A 352-acre tract of Forrest County timberland is now part of Mississippi State’s Bulldog Forest program and the state’s only Army Compatible Use Buffer-designated property.
Known as the Davis and Ann Mortensen Forest, the area is located in proximity to Camp Shelby, and is a joint project between Mississippi State University, the MSU Foundation, the U.S. Army, and the Mississippi chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and is made possible through a gift from MSU alumnus and Moss Point native Davis K. Mortensen.
Officials gathered Tuesday [May 29] at the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center near Hattiesburg to formally announce the property’s inclusion in the university’s Bulldog Forest.
Mississippi State’s Bulldog Forest program was established to receive and manage gifts of land to the MSU Foundation. The university’s College of Forest Resources will manage the forest.
"This is the first privately-funded ACUB site in the state, and our university is extremely proud to be a vital part of this partnership," said George Hopper, dean of MSU’s College of Forest Resources.
"Our college is pleased to be in a position to have a dramatic impact by restoring this land to longleaf pine, managing timber resources, and protecting the wildlife species dependent on this habitat," Hopper added, addressing the many benefits of the project.
The university currently has more than 18,000 acres in the Bulldog Forest program, with proceeds generated by these properties assisting many areas of the university. Future proceeds from the Mortensen Forest will fund scholarships in forestry and provide a "living laboratory" for students and faculty.
When the private property adjoining the military base became available, a gift from Mortensen enabled the MSU Foundation to acquire the property. Mortensen said he realized he could provide an asset to Mississippi State while helping restore longleaf pine forests and protecting wildlife habitats.
In the ACUB program, the U.S. Department of Defense partners with non-federal programs or private organizations to establish buffers around military installations by providing funding to help facilitate the land purchase. Under the ACUB agreement, The Nature Conservancy holds a working conservation easement on the property, which allows for agricultural uses such as timber production and harvest. The MSU Foundation holds title to the property and will receive revenue derived from timber management and other revenue sources.
Mortensen retired in 1997 as executive vice president for building products with Georgia-Pacific Corp., which included responsibility for 5.6 million acres of company-owned timberland.
He and his wife Ann reside in Greensboro, Ga. Mortensen completed basic training as a member of the Mississippi National Guard 631st Field Artillery Battalion, headquartered in Hattiesburg, before spending two years in the U.S. Army. He graduated with a degree in industrial management from MSU in 1956.
For Mortensen, the gift is a natural outpouring of his love for natural resources, students, and Camp Shelby, one of the largest state-owned military training centers in the U.S.
Mortensen said he understands the importance of responsible timber management and conservation efforts, as well as the necessity of educating students to be stewards of the land.
"Giving to the university so that students have the means to pursue a college education is very important to me," said Mortensen, a longtime MSU contributor. "I attended MSU on the G.I. Bill and had it not been for that, I would have been unable to attend college due to the cost."
The Nature Conservancy President Bruce Alt said his organization is pleased to partner with MSU and the U.S. Army.
"Conservation easements have protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat and open spaces, and The Nature Conservancy is extremely pleased to aid conservation and restoration of the longleaf pine and protect the habitat of species in this area," Alt said.
Threatened or endangered wildlife species including the gopher tortoise, red-cockaded woodpecker, and black pine snake are dependent on the longleaf pine ecosystem, he added. Other species, such as bobwhite quail, ground-nesting birds, turkey and white-tailed deer also inhabit the longleaf pine ecosystem.
Many types of property and timberland may be considered for Mississippi State’s Bulldog Forest program. Individuals interested should contact Jeff Little, director of development for the College of Forest Resources, at email@example.com or 662-325-8151.