August 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA5

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Underserved Forest Landowner Workshops: Opportunities for Landowners and Extension

Abstract
Sixteen workshops were conducted in 2003 for underserved forest landowners in the south-central U.S. An underserved landowner was defined as one who has not recently utilized various federal, state, or local resources. Workshop topics included: 1) Landowners Perspective, 2) Ownership Issues, 3) Marketing and Environmental Issues, and 4) Economics of Forestry. Workshop attendance averaged 81 participants and was directly related to the number of letters mailed to landowners. Participants owned 107,153 acres of forestland and estimated the value of information received at $6.8 million. This workshop format can serve as a regional and national model for reaching underserved forest landowners.


Glenn Hughes
Extension Professor of Forestry
Mississippi State University Extension Service
Purvis, Mississippi
ghughes@ext.msstate.edu

Marcus K. Measells
Research Associate I, Department of Forestry
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi
marcm@ext.msstate.edu

Stephen C. Grado
Professor of Forestry, Department of Forestry
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi
sgrado@cfr.msstate.edu

Michael A. Dunn
Associate Professor
Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
mdunn@agctr.lsu.edu

Joshua O. Idassi
Extension Assistant Professor, Forestry
Tennessee State University
Nashville, Tennessee
jidassi@tnstate.edu

Robert J. Zielinske
District Forester
Arkansas Forestry Commission
Forrest City, Arkansas
deltadistrict@arkansas.net


Introduction

Forestland is a major land use in the southern United States and offers both environmental and economic opportunities to landowners. These opportunities are the result of an extensive forestland base, forest ownership dominated by more than 4.9 million nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) landowners, highly productive forests, diverse timber markets, and opportunities for fee hunting, pine straw production, agroforestry, and other alternative land use enterprises (Powell, Faulkner, Darr, Zhu, & MacCleery, 1994; Hubbard, 1999; Jones, Munn, Grado, & Jones, 2001).

Unfortunately, most NIPF landowners are not realizing the full benefit of their forestland. Landowners with small- to mid-sized tracts generally lack forestry knowledge and training, thus making their lands less productive and more often neglected than other ownership categories. This situation is particularly acute among minorities, females, and other landowners not generally served by current federal, state, and local programs. Landowners are frequently unfamiliar with the maze of federal and state agencies and programs available to them and thus make limited use of these resources. Additionally, landowners are either unaware of, or perceive they cannot afford to pay for, private consulting services.

Extension programs target NIPF landowners, but attendance is generally a small fraction of the overall NIPF ownership. In Mississippi, landowner short courses are the flagship educational programs offered through Extension Forestry. Londo and Monaghan (2002) summarized 14 years of landowner short courses in Mississippi, and reported an average of 510 participants per year, or 17 participants per short course. With more than 125,000 landowners holding 20+ acres of forestland in Mississippi (Doolittle, 1996), this attendance represented 0.4% of the landowners statewide. Even the year of peak attendance, in which 858 people attended short courses, represented less than 1% of forest landowners is Mississippi.

A multi-state research and outreach project was conducted to enhance the sustainable management of forestland owned by underserved landowners in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. For the purpose of this project, we defined "underserved forest landowners" as those who have not recently used the services of the many federal, state, and local efforts designed for their benefit. This article describes landowner workshops designed and conducted to reach more underserved landowners and address their needs.

Specific objectives of the outreach component of this project included:

  • Forming local planning committees to assist with the workshops;
  • Acquiring tax roll information of forest landowners to help publicize the workshops; and
  • Conducting and evaluating 4 workshops in each participating state during 2003.

Methods

A diverse local planning committee helped plan, promote, and conduct each workshop. Committee members included landowners, local forestry association members, Extension personnel (1862 and 1890 institutions where applicable), state forestry personnel, USDA personnel, pastors, local government officials, and other local influential individuals. Establishing such a committee gave local ownership and oversight to the workshops.

We publicized each workshop extensively through radio advertisements, flyers, newspaper announcements, and letters. We obtained, from tax rolls, a list of landowners owning 10 or more acres of forestland and sent each landowner a letter explaining the workshop agenda and inviting them to attend. Forest taxation procedures varied by state, so much effort and expense was involved in obtaining, configuring, and getting permission to use these lists. Some tax roll information was unavailable, and, in such cases, we relied on other landowner databases and more traditional means of advertising.

An important aspect of the landowner workshops was that all landowners were invited to attend, not just those deemed underserved. Even those deemed to be "served" could also benefit from new information provided, as new materials were continually being developed or updated for these presentations. Each participant received a folder containing forestry-related material on timber marketing, economics, regeneration, wildlife, Best Management Practices (BMPs), written wills, and other topics.

Workshop Format

Each workshop lasted approximately 3 hours and was generally conducted on a Saturday morning or a weeknight. Landowners preferred Saturday, and this is consistent with the findings of Downing and Finley (2005). The program format varied given local needs, but usually consisted of the following topics and presenters:

  1. Welcome/Introductions,
  2. Landowner Perspective (local landowner),
  3. Ownership Issues (local attorney),
  4. Marketing and Environmental Issues (forester),
  5. Economics of Forestry (forester),
  6. Question-and-Answer Session, and
  7. Meal.

The "Landowners Perspective" was a personal account by a local private landowner of his or her experience in managing forestland. These accounts frequently included both "good" and "bad" experiences, but the important point was that properly managed forestland significantly benefits individuals and families. As such, forestland represents an economic opportunity, particularly to those residing in rural communities.

Next, an attorney discussed "Ownership Issues." The primary issues included the importance of: 1) having a written will, 2) obtaining clear title to the land, and 3) preparing a written contract when harvesting timber. Attorneys frequently used real-life examples to illustrate complex issues facing current and future generations if landowners do not obtain appropriate legal assistance. For many landowners, basic legal issues need to be addressed before more typical forestry practices can be applied or cost-share assistance obtained. We specifically avoided discussing complex estate planning topics because this would require its own workshop. Workshop attendees were made aware of the need to further pursue issues related to wills and estate planning.

A forester discussed "Marketing and Environmental Issues." These topics, though apparently dissimilar, actually worked well together. A landowner in the process of marketing his or her timber should also seek to protect the environment from logging damage and other inappropriate activities. The forester communicated why "marketing" timber is better than just "selling" it to the first interested buyer. The forester also addressed the importance of management in meeting landowner objectives and improving monetary returns from this investment. Finally, the forester addressed the importance of environmental issues, including Best Management Practices (BMPs) in reducing erosion and protecting stream water quality. Where applicable, endangered and threatened species were discussed, along with management modifications required to meet the needs of those species.

Information on marketing will be critical to landowners in the future. Although owning forestland for income generation is secondary to other ownership objectives, 78% of landowners in a recent survey indicated they will or may harvest trees in the future (Measells, Grado, Hughes, Dunn, Idassi, & Zielinske, manuscript submitted for publication).

Another forester then discussed the "Economics of Forestry." This addressed the basic question, "Can I make money growing trees?" It was pointed out that the South is the primary timber-producing region in the U.S. and produces more forest products than any other country or region in the world (Wear & Greis, 2003). Projections call for an increasing share of the market demand to shift to the South, particularly the south-central U.S. While we are currently in a market slump (Baldwin & Harris, 2003), the overall supply and demand situation bodes well for NIPF landowners in the south-central U.S. (Wear & Greis, 2003). Foresters frequently illustrated a hypothetical economic analysis showing projected growth and monetary returns from forest investments. This situation varied considerably among geographic areas within the South, because pine forests have a different set of constraints and projections than hardwood forests.

The "Question-and-Answer" session was an opportunity for participants to query professionals attending the workshop. This session included the speakers, county foresters, county agents, and USDA personnel. Through this process, we were able to clarify points or address specific landowner concerns, and this was a valuable part of the workshop.

An evaluation was collected from participants at the conclusion of the workshop. A total of 739 useable evaluations were obtained from workshop participants, (57%) during 2003. Couples frequently completed only one evaluation, and speakers did not participate.

Results

Table 1 contains the workshop attendance and evaluation information. Results indicated that landowners derived great value from these programs. Landowners felt the information they received would help them increase revenues by managing their timber. They estimated the value of the information received at $6.8 million, or $427,156 per workshop, which translated into an economic benefit of $5,249 per participant (Table 1). While it was difficult to assess the accuracy of landowner estimates, they were in the best position to know what they will or will not do on their land in the future. Also, these figures could actually be conservative, because fewer than half of participants completing an evaluation put an economic value on the workshop. Most indicated that they will benefit monetarily from the workshop, but the economic impact was either not listed or unknown.

Table 1.
Evaluation Summary for 16 Underserved Forest Landowner Workshops Held During 2003 in
Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee

State

Attendance

Average Attendance

Acres Owned

Value to Landowner ($)

Value per Participant ($)

Arkansas

433

108.3

41,907

2,054,000

4,744

Louisiana

346

86.5

18,814

2,498,000

7,220

Mississippi

346

86.5

31,228

2,054,500

5,938

Tennessee

177

44.3

15,204

228,000

1,288

Overall

1,302

81.4

107,153

6,834,500

5,249

Attendance was higher than that normally associated with "traditional" Extension forestry workshops and averaged 81.4 attendees (range 21 to 141). This is considerably higher than the 17 participants per short course reported by Londo and Monaghan (2002). Arkansas averaged the highest number of participants (108.3), followed by Louisiana (86.5), Mississippi (86.5), and Tennessee (44.3). Most important, conversations with county Extension agents, USDA representatives, and other workshop participants responsible for working with landowners revealed that most participants were "new" to them, thus indicating that we were reaching the targeted audience.

We were interested in how participants learned of the workshop. This would help plan, promote, and conduct more successful Extension programs in the future. The evaluation form included a question asking, "How did you learn about this workshop?" Landowners were requested to check all that applied. Options listed in the evaluation included a letter, brochure/flyer, newspapers, radio, church, personal contacts, and other. Figure 1 shows the percentage of responses received for each item. Direct mail (the landowner letter) was the primary way participants learned about the workshop. This has important implications for Extension programs, because publicity relying on more traditional techniques (i.e., news releases, radio, TV) was not as effective, particularly with the underserved audience. Direct mail was expensive, but had obvious benefits where it could serve as a database for landowners when conducting future programs.

Figure 1.
How Forest Landowners Learned About the Workshop

Ways forest land owners learned about this workshop based on an evaluation form.

 

Direct mail was the most effective way to reach forest landowners. Figure 2 illustrates a direct relationship between the number of landowner letters mailed and workshop attendance (R2 = 0.7201). Workshop attendance as a percentage of landowner letters mailed averaged 6.6%, or 16 letters per workshop participant. The cost of mailing landowner letters was a concern, particularly with declining Extension budgets. Considering the high costs involved in planning and conducting a workshop for underserved landowners, and the difficulty in reaching this non-traditional audience, this appeared to be a wise investment. Direct mail alone, however, may miss clientele, such as landowners residing in a county where an Extension program will be held, but owning land in another county or state.

Figure 2.
The Impact of Mailing Letters to NIPF Landowners on Workshop Attendance

How mailing letters to NIPF landowners impacts workshop attendance.

Only 12% of respondents indicated they learned of the workshop from the newspaper, the traditional means of advertising Extension programs. This reflected the decline in average weekday newspaper readership from 75.8% of the population in 1967, to 55.4% in 2002 (Newspaper Assoc. of Amer., 2003). Additionally, a large number of landowners were absentee landowners and did not subscribe to local newspapers or learn about workshops through local media outlets. Measells, Grado, Hughes, Dunn, Idassi, & Zielinske (manuscript submitted for publication) found the main reason landowners cited for not attending a forestry program was because they were unaware of it. As a result, we will continue to use all techniques to publicize our programs to reach all potential clients

We were also interested in any change in behavior as a result of the workshop. Specifically, we focused on whether the workshop would encourage landowners to use professional foresters. Landowners benefit both economically and otherwise when they use a professional forester (Munn & Franklin, 1995). Therefore, the evaluation asked two questions in succession. First, "Have you used a professional forester in the past?" Second, "Do you plan to use a professional forester in the future?" Overall, 45% of landowners used a forester in the past, while 90% plan to use one in the future. This demonstrated a fundamental shift in how participants view foresters. Rather than viewing foresters as a cost, landowners apparently perceived foresters as a benefit or an investment.

The model for this type of workshop has broad implications across the South and nationally. This is particularly true in states with a large forest base, a large number of NIPF landowners, and access to markets. Individuals who do not know where to go for assistance will benefit from participating in these efforts. By using tax roll information, we were able to reach forest landowners frequently not aware of or involved in federal, state, and local programs. Many forest landowners also felt that getting professional advice was expensive relative to potential benefits. Correcting misperceptions and making them aware of the importance of obtaining professional forestry advice will have long-term, positive impacts that will last for decades.

The U.S. is in the midst of a huge generational shift in assets from the World War II generation to the Baby Boomer generation. Recent surveys revealed that 27% to 37% of Baby Boomers received or expect to receive an inheritance (Ng-Baumhackl, Gist, & Figueiredo, 2003). In many families, forestland is a significant portion of this inheritance. The farming population, at 30% of the population in 1920, declined to 17% of the population in 1950, to 2% of the population in 1986 (Rasmussen, 1989). Most Baby Boomers grew up in an urban environment, were more disconnected from the land than their parents, and were frequently unfamiliar with resources and assistance available to them as landowners. Consequently, this demographic group represents an opportunity for Extension to enhance the personal satisfaction and improve the financial well-being of these forest landowners through improved forest and wildlife management. Capturing this opportunity will require programs that address their needs as well as publicity that reaches these diverse landowners.

Conclusion

Underserved forest landowner workshops conducted in the south-central U.S. consistently attracted larger numbers of participants than more traditional Extension forestry programs. Most participants were "new" to Extension and USDA personnel, indicating we were reaching the underserved landowner. Evaluations indicated that landowners valued the information received and anticipated greater monetary returns because of the workshop information. Local planning committees helped plan, promote, and conduct the workshop.

Workshops were publicized extensively, but landowner evaluations revealed that the primary way landowners learned about the workshop was through a letter sent through the mail. Landowner databases were developed from tax roll information, and letters were mailed to landowners with 10 or more acres of forestland. Workshop attendance was directly related to the number of landowner letters mailed.

Ninety percent of all workshop participants plan to use a professional forester in the future, whereas 45% used a forester in the past. This demonstrated that the workshop has the potential to successfully convey the importance of obtaining professional forestry advice. Similar workshops can succeed in other southern states or across the nation, particularly where ownership is dominated by NIPF landowners.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the USDA Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program for funding the project. We also thank the Forest and Wildlife Research Center at Mississippi State University for the use of facilities and resources. This manuscript is publication No. FO272 of the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi State University.

References

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Downing, A. K., & Finley, J. C. (2005). Private forest landowners: What they want in an education program. Journal of Extension [On-line], 43(1) Article 1RIB4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2005february/rb4.shtml

Hubbard, W. G. (1999). Economic impact of forestry and forest products in the rural South. Southern Perspectives 3, 2-5, 16. Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS.

Jones, W.D., Munn, I.A., Grado, S.C., & Jones, J.C. (2001). Fee hunting: An income source for Mississippi's non-industrial, private landowners. Forest and Wildlife Research Center Research Bulletin FO164, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS.

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Wear D. N., & Greis, J. G. (2003). Assessing the South's forests. Forest Landowner 62(2), 27-29.