October 2002 // Volume 40 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB5

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Forest Landowner Short Courses at Mississippi State University

Extension forestry at Mississippi State University has been providing educational opportunities for forest landowners in Mississippi for more than 70 years. The first forest landowner short course was offered in 1984. Since then, the short course curriculum has grown to include 11 short courses taught throughout the state every year. Since 1987, these short courses have resulted in over 7,000 attendees owning or managing over 2,000,000 acres of forest land and valuing the information they received at over $115,00,000. The short course format described here will combine well with new and emerging technologies such as interactive video, the Internet, and live satellite broadcast.

Andrew J. Londo
Assistant Extension Professor
Internet Address: andyL@ext.msstate.edu

Thomas A. Monaghan
Extension Professor
Internet Address: tomm@ext.msstate.edu

Department of Forestry
Mississippi State University
Starkville, Mississippi


Approximately two-thirds (18 million acres) of Mississippi is forested, with 66% of this owned by over 314,000 non-industrial private forest (NIPF) landowners (Londo, 2000; Gunter, Bullard, Doolittle, & Arano, 2001). These individual forest landowners provide a large and diverse audience for Extension programming (Barden, Jones, & Biles, 1996; Monaghan, 1997).

There are nine faculty members with Extension responsibilities in the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University. Five faculty members are located on campus and provide statewide leadership in the areas of silviculture, harvesting, economics, and taxation. Four faculty members are strategically located throughout the state (NE, SE, NW, and SW districts) and work closely with 20 to 21 Extension Agents in their respective areas. These faculty assume statewide leadership in needed subject matter areas according to their interest and expertise. In addition, there are four program assistants working in conjunction with the faculty to provide programming across the state. The effectiveness of the Extension program of the Department of Forestry has increased with the creation of these off-campus faculty positions (Monaghan, 1991).

Forest Landowner Short Courses at MSU

Prior to 1984, the predominant Extension forestry programming methods utilized in Mississippi consisted of forestry field days, group meetings, demonstrations, publications, and mass media (Monaghan, 1991). These traditional Extension education methods have been used successfully in many other Extension programs around the country (Presternon, 1986; Harmon & Jones, 1997) and are still integral parts of our program. These early methods were designed to provide some general knowledge of forest management options to landowners, but did not provide intensive training in any specific area (Monaghan, 1991).

The need to provide more intensive training in specific forestry areas prompted the creation of short courses for forest landowners. Short courses can be an effective way to impart knowledge to the user by bringing together researchers, forestry professionals, and Extension personnel (Neal, 1991; Svenson, 1997). The first forest landowner short course was conducted in Jones County, Mississippi in 1984 (Monaghan & Londo, 2001). This course, "Woodland Management," was comprised of 2-hour long classroom sessions conducted one night per week for 5 weeks. Various forest management topics were covered during the 5-week period. Each participant was provided with a notebook containing publications from various sources as additional reference material. The success of this program resulted in the Woodland Management short course being offered in several other counties over the next 2 years.

Continuous evaluation and modification resulted in improvements in delivery, increased efficiency, and an expanded short course curriculum. Landowners' evaluations of these early programs indicated a need for more in-depth training in a variety of forestry-related subjects. In response, new forest landowner short courses were developed in other subject areas. As a result, short courses have become one of the most important programs for educating Mississippi forest landowners (Monaghan, 1997).

Short courses have also been instrumental in stimulating the formation of County Forestry Associations (CFA's) in many counties. The Mississippi Forestry Association (MFA) initiated a statewide effort to organize county affiliates around 1985. For several years, the core group of landowners who formed CFA's were recent short course participants. Their enthusiasm for forest management was stimulated by these short courses.

Sixty-three CFA's have been established representing 71 counties and serve as local affiliates of the Mississippi Forestry Association. The members of these local organizations include landowners, business people, forestry consultants, forest industry representatives, and anyone else interested in forestry. The local County Extension Agent serves on the board of directors of each CFA. CFA's serve as excellent advisory groups for program planning and provide political support when needed (Monaghan & Londo, 2001).

Short Course Curriculum

The short course curriculum now consists of 11 forest landowner short courses. Length (contact hours of instruction) varies from 6 to 10 hours. Depending on the needs of the target audience, a course may be scheduled as one all-day session or a series of 2-hour sessions, one night per week, over a period of 3 to 5 weeks. The short courses are offered in various counties across the state each year (Monaghan, 1997). A list of the short courses offered, along with a brief description of each, can be found in Table 1.

Table 1.
Forest Landowner Short Courses Offered by the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University

Short Course

Hours of Instruction


Forest Stewardship and Management Plan Development


Topics covered include economics and forest management. Working in conjunction with consulting foresters, participants receive a management plan for their property based on their objectives.

Introduction to Woodland Management


Topics covered include thinning, prescribed fire, taxation, timber marketing, wildlife, cost-share programs, among others.

Profitable Marketing and Harvesting of Timber


Topics covered include principles of timber marketing, making timber sales and contracts, logging plans, and timber income taxation.

Forest and Wildlife Management for Profit and Recreation


Topics covered include habitat management, biology, and the economics of wildlife and forestry.

Forest Regeneration: An Investment in the Future


Topics covered include site preparation, natural and artificial regeneration, and regeneration economics.

Forest Herbicides


Topics covered include available herbicides, application methods, safety, costs and benefits, and environmental impacts.

Introduction to Hardwood Management


Topics covered include species site/evaluation, timber stand improvement, regeneration, inventory, and marketing.

Forest Investment and Taxation


Topics covered include basics of forest investment analysis, terms, basic formulas, and investment analysis computer programs,

Longleaf Pine


Topics covered include the history, ecology, management, and economics of long leaf pine.

Timber Tax Fundamentals


Topics covered include the basics of state and federal income tax, recovering reforestation costs, capital gains, tax treatment of timber, and basic record keeping.

How to manage your Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Pine Plantation


Topics covered include prescribed fire, wildlife management, and economics.

The planning, coordination, and implementation of a forest landowner short course are the primary responsibility of the area forestry faculty in cooperation with the local county Extension agents and CFA's. Short courses are typically scheduled during the spring (February-May) and fall (August-November). The breaks in between these two periods are essential for planning and preparation purposes.

Faculty members from the Department of Forestry typically serve as instructors; however, volunteer instructors (professional foresters from industry, consulting firms, and government agencies) are often used. Each short course has a standardized schedule of sessions. The standardization allows for efficient development and duplication of notebook material as well as scheduling volunteer instructors.

Teaching objectives have been developed for each session and are provided to all instructors to assist with presentations and to avoid duplication of subject matter covered in other sessions by other instructors. Consistency and similarity have proven to be very important in the development of our short courses. All short course offerings of the same title are virtually identical. This enables us to produce the notebooks in bulk and schedule guest instructors up to a year in advance.

Scheduling and Publicizing Short Courses

In collaboration with Forestry Faculty, each CFA plans programs such as forest landowner short courses, field days, and other events suited to the needs of the local members. During the year, the executive committee of each CFA meets to discuss business issues. Among the issues discussed are the educational needs of forest landowners and other CFA members and the curriculum available from Extension. Once a decision is made, the county agent contacts the appropriate area faculty member to schedule the short course. This scheduling usually occurs 6 months in advance.

In cooperation with local county agents, several means of publicity and promotion are used to encourage attendance at short courses. Examples include:

  • Direct mail of a brochure that includes the course title, description, location, date, time, instructors, and a pre-registration form;
  • News/photo articles prepared by the area specialist for use by the county agent in local newspapers;
  • A semi-annual Extension Forestry Newsletter that includes a list of all the spring and fall short courses scheduled statewide;
  • A detailed listing of short course offering on the Extension Forestry Web site;
  • Radio and television;
  • Laminated full-color publicity posters with attractive photos advertising each course; and
  • Short course announcements in magazines and newsletters published by cooperating agencies.

Short Course Evaluations and Results

Formal record keeping of short course evaluations began in 1987 (Monaghan, 1997). Participants in all short courses are asked to evaluate the following:

  • Effectiveness of speakers;
  • Acreage of forest land owned or managed;
  • The value of the training they received in the short course;
  • Usefulness of the subject matter;
  • Their use of professional forestry assistance;
  • Suggestions to improve the short course;
  • Other short courses they would like to attend.

These evaluations have been useful in determining programming impacts and in needs assessment. Results on attendance, acreage, and value of the training received can be found in Table 2.

The data reported in Table 2 are examples of evaluative data that we collect and summarize in the Annual Report of the Extension Program of the Department of Forestry at MSU. The report describes in detail a comprehensive and complex program effort, of which landowner short courses are one of many educational methods. The report is distributed every year to selected audiences, including administrators, advisory groups, state legislators, cooperating agencies, organizations, and other "key" state leaders.

Based on evaluations completed by program participants, direct mail appears to be the most effective publicity method. This is likely due to our ability to mail brochures to nearly all forest landowners in each county. Mailing lists have been developed using count land tax data. These data were made available through a cooperative research project conducted by the Social Sciences Research Center and at the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University.

Table 2.
Summary of Data from Evaluation Instruments for Forest Landowner Short Courses Conducted by the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University ( 1987-2000*)


# Courses

# Attendees

# Acres

$ Value

Attendees per course**

Acreage per Attendee**

$ Value per Attendee**
















































13, 642









































































* Data from Monaghan 1987-2000, Annual Reports of the Extension Forestry Program of the Department of Forestry, Mississippi  State University.
** Values in these columns have been rounded off to the nearest whole number.
*** These values are averages per column for the years 1987-2000.

Who Attends Extension Forest Landowner Short Courses?

Traditionally, brochures advertising landowner short courses have been sent to landowners by using mailing lists devised and maintained by the county agent. This method was very inconsistent from county to county. Each county agent maintained their own mailing list, primarily based on attendance at past programs. Notices and brochures were being sent out to the same people for each program. While efforts were made to have notices put in newspapers and have mailings in conjunction with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, few direct mailings were made and attendance at all programs was small.

The first county forest landowner mailing list was developed using county tax assessor roles in Grenada County Mississippi in 1992. The tax role was obtained from the County Tax Assessors Office, and all landowners with 40 or more acres were sent brochures. This increased participation in all Extension forestry programming. Many other counties started maintaining their landowner lists in this manner; however, it was very time consuming for the county agent.

By the late 1990's, computerized tax roll records were being used to create the landowner mailing lists. These mailing lists are now being maintained by an Extension assistant in the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State. Upon request, these mailing lists are provided to the county agent. The advent of 911 emergency addresses has caused the need update and maintain these landowner lists more often than initially expected.

The use of the computerized records for the landowner mailing lists has significantly increased the attendance at all programs while at the same time making it easier for the county agent.

Adaptability of Short Courses for Other States

While specific short courses taught in Mississippi may not all apply to all states, the underlying principle of making the handout materials and teaching objectives consistent can increase the productivity of any Extension program. This consistency allows for the increased use of volunteer instructors, thus reducing the speaking load on a county agent and Extension specialist.

The flexibility afforded by providing a number of different short course topics makes the use of short courses for Extension program even more attractive. With a broad range of topics to choose from, a given county advisory group can pick and choose, from the menu of programs available, those programs that will best address the educational needs in their county.

Conclusions and Future Directions

Over the past 20 years, the Extension program of the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University has undergone many changes. For example, the short course curriculum has increased from one short course in 1984 to 11 in 2000. The number of short courses conducted reached a high of 46 in 1999. Due to our assessment of and response to the diverse needs of Mississippi forest landowners, forest landowner short courses have become one of the primary educational methods of Extension forestry programming at Mississippi State University.

Future programming needs will continue to be met through short courses, forestry field days, and other traditional programming methods. However, with an increasing emphasis in distance learning coupled with decreasing budgets, program methods and techniques will likely include greater use of the Internet, live video, and satellite technologies. The strategies involved in short course development should combine well with these new and emerging technologies, which will further increase the outreach capabilities, effectiveness, and efficiency of Extension programming.


Barden, C. J., Jones, S. B., & Biles, L. E. (1996). Extension forestry education: Reaching the people who make decisions. Journal of Forestry. 94 (3):31-35.

Gunter, J. E., Bullard, S. H., Doolittle, M. L., & Arano K. G. (2001). Reforestation of harvested timberlands in Mississippi: Behavior and attitudes of non-industrial private forest landowners. FWRC Bulletin # FO172. 25p.

Harmon, A. H., & Jones, S. B. 1997. Forestry demonstrations: What good is a walk in the woods? Journal of Extension [On-line], 35(1): Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1997february/rb3.html

Londo, A. J. (2000. The effects of forest fragmentation on forest management for Mississippi private non-industrial forest landowners. p. 116-124. In: Proceedings of the Forest Fragmentation 2000 Conference. Sampson Group Inc. Alexandria, Va.

Monaghan, T. A. (1987-2000). Annual Reports of the Extension Program of the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University.

Monaghan, T. A. (1991). Forest landowner short courses in Mississippi. Forest Farmer. 50(7):14-15, 20.

Monaghan, T. A. (1997). The development, implementation, and evaluation of forestry short courses in Mississippi. p 387-394. In: R. Beck (ed.) Approaches to Extension in Forestry-Experiences and Developments. Proceedings of the IUFRO Working Party S6.06-03 Extension Symposium. Friesing, Germany.

Monaghan, T. A., & Londo, A. J. (2001). Cooperation is key to Extension forestry in Mississippi. Forest Landowner 60(3):11-14.

Neal, J .E. (1991). Extension forestry in the South. Forest Farmer. 50(7):8-10.

Presternon, D. R. (1986). Forestry field days--An old idea that really works. Journal of Extension [On-line], 24(1): Available at:  http://www.joe.org/joe/1986spring/iw1.html

Svenson, G. (1997). Extension courses--A sound way to impart knowledge. p. 435-444. In: R. Beck (ed.) Approaches to Extension in Forestry-Experiences and Developments. Proceedings of the IUFRO Working Party S6.06-03 Extension Symposium. Friesing, Germany.