Mississippi's more than 18 million acres of forestland annually contribute about $1.25 billion in timber sales to the state's economy.
Despite this, concerns about the future of the major natural resource are being raised because significant numbers of landowners do not reforest their harvested timberlands. The decline comes despite the financial incentives of government cost-share payments and tax credits.
In a recent survey, scientists at Mississippi State University's Forest and Wildlife Research Center sought to gain a better understanding of landowner attitudes toward reforestation. The project focused on owners of at least 20 acres of uncultivated land where timber was harvested between 1994 and 1998.
"This study examined landowner characteristics and how they are related to reforestation decisions," said forestry professor John Gunter, the project leader.
Of 829 Mississippi landowners surveyed, approximately 50 percent said they did reforest. Most in this group plant pine seedlings, but do not participate in cost-sharing programs.
"The leading reasons for reforesting were desires to keep their property in timber production and to be good stewards of the land," Gunter said.
"The top reasons landowners don't replant after harvest are the beliefs that the site will reforest itself naturally and the high cost of reforestation," he added. Landowners who don't reforest also consider pine plantations "riskier than other types of investments."
The survey also reveals that:
--More than 80 percent say decisions to reforest should be left to landowners and not be regulated by the state; and
--Landowners who do not replant often are unaware of the available reforestation assistance and incentive programs.
"The shortfall in reforestation is occurring despite such incentives as cost-share payments under Mississippi's Forest Resource Development Program, federal income tax credits and the new Mississippi Reforestation Tax Credit program," Gunter said.
Landowners easily can learn about the incentives and other reforestation options by contacting local offices of either the MSU Extension Service or Mississippi Forestry Commission, he said.
The entire MSU reforestation report may be read at www.fwrc.msstate.edu/pubs/reforestation.pdf.