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Underserved Forest Landowner Workshops: An Opportunity for Both Landowners and Extension

H. Glenn Hughes & Thomas A. Monaghan

Department of Forestry, Mississippi State University, USA.
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Twenty-nine county-level Underserved Forest Landowner Workshops were conducted from 1998-2000 to address the needs of minority, female, and other underserved landowners. These workshops were sponsored by the MSU Extension Service, local County Forestry Associations, state and federal agencies, and others. Each workshop required a diverse local planning committee to plan, promote, and conduct the workshop. Speakers included tree farmers, foresters, and an attorney, and addressed the following topics:

  • Legal and ownership issues
  • Marketing and environmental issues
  • Economics of forestry
  • Sources of assistance.

The workshop concluded with a 30-minute question-and-answer session, a brief written evaluation, and a meal.

The workshops effectively reached many people “new” to extension. County Agents regularly felt that 50-70% of participants were new contacts. Workshop evaluations reveal that:

  • 2,934 people attended (101 people per workshop);
  • 60% of participants were either minority or female landowners;
  • landowners valued the information obtained at $21.3 million ($7,240 per participant);
  • 35% of landowners have used a professional forester in the past; but 96% of landowners plan to use a professional forester in the future.

The success of these workshops resulted in funding for more county-level workshops in 2001, and this project has been expanded to a regional (5-state) effort. This model program has international implications in areas with significant numbers of private, non-industrial forest landowners


Mississippi is in the southeastern United States. Forestland ownership in Mississippi and the southern U.S. is a significant family asset. The economic opportunities available to landowners are the result of several factors:

  • an extensive forestland base with 61% (7.5 million ha) of Mississippi’s land area in forestland (Hartsell and London 1995);
  • forest ownership dominated by private non-industrial forest (PNIF) landowners, who own 66% of the forestland in the state (Hartsell and London 1995);
  • highly productive forests, with 43% of Mississippi’s forests classified as “highly productive”, whereas only 13% of forests nationwide are classified as “highly productive” (Hartsell and London 1995, Powell et al. 1994);
  • diverse timber markets available to landowners (e.g., pulpwood, chip-n-saw, sawtimber, veneer logs, and poles); and
  • opportunities for agroforestry, fee hunting, and other alternative use enterprises available to forest landowners.

Approximately 175,000 individuals own at least 4 ha of forestland in Mississippi (Doolittle 1996). Many of these landowners have limited forestry knowledge, and these landowners and their lands represent a wide spectrum of social, economic, and environmental conditions. Few landowners have large ownerships, possess considerable forestry expertise, and actively manage their forestland. Landowners often have small acreages of forestland, own land “in common” with other family members, do not realize their forests’ economic potential, and are less likely to implement environmental protection practices (Mount 1997).

Because small PNIF landowners generally lack forestry knowledge and training, their lands are less productive and more often neglected than other ownership categories. This situation is particularly acute among minorities, females, and other landowners not generally served by current federal and state programs. Additionally, they are either unaware of, or perceive that they cannot afford to pay for, private consulting services. For the purpose of this project, we have identified these owners as “underserved forest landowners.”

Underserved forest landowners are part of a complex and often confusing system involving the management, marketing, harvesting, regeneration, and protection of our nation’s forests. The system includes forest landowners, foresters, loggers, contractors, wood dealers, industries, government agencies, and local communities. Underserved landowners tend to be passive participants in this system. If they were more knowledgeable and active in the system, their benefits from and contributions to this system would increase significantly, from both an economic and environmental perspective.

The factors that prevent landowners from realizing the full potential of their forestland are related to a lack of knowledge and consequent passive management strategies more so than inherently unproductive land. Fortunately, knowledge can be gained and landowners can adopt active management strategies if they so desire.


Our goal was to develop a model educational program to enhance the management of forestland owned by underserved landowners in Mississippi. To reach this goal, we established a program planning effort with the following objectives:

  • identify needs of underserved landowners;
  • develop a strategy for addressing these needs;
  • plan and implement county-level programs in selected areas in Mississippi; and
  • evaluate and improve the workshop format and content.

This paper describes the 29 county-level Underserved Forest Landowner Workshops conducted from 1998-2000, as well as future directions.

Program Planning

Most traditional forestry extension programs focus on specific technical areas such as thinning, planting, wildlife management, herbicides, and other aspects of forest management. These programs are described in Monaghan (1997). Though helpful for many landowners, these programs often fail to address more basic obstacles faced by many underserved forest landowners. Using informal group meetings and personal contacts with landowners, agency personnel, and others, we identified several potential obstacles faced by this target audience. These obstacles include, but are not limited to:

  • complex ownership patterns that make it difficult, and in some cases almost impossible, to manage the land;
  • lack of familiarity and trust prevents landowners from utilizing professional forestry assistance;
  • concerns about economic returns from forest investments; and
  • landowners are unsure who to contact for various sources of technical, financial, and educational assistance.

Based on this input, we developed and refined a workshop agenda to address these needs.

Local Planning Committee

Each workshop required a diverse Local Planning Committee. The committee helped plan, promote, fund, and conduct the workshop, and was critical to a successful program. The committee consisted of 12-15 members from the local community, and included landowners, state and federal forestry/natural resource agency personnel, foresters, county supervisors, ministers, attorneys, bankers, and other key community leaders. It was important to obtain a broad spectrum of the community, including minority and female representation.

The planning committee, composed of local community members and leaders, had greater personal contacts than we in extension. This helped inform our target audience of this workshop, added credibility to the overall effort, and contributed to the workshop’s success. Committees met approximately three times prior to the actual workshop, so this did not require an inordinate amount of time from committee members. In most cases, the County Agent served as committee chair. Though not mandatory, this promoted consistency and enabled better communication between the committee and those in charge of the overall project.


The agenda changed little since the first series of workshops. We made some minor refinements, but a typical agenda consists of the following:

  • Welcome and Introduction (local moderator, 10 minutes);
  • Landowners Perspective (local landowner, 20 minutes);
  • Ownership Issues (attorney, 30 minutes);
  • Marketing and Environmental Issues (forester, 30 minutes);
  • Economics of Forestry (forester, 30 minutes);
  • Question-and-Answer Session (speakers plus other resource personnel, 30 minutes);
  • Evaluation (5 minutes); and
  • Meal.

A 15-minute break occurred after the section on Ownership Issues. Immediately prior to the break, a representative from the local county forestry association (CFA) explained to participants what the CFA does, and how it benefits them through educational, informational, and other avenues. The dues structure is relatively minor, usually $10 US per year. The CFA usually obtained 10-15 members during the break.

We conducted workshops in several different time periods, but our best success was with workshops conducted on Saturday morning. A typical program had registration at 8:30 a.m., the program starting at 9:00, concluding at 12:00, and followed by a meal.

Each participant received a folder containing about 25 publications dealing with wills, taxation, regeneration, Best Management Practices (BMPs), economics, wildlife management, and other forestry-related topics. Perhaps the most useful publication was a one-page “Sources of Assistance” document that listed names, phone numbers, and brief responsibilities for the county forester, county agent, Natural Resources Conservation Service contact, and the Farm Services Agency contact. These federal or state employees are important contacts for technical, financial, and educational assistance for landowners. The “Sources of Assistance” also briefly described the local county forestry association, the Mississippi Forestry Association, consulting foresters, and forest industry landowner assistance programs.


This effort involved extensive publicity including direct mail, personal contacts, newspaper articles, flyers/brochures, church contacts, and radio. Direct mail required special efforts. To reach as many forest landowners as possible, we purchased tax rolls for every county in the state. Forestland is categorized as “uncultivated agricultural land” on the tax rolls, and enabled us to better identify forest landowners. When conducting a workshop in a county, we sent a letter to all landowners with 4 or more ha of uncultivated agricultural land. Landowners received these letters about three weeks prior to the workshop, and we required advance registration to plan the meal.

Results and Discussion

This effort has been a tremendous success. More than 2,900 people attended the 29 workshops conducted in this three-year period, for an average of 101 people per workshop (Table 1). The majority of the audience consisted of minorities and females, and most were “new” to the County Agent. Agents continue to receive calls from landowners as a result of this program.

The evaluation revealed that the vast majority of participants (81%) felt the workshop would help them earn more money from managing their timber (Table 1). Participants estimated the economic value from the information received at $21.3 million, or $7,240 per participant. This may be a conservative estimate because 1) not all participants completed evaluations, and 2) 50-60% of respondents indicated that the economic benefit, though positive, was unknown at present. Thus, the true economic impact could greatly exceed the $21.3 indicated.

A real-life example illustrates how these workshops can benefit private landowners. In July of 1999 a woman attended a workshop. She had inherited 5.7 ha from her father, who had planted pines many years before. One month before the workshop she was offered $8,000 US for the timber on this land and was ready to sign a contract. However, at the workshop she learned that she would benefit from professional help, so she contacted a consulting forester. After looking at the timber, he said he could get more than $8,000 by requesting bids, so he conducted the timber sale for the landowner. The timber sold for $54,000 US. Thus, the 3-hour workshop made this woman $46,000.

Evaluations revealed that although 35% of the participants used a professional forester in the past, fully 96% plan to use a professional forester in the future (Table 1). This represents a considerable change in behavior. Even if partially realized, it will significantly benefit landowners. Munn (1996) analyzed almost 300 timber sales and found that consultants consistently outperformed laymen (landowners) by an average of 20%. With the average consultant fee of 8.5%, the net gain to landowners was 11.5%. This would likely be even greater for underserved landowners, who generally “sell” (as opposed to aggressively market) their timber. Additionally, many underserved landowners often cut their timber prematurely, when still rapidly accumulating volume and value (Mount 1996). Professional advice on scheduling harvests could save landowners a considerable amount of money in the long run.

Table 1: Attendance and Evaluation Summary for Under-served Forest Landowner Workshops in Mississippi








Number of workshops







Total attendance







Average Attendance







Do you feel this workshop will



665 (79%)


1,237 (81%)

help you earn more money?



13 (2%)

3 (1%)

17 (1%)



0 (0%)

164 (19%)

105 (21%)

269 (18%)




If yes, how much?







Has a professional forester


49 (26%)

354 (42%)

147 (28%)

550 (35%)

ever helped you with the


142 (74%)

490 (58%)


1,003 (65%)

management of your property?




Do you plan to use a


177 (97%)

762 (95%)

494 (96%)

1,433 (96%)

professional forester in the


6 (3%)

36 (5%)

19 (4%)

61 (4%)





Do you have a written forest



168 (20%)


219 (17%)

management plan? *



664 (80%)

466 (90%)

1,130 (83%)




Approximately how many acres






of land do you own?


How did you learn about


241 (53%)

273 (58%)

514 (55%)

this workshop?**

Personal Contact

73 (17%)

74 (16%)

147 (16%)


Flyer / Brochure

38 (8%)

28 (6%)

66 (7%)



56 (12%)

49 (10%)

105 (11%)



17 (4%)

9 (2%)

26 (3%)



7 (2%)

1 (0%)

8 (1%)



26 (6%)

39 (8%)

62 (7%)




*Question added to the evaluation form in 1999.

**This question was added to the form in mid-1999. Participants could have learned of workshop from multiple sources.

As expected, few people had written management plans. Birch (1997) found that 5% of forest landowners in the South had written forest management plans. Our results (17%) are slightly higher than that of Birch.

Having such a workshop is useful only if landowner know about the program. How people learned of the workshop was both important and revealing. Although numerous publicity efforts were used, the landowner letter, sent through direct mail, was the most effective. It was the most-frequently cited reason participants learned of the workshop (55% of participant responses). The next highest response was personal contact (16% of responses). This indicates the importance of direct mail and justifies significant postage expenses if such an effort is to succeed.

Future Directions

By the end of 2001 we will have conducted six additional workshops, and are planning more for 2002. This project will serve as a model that other states can use to reach underserved forest landowners in significant numbers. We have joined with four adjacent states; Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, in developing a regional effort in underserved forest landowner research and education. This project has been funded, and we are beginning the research component to better understand what motivates the underserved forest landowner. The education component will involve workshops in each of the five states over the next two years.


Landowners not reached through traditional extension programs benefited from Underserved Forest Landowner Workshops. The workshops addressed some of the basic ownership, marketing, environmental, and economic issues faced by many landowners, recognizing that these issues must be addressed before more technical forestry issues can be discussed. The model program described has international implications, particularly in regions with significant number of private, non-industrial forest landowners.

Each workshop required a diverse Local Planning Committee to help plan, promote, and conduct the workshop. This “grass-roots” approach appears preferable to “top-down” solutions in which landowners and others have limited input. Special efforts were required to reach this target audience, with direct mail the most effective way to publicize the workshop. Due to the success of this model program, Mississippi and four adjoining states are conducting a regional research and education effort targeting underserved forest landowners.


1. Birch, T.A. 1997. Private forest landowners of the southern United States, 1994. USDA For. Serv. Resource Bull. NE-138. 195pp.

2. Doolittle, L. 1996. An inventory of private landowners in Mississippi. Unnumbered Publication, Social Science Research Center, Mississippi Sate University, MS State.

3. Hartsell, A.J., and J.D. London. 1995. Forest statistics for Mississippi counties—1994. USDA For. Serv. Resource Bull. SO-190. 89pp.

4. Monaghan, T.A. 1997. The development, implementation, and evaluation of forestry short courses for land owners in Mississippi. Pages 387-394 in: R. Beck (ed.) Approaches to extension in forestry: Experiences and future developments. IUFRO Extension Publication No. 1.

5. Mount, P.R. 1996. Natural resource education and extension in the Historically Black Universities and Colleges. Pages 54-57 in: M. Baughman (ed.) Proceedings, Symposium on non-industrial private forests: Learning from the past, prospects for the future. Minnesota Extension Service, St. Paul.

6. Munn, I.A. 1996. Public, private, expert, layman: Who’s selling makes a difference. Pages 386-393 in: M. Baughman (ed.) Proceedings, Symposium on non-industrial private forests: Learning from the past, prospects for the future. Minnesota Extension Service, St. Paul.

7. Powell, D.S., J.L. Faulkner, D.R. Zarr, Z. Zhu, and D.W. MacCleery. 1994. Forest resources of the United States, 1992. USDA Forest Serv. Gen. Tech. Rept. RM-234 (Revised). 132pp.

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