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(For the week of May 11, 2009)
Forestry Commission Intensifies Efforts on School Lands
by James L. Cummins

Over the past year, the Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) has been collecting field data from the forests growing on School Trust lands across the state. Now, the MFC is using that data in preparing the first, statewide, comprehensive, forest assessment of this state-owned land. This assessment contains data on approximately 480,000 acres. Information from the assessment, combined with applying more intensive timber-management practices, will lead to increased timber-sale revenues.

“Revenue generated from School Trust Lands is used by local public school districts to enhance the educational experience of their students,” said Charlie Morgan, state forester of the MFC.

“Our goal is to maximize timber sale revenue by applying a more intensive timber management process,” said Morgan. “The potential to increase revenue amounts by 50 percent exists, and we intend to make it happen for the local school districts and the children attending those schools.”

The MFC is obligated by state law to manage forested School Trust Lands, commonly referred to as Sixteenth Section lands, located in 67 counties in Mississippi. The Secretary of State’s Office has general supervisory authority over all state-owned lands. These two agencies recently signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines their responsibilities in advancing the management of School Trust Lands.

According to Morgan, the revenue from timber sales on School Lands in 2008 was $20.5 million. By using better forest-management practices, especially where quality pine and hardwood timber is already being produced, the MFC sees the potential to raise timber-generated revenues to $30 million per year. The increase could eventually be even larger depending on favorable markets.

This statewide assessment will produce a comprehensive overview of the forest resource on School Trust Lands and a schedule of harvest volumes that can be annually managed at a constant level.

The MFC is using a harvest scheduler called Woodstock, which helps to create a statewide harvest plan that foresters will use when carrying out forest-management activities from year to year. The MFC is now recognized as a forest-technology leader among other Southern state and federal forestry agencies.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.