At no time have America's natural resources been more at risk. As a result, at no time has it been more critical to adequately prepare students for a complex, changing world.
In brief, those are the central observations of several speakers recently helping Mississippi State celebrate the 50th anniversary of its College of Forest Resources.
In programs capping the year-long university celebration, the state's senior U.S. senator, veteran educators and industry leaders urged the forest resources profession to take stock of the economic and social pressures affecting natural resources. They also collectively called for the development of teaching tools that can successfully address the challenges.
Sen. Thad Cochran [R-Miss.], chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, praised MSU for working to become a center of excellence for wood utilization. Last year, he led in gaining bipartisan approval for the Healthy Forests Restoration Act that authorizes funding for a range of future forest ecosystem studies to be made by MSU and other land-grant institutions.
"Mississippi long has had a vibrant wood products industry," Cochran observed. "As the markets for wood products change, we have to be conscious of the changes that are occurring and meet those new needs and new opportunities. Mississippi State University can be a leader in this because it already has been."
The 50-year-old college was formed in 1954 to train professional foresters in Mississippi. Over the decades, the major academic unit has educated more than 3,000 students in the areas of forestry, forest products, wildlife and fisheries and has contributed to the state's forest products industries such as furniture manufacturing.
In addition to Cochran, other speakers included MSU alumnus Carlton N. Owen of Greenville, S.C., founder of the Environmental Edge consulting firm; Richard Porterfield, a former MSU faculty member who now is dean of the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forest Resources; Paul Winistorfer of Blacksburg, Va., head of the wood science and forest products department at Virginia Tech University; and Vance Watson, MSU vice president for agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine.
Other major forest resource challenges they identified included, among others:
--Population growth and U.S. population shifts to suburban areas that often create conflicts with recreational and industrial natural resource needs;
--Global competition that increases pressures on domestic forest products industries;
--Increased emphasis on ecological value and its impact on quality of life;
--A consumption-oriented society that places increased demands on finite resources in a world where there also are extremes of poverty; and
--Domestic policies that encourage urban sprawl but don't adequately address the economic significance of agriculture and natural resource production and manufacturing.
Watson said the College of Forest Resources "has adapted over the last 50 years to meet the needs of students and the industry and will continue to do so.
"The growth of the college mirrors the growth and influence of the faculty who have been leaders and recognized as such not only in the South but throughout the country," he added. "I have full confidence that as we venture into the next 50 years, the faculty will address the changing needs of the resources and train students to be proactive in protecting, conserving and utilizing our natural resources."