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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Morgan brings corporate experience as state forester

Jackson — Mississippi has a new state forester. The Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) recently named Charlie W. Morgan of Canton to the post after a 32-year career with International Paper (IP).

Morgan earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry management from Mississippi State University in 1973, and went to work for IP in 1974. He held positions of increasing responsibility in Jackson, Ridgeland and Canton, and most recently served as manager of acquisition and harvesting, West Region, in Shreveport, La.

Morgan has also been an officer and/or served on boards of directors and committees with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, Forest Resources Association and Mississippi Council of Economic Education.

The Mississippi Business Journal recently caught up with Morgan and asked him about the perspective he brings from the corporate world to his new role, his goals and objectives as state forester, among others.

Mississippi Business Journal: What led you into the field of forest management?

Charlie Morgan: I grew up in a rural setting in Marion County, Miss. I learned at an early age the importance of the land because part of my family’s livelihood depended on the land. We had an extensive garden that was essential to providing the basic vegetable produce that made up a significant portion of our annual food consumption. The timber on our 40 acres provided a modest income to our family. These early ties to the land led me to decide on pursuing a degree in forest management.

Also, when evaluating available career options, it was readily apparent that the forest products industry was rapidly expanding in Mississippi and across the Southeast. I saw this growth and expansion as an opportunity to have a successful career in a field of which I was somewhat familiar.

MBJ: What do you feel you bring with you from your experience at International Paper that will help you in your role as state forester?

CM: For 32 years, I have been building experience in a business that supports our most valuable resources — our people and our forests and the economic, recreational and environmental values that are so closely tied to the land. Since 1985, I have held management positions within International Paper that have given me the opportunity to develop the competencies required to successfully lead an organization. Some examples are managing vision and purpose, building effective teams, maintaining a strong customer focus, people development, a strong focus on safety and the use of financial metrics.

Over the years, I have also been involved in public outreach and forestry association activities that have given me exposure to both the public and private sectors across the state.

Probably one of the most important aspects that I have grown in is dealing with change. The forest products industry has very quickly evolved into a global business that requires significant and ongoing change for a company to sustain success.

Managing forests begins with good people, the right tools and each team member having a clear understanding of the team’s role in addition to their individual roles and accountability. Key components of any successful business include solid financial metrics and the ability to align strategic and tactical objectives throughout the organization. However, success starts with the most important component — people.

MBJ: Tell us about the role of the state forester. What are the duties and responsibilities?

CM: The Mississippi Forestry Commission is a service agency created by the Legislature in 1926. A board of governor-appointed commissioners governs the agency. As state forester, my job is to ensure the policies established by the governing board are carried out, ensure the agency operates within its appropriated budget and uphold the agency’s responsibilities to the residents and landowners of Mississippi.

Our primary responsibility is to provide wildfire protection on the private and state-owned forested and un-cultivatable lands in Mississippi.

Other responsibilities and services include: providing forest management on state-owned forestland, such as school trust lands (16th section lands); providing forest management assistance and advice to private landowners; providing tree-care advice to homeowners, communities and cities; and providing forest information to the public through public outreach activities.

The role of state forester requires me to make sure that all of the agency’s programs and services are carried out for their intended purpose.

MBJ: What are your goals and objectives as state forester?

CM: Lead a fiscally responsible agency that has a clear vision, mission and understanding of what is expected of employees. Ensure that the goals and objectives across the organization are aligned and metrics are used to measure success. Clear lines of communication are essential to the process.

Another key area is providing each MFC team member with the opportunity to learn and grow in his or her personal development. Safety is always a top priority and management support is essential as is each of us recognizing that we are personally responsible and accountable for safe behavior both at work and at home.

MBJ: Hurricane Katrina dealt a harsh blow to timberland owners. What do you hope to accomplish as state forester to assist them in getting back on their feet?

CM: First, I want to assure the landowners with lands affected by Katrina that the Mississippi Forestry Commission is committed to enhancing firefighting efforts, which have been drastically hampered by the excessive amount of forest debris due to the hurricane. We are close to launching a three-year wildfire mitigation and forest recovery plan that will address wildfire protection, landowner assistance and urban and community forestry assistance.

As state forester, I see one extremely important activity is ensuring that all timberland owners are aware of the financial incentives that are available, both those that are ongoing such as the Forest Resource Development Program and state/federal reforestation tax credits and new programs specifically available as part of the Katrina forest recovery effort. A key role to be played by the Forestry Commission is to provide the guidance needed by landowners faced with making difficult land management decisions such as timber salvage, forest recovery/renewal and forest protection needs such as constructing firebreaks and prescribed burning.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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