The 13 southern states were provided with the knowledge, our experiences, and the methodology necessary to implement a research project to determine values, attitudes, and perceptions of key constituency groups relative to sustainable forestry, forest industry, and forest certification. Individuals were contacted and six workshops conducted during 2003. Twenty-eight people from 12 states attended these workshops and information was mailed to Virginia. Each state now has the building blocks necessary to design and implement state-specific research projects. Twenty-seven of those attending the workshops completed an evaluation form (Appendix A) and indicated the workshops were useful while 20 said they were “likely” or “very likely” to initiate a similar research project.
The goal of this Research and Education Planning Project was to provide the 13 southern states with the knowledge, our experiences, and the methodology necessary to plan and design state or regional research projects to determine the values, attitudes, and perceptions of key constituency groups relative to sustainable forestry, forest industry, and forest certification. Several southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas initially indicated an interest in developing state-based or research and outreach efforts. Our project had the following objectives: 1) Determine the various constituency groups, stakeholders, and partners in each southern state interested in participating in this type of research project, 2) Conduct a south-wide meeting and then implement state-based workshop presentations for stakeholders and partners to provide the knowledge, our experiences, and the methodology necessary to promote these types of research projects, 3) Assess the commitment, resources, capabilities, and characteristics of various forestry community partners and others in this planning effort, 4) Plan and design state, multi-state, or multi-institutional studies for the South, and 5) Coordinate state-specific research and outreach efforts to develop a model program for the 13 states in the southern region.
Despite increasing populations and land-use changes occurring in the South, sustainable agriculture and forestry remain key economic sectors for the 13 southern states. In 1993, total forestry employment was 1.9 million and the forest products industry generated $85.6 billion in total value-added forest products for the South (Cox 2001). In Mississippi, poultry and forestry are leading economic producers on a year-to-year basis. Forestry-related jobs account for $14 billion of Mississippi’s total industrial output and 10% of its employment base (Munn and Henderson 2002).
Today, despite its economic successes, forestry faces many difficult challenges ranging from concerns over harvesting practices to the implications of forest management on wildlife and tree species biodiversity. Another major concern is the sustainability of current forest management practices such as intensive pine plantation management. These issues, in part, have led to the creation of a number of forest certification programs. Such programs include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program, American Tree Farm System, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), International Standards Organization (ISO), and Green Tag Forestry. As an example, the American Forest and Paper Association’s (AF&PA) SFI Program was adopted in 1994 (AF&PA 2000). SFI entails a land stewardship ethic which integrates the complete process from growing and harvesting of trees to the conservation of soil, air and water quality, wildlife and fish habitat, and aesthetics. SFI promotes the implementation of sustainable practices that secure the longevity of forestry investments, create a valuable renewable resource, and provide forest resources for future generations. Other certification programs strive for the same basic goals as SFI. However, forest certification programs have created confusion and misconceptions among the public (e.g., forest landowners and farmers) who are responsible for implementing sustainable practices. As a result, there are a number of landowners who are not willing to embrace programs that promote sustainable forestry practices on their land holdings.
Foresters, scientists, researchers, and extension specialists often attempt to implement practices that we know are sustainable (i.e., economically and environmentally sound) without an adequate understanding of the way the public, particularly forest landowners/farmers, view such practices. Research, adoption of practices, technology transfer, and outreach efforts of sustainable agriculture and forestry practices are premature if barriers exist among forest landowners/farmers due to various misconceptions. If landowners/farmers are not comfortable with, or do not understand sustainable practices, these practices may never be implemented even though professionals believe them to be sustainable. Therefore, it is essential that we have an understanding of the values, attitudes, and perceptions of those citizens and special interest groups who implement or are concerned with sustainable forestry practices. It is also important to have an understanding of their desired methods for receiving information about sustainable forestry and related topics. It is relevant because even in the southern region there are cultural and societal differences among states. With this knowledge, communication and outreach activities can then be implemented successfully. This effort will lead to feelings of trust and cooperation between the forestry community (e.g., forest industries, state and federal agencies, extension services, educational institutions), constituency groups, and the general public.
It is important that forestry community members maintain open communication lines with their constituency groups and the general public. A literature review revealed little information pertaining to the values, attitudes, and perceptions of key constituency groups relative to sustainable forestry in Mississippi and most other southern states (Grado et al. 2001).
A recent research study indicated that the majority of influential constituency groups in Mississippi were unaware of SFI (Grado et al. 2001). These groups included public school teachers, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks personnel, loggers, County Forestry Association landowners, conservation/environmental groups, bankers, and legislators. These constituency groups can have direct and indirect influences on sustainable forestry in the state. Each group outreaches to a wide array of citizens across the state and has a significant influence on the public. The study also revealed that perceptions of these groups toward forestry and forest industry varied from favorable (e.g., legislators) to unfavorable (e.g., environmental group members). Each group also indicated their preferred communication media for receiving information relating to forestry and forest industry.
For Mississippi, Grado et al. (2001) provided a baseline of information about key constituency groups. This information is currently being used to promote short- and long-term communication strategies by the forestry community. Based on the methodology and information from the Grado et al. (2001) project, we are completing a SARE project titled, “Developing Strategies for Education of Underserved Forest Landowners.” This SARE project demonstrates the usefulness of the methodology this planning project provided cooperators from the other southern states. Based on this information, future studies could be conducted in other southern states to determine the values, attitudes, and perceptions of influential constituency groups relative to sustainable forestry, forest industry, and forest certification. Particular attention should be given to the forest certification issue.
Few studies relevant to Mississippi and the South have focused on the values, attitudes, and perceptions of constituency groups relative to sustainable forestry, forest industry, and forest certification. Yarrow and Guynn (1995) completed a study of constituency groups in nine southern U.S. states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) to determine attitudes, perceptions, and underlying interests regarding ecosystem management. They concluded that the needs of a diverse public must be understood and addressed before effective ecosystem management will occur in the South. A 1992 telephone survey of 996 households was conducted by Bliss et al. (1997) to determine the environmental attitudes of nonindustrial, private forestland (NIPF) owners and the general public. The study region included all of Tennessee and portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky. Results were divided by gender, education, income and residence, and forest ownership size and past management activity.
Members of the South Carolina Forestry Commission identified target audiences as: 1) urbanites, 2) fourth through eighth grade schoolteachers, especially earth science teachers, and 3) the media (Morris 1995). Miles et al. (1995) indicated that the Florida Division of Forestry’s education programs focused on both students and teachers. The results from a literature review and focus group sessions resulted in a draft survey to determine the public’s understanding of forest values and uses. The Georgia Forestry Association’s (GFA) Public Relations Program focused on committee legislators, the environmental community, the media, forest products industry personnel, metropolitan general publics, GFA members, and elementary school-age children (GFA 1998).
These studies are dated and provided little insight into the values, attitudes, and perceptions of key forestry constituency groups on a state-by-state basis relative to sustainable forestry, forest industry, and forest certification. As independent research projects, they do not promote the coordination amongst the southern states that this R&E Planning Project sought to accomplish within the forestry community. Our effort was significant because it provided the apparatus for acquiring valuable baseline data on the values, attitudes, and perceptions of key constituency groups for the 13 southern states. The southern states reached through this R&E Planning Project included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The forestry community in each state can now concentrate future communication and outreach activities if similar research projects are undertaken. By outreaching to key groups, the forestry community in each state will be better able to promote sustainable forestry, forest industry, and forest certification programs.
The first task involved contacting key forestry personnel (e.g., Forestry Association leaders, extension unit leaders, and university personnel) in each southern state via telephone and e-mail. These contacts determined each state’s willingness to participate in the study. Also, we discussed the inclusion of other key cooperators (e.g., state agencies, federal agencies, state associations, non-governmental organizations) for each state.
Second, representatives from each state were asked to attend a regional workshop located in Atlanta, Georgia. This conference allowed key representatives from each state an opportunity to gain the knowledge and methodology necessary to successfully design and implement a statewide project. It also allowed us to discuss relevant issues and the constituency group selection process. We were also able to assess each state’s commitment, resource availability, capabilities, and characteristics of the cooperators to conduct similar research projects. We also discussed possible funding sources or grant opportunities that could be pursued. For those individuals not able to attend the workshop in Atlanta, we made arrangements to meet with each individually. Therefore, additional workshops were conducted at Mississippi State University (2), at Alcorn State University in Alcorn, Mississippi, the Arkansas Forestry Association building in Little Rock, Arkansas, and at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Next, we agreed to coordinate with key state representatives in the future as they prepare proposals seeking funding for the research component for their individual state or for a multi-state effort, if appropriate.
Appendix B contains materials distributed at the workshops including the workshop agenda, copies of the PowerPoint presentations, a survey and a cover letter from a previous project. The participants were also given four articles (Grado et al. 2002a, Grado et al. 2002b, Grado et al. 2002c, Measells et al. 2002) which were published from previous, though similar projects. These publications provided examples of the results from previous projects conducted using the methodology presented to the 13 southern states.
Twenty-eight individuals from 12 southern states attended the six workshops (Appendix A). Virginia was the only state which did not attend a meeting. Therefore, the same information presented and distributed at the workshops was mailed to two individuals interested in the project. Individuals attending the workshops included Arkansas Forestry Commission personnel, Arkansas Forestry Association personnel, a BASF Corporation representative, university professors and graduate students, as well as extension professionals. Twenty-seven individuals attending the workshops completed an evaluation. All 27 individuals found the workshop useful. Twenty-five believed research projects based on this methodology would help address some challenges faced by forestry in the future. Numerous individuals stated this was an excellent and informative program. Appendix A contains the evaluation summary. Appendix C contains pictures from three of the workshops.
Eight individuals indicated they were “very likely,” while 12 were “likely” to implement a similar type project in the future. Those not likely to initiate a similar project indicated constraints such as not enough time, not being in a research position, funding, and not their focus area as reasons they probably would not pursue a similar project. However, 23 indicated a willingness to work together with natural resource professionals from other southern states on a regional project. The Arkansas Forestry Commission, the Arkansas Forestry Association, the University of Arkansas Monticello, and the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service have started developing and writing grants to help fund future educational programs in their state. We will continue to provide these cooperators with guidance while they develop proposals for future research and education programs in their respective states.
Areas needing additional study
A number of points were made in regard to past research completed at Mississippi State University and directed toward any research projects undertaken by our workshop participants. First, past research has brought out a number of issues within the data collected that merits further examination. For example, Grado et al. (2002a) found that most constituency groups either rely on less than perfect sources to acquire information about forestry or they do not know where to turn at all. Issues such as these bear further study. Second, most projects done in the past have not performed any follow-up studies to see if the implementation of their research results have any type of impact within the affected population groups. Follow-up studies on a periodic basis are essential to the long-tern success and goals directed toward improving the image of forest industry and the profession of forestry in the United States.