Thursday, August 28, 2008
Foresters say bond on loggers hurts industry
By SUE WATSON
Three members of the Marshall County Forestry Association expressed concerns of tree farmers about new resolutions requiring loggers post bonds for any damage that may be done to county roads.
Their concerns about the bond requirements were relayed to the Marshall County Board of Supervisors at the August 18 meeting.
In prefacing remarks, forester Buck Hobbs assured supervisors that the bond requirements imposed this year on haulers and loggers, though intended to protect the county from incurring costs to repair damage to county roads, is also hurting the industry in the county.
“We are not here to fuss,” said Hobbs. “We commend the board and county administrator for building and protecting the infrastructure of the county. We want to tell you the effect the bond rule is having on logging in the county.”
Tree farmer and founding president of the county association, a past president of the Mississippi Forestry Association and a board member of the Mississippi Forestry Commission, Art Waymire presented background on the industry.
He said landowners with forests in the county, professional forestry consultants, certified timber harvesters and the U.S. Forest Service is affected by the bond rule.
Forestry is the number one agricultural industry in Marshall County and ranks two in the state, with poultry the largest industry today statewide, he said.
A forest fact sheet shows that in 2006, Mississippi timber production exceeded $1 billion a year for 14 consecutive years, impacted the state economy to the tune of $17.4 billion in 2006, and accounted for 8.5 percent of the jobs in the state - 123,000 - and paid out $4.4 billion in wages. Sixty-five percent of Mississippi's land and Marshall County land is in forests - pine, hardwood, or mixed pine and hardwood.
Private, individuals and families (non-industrial owners) account for 70 percent of the forest land owned in the state and number 3,785 in Marshall County.
Waymire said trees are a renewable source of materials and they die of old age if not cut and used. The potential revenue from standing timber in the county was nearly $400 million as assessed by the Mississippi Institute For Forestry Inventory.
Waymire emphasized that a tree farmer’s investment is not returned on a forest stand until it reaches 30 to 35 years maturity.
He said most timber harvesters operating in the county are certified, follow the best management practice rules and only a few operators are believed to be doing the majority of the damage to roads.
Tree farmer and current president of the county forestry association, George Murphree said concerns about road bonds have spread all over the state. Growers are concerned that the bond could be higher than the value of the timber and has resulted in no timber buyers bidding on timber in Marshall County.
“Buyers are willing to walk away from a bid opportunity if a road bond is required,” he said. ‘We know logging trucks could have an adverse effect on the ingress and egress to roads and the effect is directly proportional to the number of loads (hauled) and the condition of the road.”
Hobbs said growers sold $1.8 million in timber from Marshall County in 2007. That translated to $3 million in value at the saw mill and $11 million in Marshall County when the money spent on cutting and logging, fuel, food, and other expenditures are added in. When stands are ready for thinning, down the road the value of the industry could impact the county by as much as $50 million, he said.
The bottom line is the road bond is not working, he said.
“I encourage you to rethink this,” Hobbs said, “and find an alternative to protect the roads and let timber harvest start back again. I encourage you to fine loggers who destroy roads. Make them get a permit, give them a route, and if they don’t do it, fine them and make them pay.”
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said that solution could “tie the county up in lawsuits from now own.”
“It wouldn’t be bad if there were not so many loads (from a logging site) - 150 to 200 is too much,” he said. “When you get on DBST roads, hauling 84,000 pounds, it tears them all up. The residents come right straddle of us and we (taxpayers) are having to pay for it. Some operators have no problem with the bonding system.”
Hobbs said timber consultants have trouble getting a bid on timber harvest in the county because of the bond costs, which he said are nonrecoverable.
Supervisor Keith Taylor said most people do not understand the importance of timber, yet residents do not want their taxes going up due to damage to roads.
He added that most loggers “take every precaution to not tear up roads.”
“Outside loggers pay no taxes, and are not concerned about the cost to fix roads,” Taylor said.
He said he thinks it fair for out-of-county loggers and absentee landowners, who do not have to travel over the roads, to put up a bond.
Hobbs said tree farmers are “not asking for a free ride or to let folks tear these roads up.”
“On these chip and seal roads, if I'm driving my wife’s car, I’m tickled to have a nice road,” he said. “But if I’m hauling my crop or cattle and timber out, I still deserve to get it out.”
Hobbs said there must be other alternatives to high bonds and he called for supervisors and tree farmers to find middle ground so growers can harvest crops.
“Trucks will find a bad spot (soft spot) in the road,” he said. ‘We all have problems and you all don't want to lose revenue.”
Taylor agreed there needed to be room to negotiate.
Waymire reiterated that bidders on timber look ahead up to 18 months till harvest and when they do not know what a bond will be, they do not know how to bid on standing timber.
He asked the board of supervisors to grandfather in any tree farmers who had already signed contracts to have timber cut and hauled before the board passed its bond rule.
Hobbs suggested the tree farmers and board of supervisors appoint representatives to form a panel that would study the issues and look for alternatives to road bonds.
“The bottom line in terms of the bond situation is it is not working now,” he said. “It has effectively shut down the timber industry in this county. We've got to save the industry and the roads.”
Bennett liked Hobbs’ suggestion of forming a panel and supervisors agreed to take that tack.
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