Many of the plants and fungi that are harvested for nontimber products (e.g., foods, medicines, crafts) are critical to healthy forest ecosystems. These products also are essential to rural societies, contributing to the material and nonmaterial composition of communities and cultures. Product sales make important contributions at all economic scales, from household to national economies. Nontimber forest products (NTFPs) have been harvested for generations, sometimes centuries, yet they are seldom integrated into forest management. Few methods exist for inventory and assessment, and there is little evidence that harvests are sustainable. This article examines three elements of sustainable forest management for nontimber products: sociocultural, economic, and ecological, and elaborates with detailed examples of edible and medicinal species from United States (U.S.) forests. We synthesize the state of knowledge and emerging issues, and identify research priorities that are needed to advance sustainable management of NTFPs in the United States. Despite their social, economic, and ecological values, many of these species and resources are threatened by the overuse and lack of management and market integration. Sustainable management for nontimber products is attainable, but much research and development is needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of these resources and their cultural values, and to realize their economic potentials.
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