habitat diversity corridors that benefit the entire ecosystem. The shade from the trees controls water temperature, which is important for all kinds of fish, reptiles, insects and other riparian and aquatic animals. Most importantly, the vegetated buffer filters sediment after rains or snows, keeping the water clean and providing essential habitat for mollusks and fish species that require clean water to reproduce.