Forest Management Group Reaches Consensus On State Plan (425)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s Forest Management Advisory Panel, widely split on key issues only three weeks ago, has hammered out 29 recommendations for state forest-use policies, its director said Friday.

Dr. Gary Schneider said the recommendations emphasize education, research, incentives for ecologically-sound management practices and funding mechanisms for the state plan.

A draft of the report goes to Gov. Don Sundquist, the Tennessee Forestry Commission and state legislators this fall.

Schneider said each recommendation had to receive approval from at least 15 of the 29 voting panel members. Twenty-four of the 29 points were supported by more than 75 percent of the panel, he said.

“It was difficult for such a diverse group to reach an acceptable compromise on so many issues,” Schneider said. “But they found effective ways to reach a constructive accord for their somewhat disparate views.

“That willingness to seek a balance between often competing interests was the key element in reaching a majority consensus.”

Schneider said recommendations were directed at state-owned forests, non-industrial private landowners, and blanket recommendations for all 13 million acres in Tennessee, regardless of ownership.

Points covering state-owned lands seek to increase research, education and personnel for state forest lands; encourage public participation in state forest planning; and establish management planning for non-game species, such as some birds and other wildlife that are not hunted.

The panel suggests establishing a mechanism to allow private landowners to challenge government restrictions on land use. It also endorses incentives such as tax breaks for voluntarily use of best management practices to minimize water pollution and habitat destruction. P> Other panel recommendations include:

— establishing forest management education programs to teach environmentally acceptable harvesting techniques, safety and general forestry in state high schools and technical schools.

— increased punishment, such as fines, for loggers who violate water quality laws.

— reduction of forest fragmentation.

Schneider said the panel also outlined potential funding strategies to raise revenues for forest management, such as a $1-$2 increase in vehicle license fees, or a severance tax on cutting trees, producing fiber and other forest products.

The group has met monthly since January. At a meeting less than a month ago, members failed in their first attempt to agree on recommendations.

Schneider, a forester and associate dean of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at UT-Knoxville, said panel members overcame many of their differences to reach consensus this week.

“They realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve state forest management policies, and they worked hard to make it happen,” Schneider said. “I was optimistic from the beginning, but the success of this operation has exceeded my expectations.”

Contact: Dr. Gary Schneider (423-974-7506)