JACKSON, Miss. (AP)
Foreign imports are carving into Mississippi's forestry industry and the state needs to help landowners and businesses compete, a lawmaker says.
``The American people are demanding a cheaper price for lumber,'' said Rep. Bo Eaton, D-Taylorsville. ``We've always been able to provide that in the Southeastern part of the United States. But now there's so much lumber coming in from other parts of the world.''
Eaton is on a 17-member task force that met for the first time Tuesday at the state Capitol. The group will study Mississippi forestry and make recommendations to legislators by Dec. 1, about a month before the 2002 session starts.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the task force will examine how the state Forestry Commission can help landowners become more productive tree farmers.
``We're sort of blowing in the wind, if you will, with the forestry industry,'' Holland said. ``We need to make sure we grow more trees, better trees, more marketable trees.'' Holland said lawmakers might consider tax breaks or other incentives to help timber-related businesses such as furniture makers and paper producers.
In April, about 350 people lost their jobs when Georgia-Pacific Corp. closed its plywood production facility in Louisville. Plant officials said market conditions were to blame for the shutdown.
International Paper has announced it will shut its mill in Moss Point and sell its mill in Natchez. The furniture industry in northeast Mississippi has been hit with layoffs.
About 18.6 million acres in Mississippi are covered with forests.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, opening Tuesday's meeting, said the state's forest-industry jobs pay an average of $25,686. Mississippi ranked 50th in per capita personal income in 1999, with an average of $20,688. ``We must see more from the forest than the trees,'' Tuck said.
The task force is led by lumber company executive Rollin Turnage of Jackson and the director of Mississippi State University's Forest and Wildlife Center, Sam Foster.