Reared in a military family, my early years were regimented and disciplined. Standing at attention every Saturday morning at my door, I would salute Dad as he entered to inspect my bedroom. With white gloves on he would check for dust on the furniture, pull a book from the bookshelf and blow air at the top binding checking for dust and throw a quarter on the bed to see how high it bounced.
Although responsibility, organization and leadership skills were learned, I found myself drawn to the tranquility of nature and soon chose a career that I thought would keep me in the solitude.
To my surprise, forestry and agriculture are equally a “people” business as they are a crop-growing business. Dad’s cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” resonates in my mind.
Through the years, relationships are formed in our crop-growing industry that gives testimony to Dad’s cliché, not to diminish our own personal knowledge and experiences. Relationships are formed with our coworkers, business professionals, industry leaders, landowners, loggers, college professors, professional association members and government officials, just to name a few.
Agriculture and forestry are deemed essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic only making us more aware of the importance of our relationships and networking in this industry.
According to 2017 LSU AgCenter figures, the forest products industry’s impact on the Louisiana economy was almost $12.92 billion. This large economic impact makes it imperative for landowners and government to work together to benefit each other.
Landowners grow timber, loggers harvest timber, mills produce usable goods for consumers and the government collects taxes to maintain infrastructure.
When trees are harvested a severance tax is levied which yielded, for example, $13.62 million in 2018, which supports many statewide programs. Seventy-five percent of this tax is returned to the parish in which the trees were harvested to help maintain and build infrastructure. The remaining 25 percent is held within the state’s general fund in which a portion is used as a partial reimbursement incentive to forest landowners to implement various forest management activities through the Forest Productivity Program (FPP).
In addition to severance tax, the property ad valorem tax levied on property owners also benefits the local government by sustaining and advancing Louisiana’s business climate, therefore, encouraging the creation of additional markets for our natural resource.
Pine forests are in abundance and reveal themselves while traveling the rural roads of our state. The FPP incentive program through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has successfully provided the means to grow a wealth of the renewable natural resource. It is now up to the timber landowners, working with government officials, to encourage the growth of new markets.
How do timber landowners voice their concerns to a government that has ears open to a multitude of special interest groups?
As previously discussed, the government is very much aware of the revenue-producing potential of the timber industry and that is a big start to bending their ears.
Timber landowners can build professional and personal relationships with those who are in political office or aspiring for political office who share the same ideals in this coveted industry. A candidate who is also a timber landowner will certainly be a strong voice when bills are introduced, debated and voted.
A single private timber landowner’s voice is not loud enough to resonate in the senate and representative houses; however; an association of voice is deafening. The Louisiana Forestry Association (LFA) offers timber landowners a collective voice to address policy and lawmakers in Baton Rouge about our industry’s concerns and the effects of legislative policy. The LFA has maintained awareness for all needs of the timber landowner and sends notices to members along with the quarterly magazine publication “Forests & People” with usable information to better our forests and potentially building relationships with others in our industry.
Also, the forestry political action committee (ForPAC) offers endorsements for political office candidates that are timber industry advocates. I encourage all those reading this article to call your neighboring timber landowner and invite them to become members of the LFA which will certainly strengthen our voice in Baton Rouge.
As tree farmers, we all enjoy the intrinsic benefits our forests offer, allowing us to escape from the stresses of everyday life; however, as stewards of this precious natural resource we are mindful that we are part of a bigger community that depends on the forest products we produce. Continue to be active in this community. Introduce yourself and start relationships with your parish state forester, city mayors, state senators, state representatives, local Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) representatives, adjoining landowners, attend seminars and workshops of interest and maintain and encourage membership in the Louisiana Forestry Association.
A wealth of benefits is offered to landowners who build and maintain these relationships and the future of Louisiana forestry will continue to be optimistic.
(Steve Lenox is a consulting forester for Muslow Forestry Inc. in Shreveport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)