Study On Forests, Forest Products Sets Stage For Educational Programs

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Certified forests may be the next trend in lumber marketing, but non-industrial, private forest landowners generally are unwilling to foot the bill, according to a recent study.

This and other results of the study conducted with landowners in Louisiana and Mississippi by researchers at the LSU AgCenter and Mississippi State University will be used to provide the background needed for developing a Web site and handbook on forestland certification, said Dr. Richard Vlosky, director of the Louisiana Forest Products Development Center in the LSU AgCenter.

Vlosky and the other researchers, Dr. Michael Dunn, an economist with the LSU AgCenter, and Dr. Glenn Hughes, an extension professor of forestry at Mississippi State University, also are using the study to identify the current and potential future certification systems and products acceptable to major home retail centers.

The study was conducted using two mail surveys. The first was sent to 2,400 randomly selected forest landowners in Louisiana and Mississippi. The second was sent to the top 500 home retail centers in the United States.

"The landowner survey sought to determine how well landowners understand forest certification as well as the amount of money they may or may not be willing to spend to become certified," Vlosky said.

The researcher said certification requires that the forest landowner establish sustainable management practices – although not all certifying agencies have exactly the same requirements.

Vlosky said private non-industrial landowners often are confused about certification programs they’re asked to participate in. "This has implications for landowners," he said.

Louisiana has about 144,000 private, non-industrial forest landowners who own most of the forest land in the state, Vlosky said.
Nearly half of the landowners who responded stated they understand the concept of forest certification well or to some degree, Vlosky said. But more than three-quarters are unwilling to bear the cost of certification.

Of the 123 home centers that responded, one-third said they sell certified wood products and that those products make up an average of 38 percent of their wood product sales by value, Vlosky said.

More than two-thirds of those that sell certified wood products anticipate a moderate or significant increase in their sales in the next five years, he added.

"For the landowner, home center responses mean certification is growing and demand for this market segment is growing," Vlosky said. "If landowners want to sell to a mill that sells to those home centers, they need to be aware of the market conditions involved in certifying timberland."

Vlosky said the survey shows 65 percent of the non-industrial forest landowners believe environmentalists are responsible for the move toward certification. And less than 50 percent said they understood the concept.

"These landowners need to see the cost benefit of certification," Vlosky said, pointing out that nearly 80 percent said they are unwilling to certify their forestlands.

"They’re unclear of the link between their land and the market dynamic," Vlosky said.

The researchers will use the information from the study to develop extension educational materials for landowners in Mississippi and Louisiana. It will include Internet-based information, landowner seminars and a primer on forest certification for non-industrial landowners.

"Investing in forest land is a long-term enterprise, and helping non-industrial private forest landowners plan for the future is a long-standing goal of the Cooperative Extension Service," Vlosky said.

"The study better frames certification-related issues from the perspectives of both the forest landowner seeking to sell timber and the retailer looking for the best way to market and sell the products that originate from certified forests," he added.

The project is funded by the Southern Region U.S. Department of Agriculture Program on Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education and combines research and extension activities of both the LSU AgCenter and Mississippi State University to identify the potential for providing certified forest products in Louisiana and Mississippi.