GFA represents members and constituents every day at the State Capitol when the Georgia General Assembly is in session and works while throughout the year to educate public officials and decision makers about the benefits derived from Georgia’s working forests.
With a consistent focus and dedication to the sustainability and conservation of Georgia’s forest landowners and forest industries, the Association and its volunteers have made several contributions to ensure a healthy business and political climate for Georgia’s forests.
Here are a few highlights of the Association’s advocacy impacts in recent history:
Georgia General Assembly Future of Forestry Study Committee
In 2005, the Georgia Forestry Association was instrumental in helping to create the Georgia General Assembly’s Future of Forestry Study Committee, which was charged to prepare a comprehensive plan for Georgia to sustain and expand the benefits of its 24 million acres of forestland and forest products industry. The Committee held statewide meetings in its search for methods to enhance forestry’s competitive position, focusing on the forest products industry and the finding needed to keep it healthy.
One of the primary recommendations of the report was for the state to investigate the benefits of developing a procedure to allow for “sustainable forest” labeling to be placed on Georgia forest products. The committee also directed the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) to certify to the General Assembly the sustainability of the state’s forest resources through a report every five years. This initiative provided an opportunity to unify state governmental and forestry leaders for the purpose of developing and maintain forestry’s position as one of the greatest economic and environmental drivers in the state.
The Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA)
In November 2008, the Georgia Forestry Association’s successful constitutional amendment campaign made effective the Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 (HB 1211) – which lifted a huge tax burden from Georgia’s forest landowners.
FLPA, sponsored and championed by Representative Richard Royal (R-Camilla), created a property valuation classification of forestland to expand the conservation use property tax program (CUVA) created in 1990. The legislation, which has no acreage cap, allows property owners and businesses to put their property into a covenant for at least 15 years and to receive a lower tax burden for as long as the land is kept in a complying use.
Though technically tax legislation, FLPA’s establishment was equally important to conserving threatened forestland by creating a system that allowed owners of large working forests to protect them from sell-off and fragmentation that result from out-of-control property taxes. Today, thousands of acres have remained in forestland due to the tax relief provided by this legislation.
Timber Security Legislation
On April 29, 2014, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed legislation into law that will strengthen Georgia’s timber theft and timber trespass statutes, and improve forest operations in Georgia’s timber industry. House Bill 790 was the product of the House Study Committee on Timber Security, established by House Resolution 644. HR 644 was passed during the 2013 session of the Georgia General Assembly at the urging of the Georgia Forestry Association.
Key provisions of HB 790
A few key provisions of HB 790, sponsored and championed by Representative Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville), include:
- The legislation expanded the authority of the Georgia Forestry Commission to investigate, issue warrants and make arrests in timber theft cases. Prior to House Bill 790, GFC had this authority only in arson cases.
- If timber is harvested without authorization, a landowner now may recover ‘three-times’ the value of the loss versus ‘one time’ the value.
- Scale tickets now must be provided to the timber seller within 20 days of delivery to the receiving mill. Previously, there was no deadline for providing scale tickets.
- Landowners’ exposure to liability may be reduced in the event of an overcut or other unauthorized taking of timber if the landowner takes certain steps (not required), including clearly marking property lines, having a survey conducted or executing a letter of agreement on property line location with the adjoining landowner prior to harvest, a copy of which must be provided to the timber buyer.
- The new legislation establishes a four-year statute of limitations from the time of the taking of the timber during which a landowner may pursue damages.
Following the signing of HB 790, GFA officially reinstated its timber theft reward program to provide greater security to members concerned about protecting their timber assets. The Association’s timber theft reward program aims to increase awareness of the new law, while offering a $1,000 reward to individuals who offer information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals convicted in cases of timber theft or timber arson. GFA encourages its members to participate in the program by purchasing signs to display on property boundaries.
According to GFC’s law enforcement division, landowners with complaints about actions affecting their timber should follow three specific steps:
- First, attempt to resolve the situation with all parties involved.
- If that fails or if the harvesting parties are unknown, landowners should record all known
information including contracts, dates, names and contact information for other parties
involved and anyone who has knowledge of the events.
- Once that information is obtained, the landowner should report the incident to the local Georgia
Forestry Commission office.