While the Florida Forestry Association performs many important functions for our members, advocacy is clearly our top mandate. Whether it be on the local, state or federal level, the Association remains the leading voice for Florida’s forests, foresters, and forest industry. This is important for many reasons.
As the largest segment of the state’s agricultural industry, forestry’s voice needs to be heard. More specifically, it needs to be heard in solidarity, delivering a unified message on issues which have found common ground amongst our constituency. No doubt, there is strength in numbers. We are currently more than 1,400 strong, with membership and partnerships with allied groups continuing to grow. Together, we can accomplish far more than any of us can alone.
Realistically, we need someone to speak for us. We are all busy people with more than enough on our professional plates. The requirements of our “real” jobs already put us into overtime on a weekly basis. We simply don’t have time to address the multitude of existing and potential rules, regulations and statutes that are continually thrown our way.
One of our members recently summed it up nicely as he explained the importance of membership: “(The Association) has people in Tallahassee watching out for rules and regulations that may negatively impact our ability to work …. I don’t have time to do that, but it’s our membership dues, quality staff, and volunteer leaders that keep (the Association) there for us.”
On the local level, in this past year the Association successfully stopped negative regulations in their tracks in multiple areas. Surprisingly, even counties that depend heavily on forestry as an economic driver have proposed anti-forestry regulations. There is still more work to be done as proposals that would increase costs or limit markets continue to be brought forward.
On a state level, we effectively worked with legislators and other ag groups to obtain funding for the Rural and Family Lands Program, springs protection and Florida Forever. Other positive legislative achievements were made in the areas of hurricane recovery, tax relief and regulatory permits. In the policy arena, the bills we were able to fend off are as noteworthy as the bills we were able to pass. Never a fan of the status quo, the Association has formed political action groups across the forested areas of the state to make us more relevant by elevating our political involvement and profile.
On the federal level, the Association partners with like-minded organizations headquartered in Washington, D.C. Together we worked to protect current provisions and to propose new provisions in the tax code that are crucial to the forest industry. We are also helping to recruit legislative members for the House and Senate Working Forests Caucuses, which will be incredible resources for educating our representatives and senators in Washington on forestry issues.
In fact, we traveled to Washington D.C., personally conducting meetings with nearly all Florida’s congressmen and senators from the timber growing region of the state and with those who hold influential positions on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Our presence was felt on Capitol Hill and our relationships with our elected officials and their staffs were solidified. (See photos here.)
The Association was founded more than 90 years ago by a group of visionaries who understood the growing need for a strong, unified voice and for effective advocacy on all levels. I believe that if they could see what their efforts have yielded, they would be proud of what they started. We would be remiss if we rested on our laurels though. The work never ceases. Your involvement has never been more important. Rest assured, our efforts have never been greater.
Michael Dooner, a Society of American Foresters (SAF)-certified forester, is the founder and president of Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc. He directs much of the company’s northwest Florida operations and coordinates activities of sister companies Southern Forestry Realty and Wiregrass Ecological Associates.