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Q&A with Keith Argow

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By Mike Beacom

Keith Argow has been actively involved in national forestry issues for more than 50 years. He received undergraduate degrees from Colorado College and the University of Michigan, and holds a PhD in forestry and political science from N.C. State University. He was a district ranger and research forester for the U.S. Forest Service, and a forestry professor at N.C. State and Virginia Tech prior to becoming the president of the National Woodland Owners Association more than three decades ago. Argow recently shared time with Forestry Notes to talk about emerging forest industry trends and the challenges facing woodland owners in the coming years.

You have been involved in NWOA for many years. What’s changed about your audience today from when you started?
The woodland owner audience we worked with in 1983, when NWOA was founded, has changed in several ways. This generation is dominated by baby boomers who are more aware of the multiple benefits of the woodlands they own. In addition to growing timber, which is still important, they are expressing more interest in stewardship and passing their land on to their heirs.

Define a model forest steward.
A forest steward is exactly what the title suggests: a person owning forest land who understands and practices responsible stewardship. Of course there are many definitions of “responsible stewardship.” Within NWOA, our members can make a public statement by qualifying as a Green Tag Forest owner (www.greentagforestry.org). Developed before SFI/TreeFarm certification became the international standard it is today, Green Tag (which is not internationally registered) remains a standard by which we define a “model forest steward.”

What is the biggest misconception policy-makers and agency staff have about woodland owners and what they appreciate about their woods?
That many woodland owners do not appreciate the true value and complexity of their woodlands. There is some truth to that historically, but times have changed for the better. A national awareness of woods and water emerged with the environmental movement in the 1960s. There followed a rise of local and state landowner associations across the land. This was fertile ground for Tree Farm, forestry extension, state service foresters, and soil conservation districts. Look around, there is a noticeable difference on the ground. That is not to say we have arrived at nirvana; there is still much to be done. Every new generation will need the forestry education resources that benefit us all today.

The NWOA website has a direct link in its navigation bar to the Women Owning Woodlands (WOW) web page. What is your Association doing to engage and support female forest landowners?
NWOA is the national co-sponsor of WOW. We host their website with Forest Service support and publish a quarterly report in National Woodlands Magazine about their accomplishments. Cooperative Extension Service gets credit for developing the concept, and several of NWOA’s affiliated state landowner associations actively support it.

How does NWOA (and its state and county associations) educate families about the importance of succession planning? What is the key step every family should be aware of?
If you die before you complete an effective succession plan, your woods could be toast. It takes less time to create a strong succession plan than to complete a forest stewardship plan, but doing so is not much fun. Without planning, one’s death unleashes a complex set of laws and expenses. Unfortunately, woodlands are often the first asset in an estate to be turned into money to pay the probate expenses and taxes.

We’re seeing a disconnect between a growing urban population and our forests. How can conservation districts and woodland owners groups communicate the value of forestry to the next generation?
Before it became popular, the “no child left inside” was a reality for family landowners. It is natural, and frankly essential, if heirs love and appreciate the land. Besides working the kids, include them in developing conservation practices. Most of our affiliated associations have and participate in youth programs. NWOA is among the co-sponsors of the National 4H Forestry Invitational competition each year.

Are woodland owners becoming more conscious of certified material (SFI, Tree Farm, FSC)? Do you sense resentment that they are not financially compensated in some form for following those guidelines?
More surprise than resentment. When certification emerged the expense of the process was to be offset by an implied price premium for logs and pulpwood. That benefit proved to be better theory than practice. Except in specialty markets, a premium remains unlikely, but certification is becoming more important to gain access to the best market prices. The recent approval of all three major certifications, (Tree Farm, SFI and FSC) as qualifying for Green Building standards (LEED) is good example of this.

You’ve attended NACD forestry events in the past and get to a lot of other forestry functions throughout the year. What are the goals of the partnerships you are trying to build for NWOA and its members?
NWOA was founded on the principle that “landowners can do more working together than we can accomplish working independently.” NWOA does not have state or local chapters, but has affiliated with 42 independent statewide landowner associations. We are making progress in the remaining eight. This soon led to the creation of the American Alliance of Landowner Associations. The leaders of our state affiliates elect half of the NWOA Board of Directors and rank the top ten family forestry issues every year. We get our policy direction from the states with their regional and county roots. Our leadership is from the bottom rungs up. Every state affiliate is wholly independent with its own elected board of directors.

With headquarters in Washington D.C., NWOA has followed the same model of working together. Frankly, it is the only way to get enough leverage to influence forest policy. NWOA is engaged in a large number of formal partnerships including conservation groups, professional foresters, loggers, forestry associations and many public agencies. We believe that the more shoulders to the wheel, the more likely progress. Being independent of both the industry and government agencies puts NWOA in a good position to cross borders and participate with industry, wildlife, fisheries, and watershed councils, to name a few. We open doors when we find them, and share those relationships through National Woodlands, which is now the largest family forestry magazine in America.

To read more feature stories from Forestry Notes, follow Mike Beacom, NACD’s forestry specialist, here on NACD’s blog or subscribe to Forestry Notes by clicking here.

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