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With a politically friendly administration and Congress, FLA embraces opportunity to shape agenda during the meeting of private forest landowners in Asheville.

By Pete Williams

With FLA holding its annual National Conference of Private Forest Landowners during a Republican administration for the first time since 2008, the mood was decidedly upbeat over the prospect of a favorable political climate and an economic upswing.

Though the stock market had soared and housing prices improved during the first four months of President Trump’s administration when FLA members gathered at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., from May 31 through June 2, FLA leaders cautioned that lasting change will take time to develop.

“We’re in a unique position right now in that we have an opportunity to work with an administration that we haven’t seen before,” said FLA CEO Scott Jones. “In the last eight years it’s been difficult to see policy initiatives forwarded through Congress. We’ve had to play a lot of defense. Now we see the opportunities for expanded markets and favorable taxation that weren’t there for us before.”

FLA bolstered its lobbying efforts earlier this year with the hiring of top Washington firm VogelHood, which already has helped FLA get the ear of new White House officials.

The Trump administration’s commitment to free markets, regulatory reform and tax reform “line up very well” with what the Forest Landowners Association is trying to accomplish, said Alex Vogel, managing partner of VogelHood Group.

The White House “understands that our issues line up with theirs,” Vogel said. “We’re arming them with information and analysis to use us as an example of the role we can play in the economy.”

Congressman Bruce Westerman, a longtime FLA member, expressed optimism for landowners because of the new administration.

Congressman Bruce Westerman, a longtime FLA member and the only forester in Congress, delivered the keynote address on the opening day of the conference, stressing that while the Republican-controlled Congress and White House represents opportunity, there’s still much work to be done.

“It strikes me as strange that the United States is the second largest importer of wood products in the world,” said Westerman, who represents the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas, and appeared with Congressional colleague Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who represents the state’s 5th district.

 “This is something the administration gets,” Westerman added. “There are rural communities in my district and all over this country that rely on the forest industry that are suffering. How can we be the second largest importer and have forests managed improperly because we don’t have a home to put our timber? All we’re asking for is an equal playing field. We know that if there’s an equal playing field, we’ll win.”

The conference attendance of 320 was the largest in recent years, due in part to renewed optimism in the industry but also due to the stunning, centrally located Grove Park Inn, which opened in 1913 and retains much of its original footprint and architecture to go with modern amenities and breathtaking views of the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina.

The FLA conference featured two parallel tracts of panels for the second consecutive year with programming geared for both experienced landowners and newcomers to the forest management world. The attendee makeup was noticeably younger with both under-40 landowners and children well represented.

Attendees able to break away from the panel discussions were able to enjoy a tour of the historic Biltmore Estate, the 250-room mansion built in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt. Others were able to take a microbrewery tour of Asheville, which quickly has become a national leader in the craft beer industry.

After a “Blue Jeans and Bluegrass” dinner celebration at the Grove Park Inn, the conference wrapped up the following afternoon with a “Cradle of Forestry Tour.” Attendees traced forestry’s roots to its earliest days in this country, when pioneering forestry champion Gifford Pinchot began his career as the private forester the Biltmore Estate.

It was a fitting back-to-the-future conclusion for the forestry conference as FLA members left inspired by the possibility of positive change coming from Washington. Attendees already were looking ahead to what might develop before next year’s conference, which will take place at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee (Ga.) from June 27-29.

“This is a very exciting time in our industry,” said Scott Rowland of Neill Forestry Consultants, who completed his two-year term as FLA President at the conference and symbolically passed the gavel to incoming President Robert Crosby of Crosby Land & Resources in Louisiana. “I have clients asking me all the time what’s going on in Washington and for the first time in a long time, I’m able to be encouraging about what might happen.”

 

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