Non-traditional Forest Products

Revised March 2024.


Many government and non-government conservation and rural-development agencies have promoted Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) to encourage forest conservation and meaningful and sustainable local development.  NTFPs have been called minor or secondary forest products, although this is misleading.  Other terms may include non-traditional, special or specialty non-wood forest products.  All of these terms underrate the importance of some of these products and their potential return on invested time and capital.

Traditionally, populations with access to forest resources primarily derived income from old growth and later rotational-harvest of timber and pulp for the wood-product and paper industries.  Secondary material went into other composite-product streams or was burned or left to decay in cut-over areas.  As primary resources declined, and harvest efficiency increased, so too has the benefit to local populations.  For example, through the 1970s and 1980s a large percentage of America’s primary western fir and cedar resources were cut into logs and exported to Japan and other Asian buyers from western ports.  The “value-addition” from processing these resources went overseas.

NTFPs can be a more sustainable option than traditional timber or pulp harvest, and can include products or services like fruits and nuts, vegetables, fish and game, medicinal plants, resins, essences; and a range of barks and fibers; and with some ventures, forest- or nature-tourism associated with a product.

In the United States, we have seen NTFPs arising from the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of people who not only want to develop a sustainable primary or secondary income from the land, but love the outdoors and the outdoor lifestyle or have an interest in permaculture and similar highly-sustainable environmental-farming systems.

There are many examples of highly successful ventures.  In some areas, “stumpers” revisit traditionally harvested land for a secondary harvest of shakes, perhaps for cedar-plank cooking. Unsuitable damaged wood left by loggers is recovered for highly figured “live-end” slabs for table and counter tops, instrument woods and similar high-value products for specialty wood crafters.  Other “secondary loggers” hunt for old red-cedar fence-post remnants or burled-stumps from apple orchards for high-value material sold through specialty dealers to carvers and wood turners.  First-growth hundred-or-more year old salvage-beams from building or industrial demolition or “sinkers,” submerged old-growth logs that sank from log rafts are recovered for aged dimensionally stable material for instrument and fine-furniture makers.  Stumps that display the “graft line,” where rootstock and grafted bearing variety once melded for English walnut production, are sought for highly unique and richly figured book-matched guitar backs and ribs (sides), humidors and similar applications.

In the Midwest, some loggers who made their primary income by clearing road right-of-ways and farmer’s fencerows of poplar, cedar and sycamore, this led to initial interest in cutting and surface-planing some lumber from the trees for sale to local woodworkers.  They soon discovered that the planer waste, a fine white ribbon- or thread-like material, was a very high-value co-product for use for high-end dog-bedding, craft material and environmentally friendly packaging.

The branches of willow, alder, dogwood and similar pliable species are harvested “green” and left whole or split for caning for basket weavers and other craft applications.  Black-spruce root is another traditional northern Native American fiber source for binding and weaving.  Poplar and birch barks are component material products of the decorative-product and craft industries.  In the southeast and pacific northwest, moss and ferns are major products for the floral industry and European export markets.  The floral industry also drives markets for decorative grasses, vines, tree-limbs, and other fern and bark products.  Some grasses and ferns are used for decorative packaging for other high-value consumer products.  What would the holiday season be like without pinecones, evergreen boughs, mistletoe and holly?  Many wreath and decorative balsam fir and pine boughs are secondary products from Christmas tree plantations, or “wild harvested,” sustainably cut from private stands.

Edible, medicinal and ornamental mushrooms, ginseng, plants for naturopathy, dietary supplement and aromatherapy oils; and similar products from forest plants, mosses, lichens, and volunteer second-growth plants like red-twig dogwood, are products certainly related to the primary forest tree crop, but truly a direct product of the forest ecosystem.  There are well over 100 species of collected botanical products from eastern temperate forests that include, black cohosh, white-oak bark, slippery elm, willow bark, mayapple, elderberry, sassafras and goldenseal for domestic and specialty export-market sales.

NTFPs can be of considerable value to impoverished rural communities; however, it is important for development professionals and entrepreneurs to recognize the constraints that exist outside the mere collecting and harvesting of the product or material.  Many low-income rural populations have limited access or understanding of markets, insufficient capital and generally lack the creative understanding of entrepreneurial business development.  NTFPs may have strong potential for seasonal employment, supplemental or part-time income generation or small-business opportunities. However, to accomplish this, entrepreneurs need to research and understand the sustainability and value of their resource, true costs of the venture, as well as develop market connections.  Any regional development initiative may require micro-finance assistance for startups, since most bankers may not lend to help capitalize a non-traditional business they do not understand.

Before investing a lot of time or money into the venture, any project should develop at least a simple feasibility study or business plan (guidelines are available on AgMRC) with an eye toward developing a marketing strategy with well thought-out retail and distributor contacts. Owners and managers need to develop record keeping, reflected in the business plan, that details time, fuel, licensing, insurance, and all overhead costs; for example, time, all material costs, packaging, distribution and shipping expenses. A well-developed business plan is invaluable when meeting with banks, development agencies and other potential lenders and investors, and planning the future of your venture.

It is critical that business managers make sure that part-time hourly workers understand of the needs and choke-points within the product-to-consumer value chain to ensure utmost product quality and service.  This is particularly important where timely transportation and seasonal demand are critical issues to the success and perhaps survival of the venture.

Any operation that uses public lands must take into consideration sustainable practices and the opportunities and constraints those practices impose. If you have arrangements with private landowners, be sure to review


USDA National Agroforestry Center. A source of information on several types of cropping systems you can use in conjunction with your trees.

Contracts for Woodland Owners. Oregon State University Extension

Evergreen Boughs - This report provides a brief introduction to evergreen boughs as a potential source of supplemental income for small forestland owners and harvesters.

Figured Wood - This fact sheet provides an overview of figured woods in the Pacific Northwest as a supplemental income opportunity for small forestland owners.

Forest Medicinals - This fact sheet describes examples of species with commercial value, general harvesting considerations, and introduces potential markets for these plants.

Forest Transplants - This fact sheet describes species with commerical value, transplanting techniques, and markets for these plants.

Huckleberry - This document focuses on the fruit of huckleberry as a food.

Know Your Forest: Non-Traditional Forest Products. 

Medicinal Herbs and Non-Timber Forest Products - North Carolina State University Extension link page to various resources.

Native Seed - An introduction to income opportunities from native seed gathered from small private forestlands in the Pacific Northwest.

Nontimber Forest Products for Small Woodland Owners: Bigleaf Maple Syrup - This publication describes how to tap bigleaf maple trees for sap that can be boiled down to make maple syrup.

Non-Timber Forest Products: Alternatives for Landowners Chamberlain and Hammet: U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Service.

Non-timber Forest Products Training Guide - This guide will provide landowners information on how to conduct a basic inventory of nontimber forest products on their land and digitally map their data.

Non-traditional forest products directory.  Renewable Resource Solutions, LLC and Glacierland Resource Conservation & Development Council, Inc. Oregon Forest Industry Directory - This regional web-based directory lists buyers and sellers of forest products and has an extensive section devoted to nontimber forest products.

Training Manual for Applied Agroforestry Practices and Handbook for Agroforestry Planning and Design. The Center for Agroforestry; University of Missouri.  Includes schedules and links to meetings and training events.

U-picks Aren't Just for Farms - A brief introduction to developing nontimber forest-based tourism operations on private forestlands.

Wild Floral Greens - This factsheet provides a brief overview of the floral products that might be found on small private forestlands, possible market outlets for products, and important considerations when embarking on a business selling floral greens.

Wild Mushrooms - A brief introduction to harvesting and marketing wild edible mushrooms for commercial use from small private forestlands in the Pacific Northwest.