Forestry is a $12.79 billion industry in Mississippi. Approximately 125,000 Mississippians own and manage more than 19.7 million acres of forestland across the state. Fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching also contribute to the economy of the Magnolia State, boasting a $2.7 billion annual economic impact for Mississippi, with hunting alone contributing $1.14 billion. That's why Forest and Wildlife Research Center researchers sought to learn more about how forest landowners manage for both timber production and wildlife habitat.
Dr. Ian Munn, associate dean and professor in the College of Forest Resources, and colleagues, Dr. James E. Henderson, Phillip Brock Davis, and Dr. Bronson K. Strickland, have done extensive research to answer the questions: What are the tradeoffs of managing for wildlife instead of timber? And can landowners manage for wildlife and still make a profit from their timber?
The team modeled different management scenarios in loblolly pine plantations. Some scenarios focused on wildlife habitat while others focused on timber production. The results indicated that landowners could manage for both timber production and wildlife habitat.
"The take home message for landowners is that timber management and wildlife management are not mutually exclusive. You can manage for timber and still provide good habitat for wildlife and make money," Munn said.
Munn, who is an avid hunter, was interested in landowners being able to manage land for both timber production as well as wildlife. The two and a half year study focused mainly on white-tailed deer and quail, but Munn believes the findings can apply to a variety of wildlife across the Southeast in similar forests under similar economic conditions.
In a course Munn teaches in the forestry department, his students work with a broad spectrum of Mississippi landowners to develop timber management plans for their properties. As a result, Munn knows that the number of landowners who are strictly interested in just managing for timber is very small.
"Most landowners want a return for their timber, but they also want a place to go and hunt," he said. "You can maximize or certainly optimize a combination of both. You can generate good deer habitat while still making a good return on your timber."
Since the team knew that wildlife needed something different in their forest than the maximum production from a pine plantation, they set out to ask the questions: Can we provide what deer need in the forest? What quail need?
"The forest that is optimal for generating timber revenue is not the best habitat for various wildlife species," Munn said. "We're trying to maximize timber growth while the animals are looking for ideal habitat, which is an entirely different thing."
As an economist, Munn said that he is very well versed in what the economic returns are for timber, but he, as well as others in his field, did not have a good handle on the economic returns from managing timber for wildlife. By focusing more on wildlife, he found that land can be managed so that good deer and quail habitat is present throughout most of a pine plantation's lifetime.
"I think it was really encouraging to wildlife professionals to see that managing for wildlife and managing for timber were not mutually exclusive," Munn said. "Only a few people had begun looking at the big picture, and we were able to present the results in a simple way so that people could realize that it's very doable. It's still a good investment from a financial standpoint even though we're managing for wildlife in addition to timber."