Brian R. Chandler, Morgan, Johnny W. | 4/6/2007 1:31:06 AM
Landowners, government officials and the forest industry members attended the LSU AgCenter’s Florida Parishes Forestry Forum late last month in Hammond and heard about some of the latest developments in the industry.
The March 23 forum, which was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and held on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University, operated under the theme of "Urbanization and Fragmentation of Timberlands in the Florida Parishes."
LSU AgCenter area forester Brian Chandler, who coordinated the forum, said it was designed to provide information on some of the issues and problems caused by the fragmentation of forests – explaining this fragmentation is being caused by division of family properties as generations pass them on and heirs take ownership.
Topics covered at the forum included factors driving urban development of forest land in southeastern Louisiana, Tangipahoa’s land use planning and zoning, the effects of forestry-related ordinances on harvesting in the area, changing ownership of forest lands, why loggers shun small tracts, identifying fire risks and other issues affecting forest industries.
Among the speakers was Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess, who talked about the parish’s land use planning and zoning and parish leaders’ expectations for the future.
"We are basically on a fact-finding mission at this point," Burgess said. "We’re gathering information to take back to help determine the proper course of action needed to move forward."
Burgess said parish leaders realize changes are inevitable for the use of land in the parish, but they want to use the best information in efforts to try to drive positive changes.
Regarding another parish’s land-use regulations, Jeanine Meeds, a forest owner from the Big Branch community in St. Tammany Parish, said her property is close to Fountainebleau Park and she wants it to stay as a natural setting.
"In the past few years the federal government has come in a purchased a great deal of land and converted it into a federal wildlife refuge" she said. "I’m a conservationist, and I grow trees because I want to, and the regulations in St. Tammany Parish don’t affect me as much as it does some other people."
Meeds said she plans to keep her land undeveloped in order to provide wildlife habitat and to help clean the water. "I can’t think of anything that I would rather be doing than growing trees," she said.
Turning to other issues affecting forestry, Gaston Lanaux III, owner of Lanaux Consulting Foresters of Husser, said the biggest problem affecting the forest industry in the Southeast right now is the new global economy.
"Timber companies are looking to save every dollar they possibly can, so they are able to compete in world markets," said Lanaux, who was a member of a panel discussing issues affecting the industry. "Some of the big timber companies own forestland in South America and New Zealand, and they are taking a look at how competitive they are. And they realize that there are some huge cost advantages in South America."
Lanaux said he’s concerned about some of the timber companies selling their mills in Louisiana and moving out of the state.
"I’m also concerned about Timber Investment Management Organizations (TEMOs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (RITs), because they are going to create more urban sprawl," he said.
"The TEMOs and RITs have been buying up timberland for the past five years, and nobody seems to know what their plans are for this land," Lanaux said.
When asked about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the market, Lanaux said it has had a devastating affect – "especially in St. Tammany Parish, where forest landowners got clobbered."
He said some of the growers panicked and literally gave their timber away before they got professional advice.
Approximately 100 people attended the daylong forum to obtain information that will help them make decisions about the marketing and treatment of their timber crops.
For additional information about forestry – the state’s leading agricultural industry – visit www.lsuagcenter.com.