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MEMBERSHIP DOLLARS AT WORK
The U.S. Congress has passed legislation designed to provide financial disaster relief assistance to private landowners affected by the 2005 hurricanes in the Gulf region.
The Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, signed by President Bush on December 21, contains some beneficial tax provisions designed for small, private forest landowners.
Separately, several forest restoration programs were included in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill. Summary information on these provisions and programs is presented below. The total funding for these programs is $950 million, to be shared among affected states. Additional details and more explanatory information will be released soon.
Wildlife Mississippi members, staff and partners have been working diligently on these disaster relief measures for Mississippi's forest landowners since Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. Wildlife Mississippi wishes to gratefully thank and acknowledge the invaluable contributions to this united effort made by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the Mississippi State University (MSU) College of Forest Resources, the MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center, the MSU Extension Service, the Mississippi Forestry Association, the Mississippi Loggers Association, Terpstra Associates, the American Forest and Paper Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service.
According to William J. Van Devender, President of Wildlife Mississippi, “We wish to especially thank and recognize the outstanding leadership and support of Governor Haley Barbour, Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Trent Lott, Congressman Roger Wicker, Congressman Chip Pickering, Congressman Bennie Thompson and Congressman Gene Taylor. We also wish to thank the many personal and committee staff members that worked on the legislation. Some of these include Mark Keenum, West Higginbothom, Manny Rossman, Aubert Kimball, Lanier Avant, Cade King, Stephen Peranich, Martha Scott Poindexter, Keith Kennedy, Hunter Moorhead, Rebecca Davies, Bruce Evans, Doug Crandall and Bill Imbergamo. Without their full support and dedicated leadership, these historically unprecedented relief measures for forest landowners would not have been possible.”
DIRECT FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS:
Emergency Conservation Program
The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), which will be administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), has been funded at $199,800,000. It will be available to private, non industrial forest landowners for payments of 50 percent of the cost of reforestation, rehabilitation and other conservation structures, not to exceed $150 per acre. Cost-share typically does not exceed $50,000 per person.
To be eligible to receive a payment, a forest landowner must have suffered a loss of, or damage to, at least 35 percent of his or her forest acres in a county affected by Hurricane Katrina. During the 5-year period beginning on the date of the loss, the landowner must reforest the lost forest acres in accordance with a plan approved by the FSA that is appropriate for the forest type, such as longleaf pine, use best management practices and exercise good stewardship while maintaining the land in a forested state.
Emergency Watershed Program
The Emergency Watershed Program (EWP), which will be administered by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), was funded at $300,000,000.
The NRCS will cost-share with landowners to clean up structures on private land and to reimburse private, non industrial forest landowners for costs associated with downed timber removal, not to exceed $150 per acre.
Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program
The largest program is the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP), which was funded at $404,100,000. These funds are made available for the creation of a new forest specific reserve program, which will be similar to the Conservation Reserve Program.
Private forest landowners can enroll their lands in a 10-year EFCRP contract for either a lump-sum payment based on a net present value formula or an annual rental payment equal to the average rental rate for conservation reserve contracts in the county in which the land is located. Eligibility shall be limited to owners that have experienced a loss of 35 percent or more of merchantable timber.
Other Direct Financial Assistance Provisions
In addition to the programs described above, $30,000,000 has been made available to the U.S. Forest Service's State and Private Forestry fund to assist with hurricane related expenses related to fire suppression, urban forestry and stewardship. This provision will be implemented by the Mississippi Forestry Commission.
Also, $20,000,000 has been made available to the National Forests of the U.S. Forest Service to assist with hazardous fuels reduction on DeSoto and Bienville National Forests related to hurricane activities.
Sign up dates for these programs will be announced as soon as new regulations
and software are developed. Eligible producers can apply now at any USDA Service
Center for ECP and EWP funds.
Additional information about USDA hurricane assistance is available at USDA Service Centers nationwide and online at http://www.usda.gov/HurricaneInfo.xml.
USDA's assistance is part of a larger, comprehensive relief effort being coordinated
by the Department of Homeland Security.
Tax Assistance Provisions
The Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 is designed to provide $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 10 years for the Gulf Coast, a measure President Bush said is part of the government's plan to help the region rebuild from destructive hurricanes. “This important bill will help the citizens of the Gulf Coast continue to put their lives back together and rebuild their communities in the wake of the devastating hurricanes that hit the region,” Bush said before signing the legislation.
The measure sets up a special enterprise zone in the coastal area - the Gulf Opportunity Zone - where businesses and jobs were destroyed after the August 29 storm.
Some tax cuts would help defray the cost of demolition and cleanup, including a special deduction for cleaning up petroleum products and urban areas with environmental contamination known as “brownfields.” Small timber operations and public utilities would get special aid.
Small timber owners (those owning less than 500 acres of timber in the Gulf Opportunity Zone) may expense $20,000, rather than $10,000 provided for in current law, of reforestation costs incurred from August 27, 2005 through 2007. In addition, Small timber owners may elect a 5 year carryback of Net Operating Losses incurred after August 27, 2005, and before 2007.
Don Powell, Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, said, “This funding for farmers, ranchers and rural communities is good news for those in the Gulf Coast region who are working to recover from the hurricanes.”