A new Mississippi State study finds that nearly 75 percent of Mid-South forest landowners fail to take advantage of available educational and professional resources.
A recent survey by the university's Forest and Wildlife Research Center focused on individuals owning 10 or more acres of forestland in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. MSU researchers identified as 'underserved' all those whose responses indicated they do not consult with a professional forester, use forestry-related educational programs or were not members of a forestry-related organization.
The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.
"The high percentage of underserved forest landowners indicates a need for more comprehensive outreach efforts," said project director Stephen C. Grado. Without such information, many of the region's 4.9 million non-industrial private forest landowners will not realize the full benefits of their forestland, the forestry professor added.
"Landowners with small- to mid-sized tracts in particular often lack knowledge and training, making their lands less productive and more often neglected," Grado said. Improved outreach efforts by academic institutions, professional organizations and others can ultimately result in improved forestry practices and enhanced economic viability of the lands, he said.
According to the study:
Only 37 percent of landowners say they previously have consulted with a professional forester;
60 percent said they have not previously received forestry information; and
86 percent have never attended a forestry-related educational program.
Despite this self-admitted lack of contact with professionals, respondents nevertheless indicated an interest in educational programs focusing on wildlife management, insects and diseases, marketing, harvesting, and best management practices on their forestland.
"Many of those surveyed were unfamiliar with the federal and state government assistance," said project co-investigator Joshua Idassi.
An MSU graduate now serving as an extension assistant professor of forestry at Tennessee State University, Idassi said, "Some three-quarters of the respondents were not familiar with cost-share programs and 83 percent were not aware of government tax incentives for forest landowners."
"In fact," he observed, "only 18 percent had made use of available tax incentives."
The researchers said the study gives forestry educators and organizations 'a blueprint' of needs among an important constituency. Because small landowners often value their land more for amenity values, both agreed that the need for active forest management often is understated.
"Regardless of tract size or ownership objectives, most landowners can benefit from even minor management improvement," Grado said. "If the forestry community pursues educational programs and activities to reach underserved landowners, they can become more knowledgeable about ways to realize the full range of benefits from owning forestland."
For more information about the study, contact Grado at (662) 325-2792 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.