Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 6, Issue 1 - May, 2013

Managing the Family Forest Landowner Short Course: A Case Study in Mississippi

Gordon, J., Extension Forester, Mississippi State University
Kushla, J., Extension Forester, Mississippi State University
Londo, A., Extension Forester, Mississippi State University

ABSTRACT

This paper presents a curriculum and short course evaluation results from Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi. Thirteen topics instruct and encourage landowners to make decisions towards responsible forest stewardship. Results from 602 evaluations demonstrate clients’ satisfaction and knowledge improvement, which were greatest for instruction on marketing, thinning, and management plan. Correspondingly, clients expressed the most interest in continuing their education on timber marketing. The program’s straightforward, comprehensive, and visually appealing format made the program a resounding success. We conclude with implications for how the program and materials, available at msucares.com, can be modified and applied for a broader audience.


Introduction

Nationally, 11.3 million non-industrial private forest owners (NIPF) own 372 million acres or over half of the forestland in the United States (Cushing & Straka, 2011). Around 300,000 NIPFs own land in Mississippi with just as many different forest management objectives. Like states across the nation, Mississippi offers its forest landowners opportunities to learn about sustainable forest management that balances economic with social and environmental objectives.

In 2009, the state forestry agency asked Mississippi State University Extension Forestry (Extension Forestry) to completely revise a long-standing short course entitled “Introduction to Woodland Management” and a U.S. Forest Service manual entitled Managing the Family Forest in the South (Williston, Balmer, & Sims, 1993). Both the text and educational program were designed to introduce landowners to basic tenets of forest management. The culmination of this effort was Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi (MFFM), the integration of a book consisting of 13 easy to read and comprehensive chapters and an associated short course (Londo et al., 2010). The MFFM curriculum seeks to instruct and encourage NIPF owners to make decisions based on the goal of sustainable forest management.

Along with information describing the MFFM curriculum, this paper summarizes data from over 600 participant course evaluations from 13 MFFM short courses over two years. Our goal is to provide an example of a day-long program that has successfully integrated multiple forestry concepts into a concise educational package for forest landowners. Despite our focus on forestry, the MFFM approach can be used in nearly any Extension area of expertise. In addition, with program materials available at msucares.com, the curriculum can be modified and applied outside Mississippi given the appropriate modifications for biological requirements and client characteristics. Finally, this paper illustrates the usefulness of collecting and aggregating evaluation data over time towards a comprehensive assessment of program effectiveness

Content Themes and Learning Objectives

To initiate text and short course development, a six-person curriculum committee consisting of Extension Forestry faculty members reviewed available information on NIPFs in Mississippi. Like most NIPFs in the South, Mississippi landowners tend to be males, college educated, retired, and live within one mile of their forestland (Butler, 2008). The majority of NIPFs own their land for reasons other than timber production, including aesthetics, family legacy, conservation, and privacy (Smith, Miles, Perry, & Pugh, 2009). The committee concluded aspects of multiple use management should be addressed throughout the program (also Amacher, Conway, & Sullivan 2003).

Underscoring this, Measells et al. (2005) found Mississippi forest landowners were most interested in learning about wildlife management, insects/diseases, marketing, harvesting, and Best Management Practices (BMPs), respectively. More recently, a qualitative study in Mississippi found many participants were interested in learning about potential specialty markets (e.g., pine straw), whereas others expressed interest in the emerging bioenergy industry (Vanderford, Gordon, Londo, & Munn, 2012). These findings were similar to those reported in other states by Baughman, Cervantes, & Rathke (1998), Birch (1997), Downing & Finley (2005), and Grado, Measells, Habig, & Capella (2002).

Based on the existing research, past program evaluations, and following consultation with key stakeholders (county forestry association (CFA) members, industry representatives, natural resource management agency representatives, and staff from the Extension Forestry program) the curriculum committee clarified program content and learning objectives. The thirteen major topics and corresponding specific learning objectives were defined as follows. These objectives were prefaced by the phrase: “Upon completing MFFM, participants will:”

  1. Forest Management Plan: A forest management plan is a roadmap for knowing the products the forest contains and outlining future activities.
    1. Identify the ways a plan can save the landowner money, increase profits, decrease taxes, and provide opportunities for cost-share and certification programs.
    2. Illustrate how plans can incorporate multiple objectives.
    3. Describe how any actions taken in the forest, including no action, will have an immediate and long-term effect on wildlife habitat.
    4. Understand the forest as a complex and resilient ecosystem.
  2. Site Preparation: Site preparation increases seedling survival rates and long-term productivity of regeneration.
    1. Identify site-limiting factors that affect the choice of site-preparation techniques.
    2. Describe site preparation techniques within the context of site limiting factors as well as changing technology, policy, and economics of forestry.
  3.  Natural Regeneration of Southern Pines: Advantages to natural regeneration can include lower costs and improved aesthetics while disadvantages can include longer rotation lengths.
    1. Describe how light affects growth of southern yellow pines.
    2. Define even- and uneven-aged management and describe techniques, advantages, and disadvantages.
  4. Artificial Pine Regeneration: Site, seedling quality, proper handling of seedlings, and proper use of direct seeding affect survival rates.
    1. Understand commercial pine species are differentially susceptible to drought, insects, disease, and weather damage.
    2. Understand genetically improved seedlings have better survival rates, faster growth, and better form than other seedlings; however, seedling source as well as costs and benefits of hand planting versus machine planting must be considered.
  5. Regenerating Hardwoods: An understanding of soil and site conditions is necessary for successful hardwood regeneration.
    1. Understand soil and site conditions for successful hardwood regeneration.
    2. Describe how enhancement plantings can be employed to improve genetic quality and increase species diversity.
    3. Identify various cost share programs that promote hardwood management.
  6. Harvesting and Best Management Practices: Best management practices should be implemented to minimize or prevent soil erosion from harvesting operations or silvicultural practices.
    1. Understand appropriate harvesting methods depend on management objectives, regeneration alternatives, and markets.
    2. Identify best management practices to minimize or prevent soil erosion from harvesting operations or silvicultural practices.
  7. Financial Considerations: Landowners should consider benefits of forestry activities over alternatives as well as nonforest investments.
    1. Understand forestry has risks and benefits like any other investment.
    2. Define important concepts, including time value of money and land expectation value.
    3. Identify forest income sources such as revenues from thinning, annual lease payments for recreational activities, final harvest, pine straw, and other non-timber products.
    4. Identify costs such as regeneration expenses, stand improvements, and taxes.
  8. Timber Marketing: Landowners should understand how to market their timber so that they can realize the maximum in financial returns.
    1. Understand the responsibilities of a consulting forester, qualifications, and hiring tips.
    2. Know how to determine the value of timber using a forest inventory.
    3. Understand the process of a timber sale, including the advantages and disadvantages of negotiation and sealed bids.
  9. Pine Plantation Thinning: Both natural and artificial pine stands should be thinned to promote growth of residual trees, improve stand health, and provide economic return to the landowner.
    1. Both natural and artificial pine stands should be thinned to promote growth of residual trees, improve stand health, and provide economic return to the landowner. Depending on stand density, a healthy pine stand is often thinned two to three times during the life of the stand and can include a precommercial thinning.
  10. Prescribed Burning: Prescribed burning is used for site preparation, hazard reduction, wildlife habitat, and vegetative management.
    1. Identify the objectives of prescribed burning, components of a burn plan, and weather conditions.
    2. Understand liability and legal implications of burning.
  11. Taxation: Several provisions within the tax code are specific to forestry.
    1. Know ownership practices and structure (hobby, investment, or business) that determine acceptable deductions.
    2. Describe a tree farm journal for keeping records of forest activities.
    3. Understand basis and its use in deducting loss and capitalizing costs/losses.
  12. Forest Health: Landowner decisions regarding site preparation, regeneration, thinning, and burning influence forest health.
    1. Understand decisions regarding site preparation, regeneration, thinning, and burning influence forest health.
    2. Identify basic preventative guidelines including appropriate logging practices, planting, and stand density prescriptions.
  13. Multiple Use: Multiple use means managing the forest for a variety of objectives, all the while maintaining its ecological integrity and sustained timber yield.
    1. Identify important concepts in multiple use management, such as plant succession and basal area.
    2. Know how to incorporate such concepts into the forest management plan.

Within each theme, the learning objectives and curriculum were thoroughly reviewed and accepted by the curriculum committee. As with all Extension Forestry programming, the curriculum committee agreed to the need for a program evaluation that would enable measurement of the extent the learning objectives had been achieved.

Program Topic Selection, Advertising Procedures, and Format

The MFFM short course was hosted by local CFAs. As such, County Extension Directors (henceforth County Directors) and CFA board members selected between five and six topics from the 13-chapter MFFM book. Covering all 13 chapters would have been impractical due to time constraints. In addition, complete coverage of the book was not typically needed because many CFAs had received programing on some of the other chapter topics. The MFFM book and each of its chapters can be found online through the Mississippi State University Extension Service website msucares.com.

Following topic selection, a list of NIPF landowners was generated from tax rolls. According to Londo, A.J., Kushla, J.D., & Smallidge, P.(2008), this method of advertising has proven very successful to Extension Forestry programming. Typically, advertising announcing the short course would be mailed to 500 – 1,000 forest landowners. A course brochure with short course agenda, program description, dates and locations, was sent to each landowner. In addition, County Directors used the program descriptions for press releases in their newsletters and local media outlets. Finally, County Directors sent notices to CFA members in the host county using a membership list. Typically, the programs were advertised to multiple counties, although occasionally a CFA would request the short course solely for their own county.

Participants paid a nominal registration fee to the CFA. Although the MFFM program was subsidized through grant funding, the registration fee contributed to the purchase of a meal, handout materials, advertising, and travel. The registration fee also served as “buy-in” for registrants to attend the class. The MFFM program was conducted as a day-long short course, although some variation occurred in response to clients’ needs. In some cases, the course was divided into 3 weekly sections of 2 hours each. Approximately one hour was devoted to each selected topic. Each participant was provided with a Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi book as well as presentation handouts. The short courses were sponsored by local CFAs, Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Mississippi State University College of Forest Resources, Mississippi Forestry Commission, Mississippi Forestry Association - Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the USDA Forest Service.

Course Evaluations

Evaluations were collected from participants at the conclusion of each short course. In this paper we report on evaluation questions addressing individual background information and desired topics for future workshops. As well, we present three measures of program assessment, including two measures of participant reaction (usefulness of information and perceived value of the program in dollars) and one outcome measure (perceived change in knowledge before and after receiving the information). Because there is no definite relationship between what participants believe they learned and what they actually learned, a comprehensive survey of participants’ attitudes and knowledge requires several comparable measures to add strength to assessment (Dixon 1990).  By contrast, we opted for a limited number of questions to mitigate the burden placed on participants who had already invested several hours of their time with us prior to completing the evaluation. As a result, there were a number of possible questions regarding participant reactions, program facilitation, outcomes, future programming, and background characteristics that we chose not to include in the evaluation. Still, participant perceptions recorded using the methods described here were valuable to our future programming. The questions are commonly employed by extension professionals to provide immediate feedback about program effectiveness and characteristics of participants (Taylor-Powell & Renner (2009). The evaluation data served as the basis for the results summarized in the following section.

Results

In total, 13 MFFM short courses were conducted in 2010 and 2011. Table 1 contains attendance and location information. Overall, 602 individuals from 59 counties attended the programs. This represented an average of 46 participants per program. Programs conducted in DeSoto, Marshall, and Tate Counties included eight counties comprising the Memphis metropolitan area. This was important because MFFM aimed to reach urban residents who were not able to attend programs in the counties where their property was located.

 
Year Host County # Participating Counties Total Attendance
2010 Oktibbeha 6 64
2010 Lee 6 83
2010 Alcorn 5 73
2010 Yalobusha 9 44
2010 Carroll 6 56
2010 Tate 8 41
2011 Marshall 2 45
2011 Lafayette 4 37
2011 Attala 4 52
2011 Montgomery 1 9
2011 Holmes 3 32
2011 Panola 6 38
2011 DeSoto 2 28
Total   59 602

Table 1. Short Course Locations and Attendance

Typical ofExtension Forestry programming, many participants were white and male (Table 2). Still, MFFM attracted a larger number of women and minorities than previous programs. Eleven percent of participants were white women, while 5% were African American males and 3% were African American females. This compares with 26% of white women, 4% African American male, and less than 1% African American female forest owners across the state (Butler, 2008). The increase in underserved clientele may be attributable to the broad coverage of material and relatively basic level of information appropriate for audiences unfamiliar with the information. As an introductory course, the MFFM curriculum welcomed many clients who may have otherwise perceived the program as beyond their skill level.

The evaluation asked participants for the location of their property by county. Although the program was advertised in a select number of counties, NIPF landowners from non-advertised counties may have become aware of the program through the Mississippi State University Extension Service website, word-of-mouth, or newspaper outlets. As well, landowners may control property in additional counties in addition to the targeted counties. The results indicated the geographic scale that the program indirectly impacted. From Table 2, the course was advertised in 59 counties, yet participants reported their property located in a total of 156 counties.  Most of the participants (72%) indicated that their property was in the host county; however, 18 counties were located outside of Mississippi. Since the MFFM course mailing uses property tax rolls, advertising included absentee NIPF landowners as well. Participants reportedly owned a total of 206,730 acres or an average of 343.4 acres per landowner and 15,902 acres per program. Thus, the information potentially had an effect on forestland well beyond the advertised counties.

 

Total 602
     White Male 397
     White Female 150
     African American Male 35
     African American Female 19
     Other Male 1
Property Ownership Location (# Counties)  
     Total 156
     Located Outside of Mississippi 18
     In the Host County 113
Total Forested Acres 206,730

Table 2. Participant Characteristics

Table 3 contains data from an evaluation question measuring participant reactions to content by asking them to rate the usefulness of the information using a 3-point scale (1 = very useful, 2 = somewhat useful, 3 = not useful). Although evaluations contained an item addressing overall usefulness of each short course, we present results by individual topics rather than as an aggregate because topics varied for each course. Of the 13 chapters in the book, only one – “Natural Regeneration of Southern Pines” – was not requested as a workshop topic. Other than site preparation, which was requested by only six participants, pine plantation thinning (offered 9 times) had the highest percentage of very useful responses (88%) compared with other topics during each short course where pine plantation thinning was offered. The next four most useful programs were forest health (87% and 4 presentations), the management plan (85% and 8 presentations), marketing (80% and 11 presentations), and artificial pine regeneration (79% and 2 presentations).

 

Topic Times Offered(n=13)

No.

(N=602)

Very Useful Useful Not Useful
Site Preparation 1 6

100

0 0
Pine Plantation Thinning 9 277 88 12 0
Forest Health 4 123 87 13 0
Management Plan 8 273 85 15 0
Marketing the Forest Crop 11 383 80 14 6
Artificial Pine Regeneration 2 28 79 21 0
Mangaging for Multiple Use 6 197 78 21 1
Harvesting and Best Mgmt Practices 8 221 75 23 2
Taxes and the Family Forest Owner 7 241 75 14 12
Financial Considerations 8 264 70 28 2
Southern Hardwood Mgmt 4 118 64 34 3
Prescribed Burning 5 186 63 34 3

Table 3. Usefulness of topics and materials

Participants added written comments such as:

  • Wonderful class, very informative.  I'm pleased with outcome.  I believe it was well worth the time.
  •  Well done. Great materials. I’ll be coming back for more.
  • Thank you so much for such a wonderful learning experience.  The instructions, book, handouts, and presentations will be extremely beneficial to our family.
  • Great job! Please follow up with a tree ID on-site program.

In addition to topic usefulness, Extension Forestry program evaluations traditionally contain a participant reaction question addressing the perceived value of the information provided (Londo and Monaghan, 2002). For MFFM, this question asked participants: “Do you believe this program will help you earn more money from managing your timber.” Following a possible response of yes or no, they selected a value from 11 possible categories, including “other (specify).” For analysis and brevity of reporting, the indicated values were aggregated with the perceived value of the programing totaling $2,732,435, an average of $210,187 per course, $13.22 per acre, and $4,584 per landowner.

In Table 4, participants’ indicated their perceived knowledge of the topic before and after the presentation. It is important to note this question did not measure participants’ actual change in knowledge. Perceived knowledge was measured using two 5-point Likert scales (1 = very poor, 2 = poor, 3 = neither poor nor good, 4 = good, 5 = very good) each collapsed into two categories (1 = very poor and poor; 2 = good and very good) for analysis due to inadequate frequency distribution within cells. The greatest percentage of participants according to response indicated they had the least knowledge about site preparation prior to attending the program (6 out of 6 participants), while most had relatively more knowledge about managing for multiple use (95 of 197 participants). After the program, most participants by proportion reported having very good knowledge about site preparation and artificial pine regeneration (6 of 6 and 28 of 28, respectively).

 

------------------------ Before(%)-----------   ------------------------ After (%)----------
Very Poor & Poor Good & Very Good Topic Very Poor & Poor Good & Very Good
86 14 Artificial Pine Regeneration (n=28) 0 100
87 13 Financial Considerations (n=264) 22 78
87 13 Forest Health (n=123) 36 64
77 23 Harvesting and BMPs (n=221) 14 86
78 22 Management plan (n=273) 17 83
52 48 Managing for Multiple Use (n=197) 20 80
81 19 Marketing the Forest Crop (n=383) 19 81
77 23 Pine Plantation Thinning (n=277) 18 82
66 34 Prescribed Burning (n=186) 23 77
100 0 Site Preparation (n=6) 0 100
53 47 S. Hardwood Management (n=118) 22 78
87 13 Taxes and the Family Forest (n=241) 32 68

Table 4. Perceived Knowledge by topic before and after MFFM short course

 Nine evaluations presented participants with 31 short course and workshop options for future educational opportunities in Extension Forestry programming. Figure 1 depicts responses ranked from high to low. A short course entitled ‘Marketing and Harvesting Timber’ was indicated as most desired, followed by ‘Best Management Practices’, ‘Tree Identification’, and ‘Timber Tax Fundamentals’. Learning about growing Christmas trees was the least requested topic, which was not surprising since this is a highly specialized crop and market in Mississippi.

 

Course High

Neither High nor Low

Low
Marketing & Harvesting Timber 131 30 16
Best Mgmt Practices 125 39 5
Tree ID 113 37 20
Tax Fundamentals 112 40 13
Are My Pine Trees Ready to Thin? 108 46 21
How to Manage Pine Plantations 107 16 9
Forest Tax and Estate Plan Basics 99 19 13
Bark Beetles 97 54 8
Forest Valuation 96 51 12
Forest Certification 87 56 12
Forest Regeneration 82 31 4
Analyzing Forest Investments 75 42 8
Forestry for Baby Boomers 74 57 23
Forest Herbicides 73 37 19
Intro Hardwood Mgmt 71 34 18
GPS 67 56 35
Urban Forestry 60 61 35
Hardwood Mgmt 50 28 20
Intensive Hardwood Mgmt as Biofuel Crop 49 34 27
Forest Farming (muchrooms, greenery, berries) 44 44 22
Forest Mgmt for Wildlife 42 12 2
Intro Woodland Mgmt 42 6 2
Small Landowner 42 10 2
Growing Hardwoods on CRP 38 36 30
Master Tree Farmer 36 21 10
Forest & Wildlife Mgmt 36 12 2
Agroforestry 34 14 4
Master Wildlifer 34 18 4
Christmas Trees 20 6 24
Table 5. Future Topic Preferences Sorted by High Preference
 

Discussion and Implications

MFFM programming conducted in Mississippi served as an introduction to sustainable forest management for NIPF landowners. Results from 602 evaluations demonstrate clients’ perceived knowledge improvement and satisfaction with the program. Participants valued the information received and anticipated monetary returns by using the information.

The model for the MFFM short course has implications across the South and nationally - for forestry public education programs as well as outreach efforts in other areas of expertise. Sustainable natural resource management occurs with educational opportunities that reach a broad spectrum of client types. MFFM achieved this goal with its straightforward concepts, comprehensive coverage of management topics, attractive format with glossy photos and graphics, and lists of additional information resources.

The importance of such qualities cannot be overlooked in successful Extension communication strategies. The 13 topics presented in MFFM are complex and can easily be delivered in multiple volumes of several hundred pages. However, reflecting the diversity of cooperative extension clientele in general, Extension Forestry’s clients (e.g., traditional, new, youth, women, absentee) demanded a primer that synthesized the most critical forest management topics into a brief text and concise instruction. In the age of rapid information exchange, multivolume works can be cumbersome to clients’ needs and time constraints. Further, clients may be turned off if they are forced to tediously search for individual manuscripts via a publications tab on a cooperative Extension web site. In response, MFFM is electronically available as a complete publication and by individual chapters. Every cooperative extension publication and program should be considered with marketing strategies in light of growing competition from other sources.

We believe several other aesthetic features strengthened the program and continue to make the information appealing to clients. First, the curriculum was developed from nearly 30 years of MSU Extension Forestry evaluation data. As well, the curriculum committee drew from input by a diverse cross-section of stakeholders and Extension Forestry staff. As a result, the curriculum is relevant to landowner’s needs and preferences.

In addition, each chapter of MFFM was coordinated by the curriculum committee but authored by one or more members of the Extension Forestry staff. This ensured continuity between chapters, but variation in perspectives and authorship styles making for an engaging delivery. The face-to-face program was designed similarly so that different speakers would engage the audience with lecture and activities throughout the short course.

Due to the inclusiveness of the program across clientele groups and topics, standardized evaluation questions were extremely useful to compare responses across the state. Perhaps more importantly, this paper suggests the usefulness of aggregating short course assessment data over time as programs are implemented. Longitudinal evaluation provides long-term accountability, information for improving the program as stakeholder and resource characteristics change over time, and shows participants that we value their input and that we are interested in improving. Several indicators of effectiveness should be included in cooperative extension evaluations, such as usefulness of the information, knowledge gained, and some sort of economic valuation, if applicable. Evaluation responses suggested participants placed a high value on the program as indicated by dollar amount. We recognize this was not an ideal measure; however, it provided us additional evidence of the program’s effectiveness.

Although focus groups were not used in MFFM curriculum development, they would be an excellent method of gathering client input. Along with standard individual evaluations, focus groups are a reliable, accepted, and efficient way of evaluating program effectiveness. The need for accountability continues to increase and is linked to our aforementioned comments on competitiveness and marketability of cooperative extension programs.

While lessons discussed here can be applied to any extension program, the specific curriculum and materials, available at msucares.com, can be modified and applied by natural resource extension programs outside of Mississippi. We encourage forestry outreach programs to critically evaluate MFFM and contact the MSU Extension Forestry staff if needed. The text is readily applicable to management of southern yellow pines across the South. Individual programs and county agents may wish to substitute local images and additional information in the reference sections. Finally, because the curriculum committee’s goal for MFFM was to provide a brief introduction to forest management, stewardship principals were only indirectly mentioned. Modified versions may wish to include more explicit statements regarding forest ecology and stewardship as this is now considered basic instruction for NIPF client groups (Gordon and Garnett 2012).

Acknowledgements

We thank the Mississippi Forestry Commission, Mississippi Sustainable Forestry Initiative State Implementation Committee, and USDA Forest Service, Southern Region Forest Health Protection for funding of this short course.

References

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