Foresters hear updates on industry, state budget

(03/17/16) ALEXANDRIA, La. – More than 125 foresters and landowners attended the LSU AgCenter Cenla Forestry Forum Tuesday (March 15) to learn about new industry developments.

Among the issues were possible state budget cuts to the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, said the AgCenter faces potential cuts in addition to the ones already made this year.

The funding for the next fiscal year will be up to the legislature. “We’re not sure by the end of June if everything will be taken care of,” Vandersteen said.

Roughly $1 billion is needed in additional revenue or budget cuts to prevent a deficit in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and that could mean a loss of services, he said.

“What would it mean if we didn’t have the LSU AgCenter? The research, 4-H programs, the leadership and the crop programs,” Vandersteen said. “There’s a real threat we could lose them to make up $1 billion.”

Vandersteen said Shawn Wilson, the new secretary for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, asked him if permitting processes for trucking could be improved. “The door is cracked open to streamline some of these permitting processes,” Vandersteen said.

Wade Dubea, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry state forester, said his department, with a current budget of $15.5 million, could be cut by $6 million in the upcoming fiscal year. The legislature could act to lessen the reduction, but “I don’t see all $6 million being restored,” he said.

A $6 million cut would force him to lay off 67 of the 103 state firefighters, he said.

It’s likely the state aircraft fleet with eight pilots and 12 airplanes also would be reduced. But contracting the work to private companies is not a good alternative, and using fire towers is not acceptable, Dubea said. “We cannot go back to fire towers,” he added.

The economic outlook for wood products is mixed, said LSU AgCenter forestry economist Shaun Tanger.

Housing starts increased nationwide last year, but a larger percentage of the increase was for multi-family homes that use less wood. “We want the percentage of single-family homes to be as high as possible,” Tanger said.

An overabundance of saw timber is depressing prices, and pulpwood prices are higher in Louisiana than in other states, he said.

Rick Williams, state forester for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, detailed cost-share programs for forest landowners to establish longleaf pine forests.

Chuck Battaglia, a biologist from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, gave an overview of the state’s Natural Heritage Program. He said the Louisiana pine snake could be listed as endangered through the Endangered Species Act.

Landowners with property in critical habitat areas who voluntarily sign up with the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances program would agree to use best management practices designed to benefit the snake and its habitat in their silviculture operations, he said.

Bill Nethery, of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, discussed the silviculture exemption under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Paul Spillers, an attorney and tree farmer, talked about tax laws related to the timber industry.

3/17/2016 3:41:41 PM
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