forestry in SE U.S.

There ain’t no free lunch in forestry – an interview with Bob Izlar

During the 2017 Timberland Investment Conference, I interviewed Mr. Bob Izlar, the Director of University of Georgia (UGA) Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business. Mr. Izlar tell us more about Forest Business Program at UGA, its main idea, potential opportunities after graduation, and in general about the demise of many world class forestry schools since mid-1970s.

First, thank you Mr. Izlar for accepting the interview invitation. On behalf of Forest Monitor readers’, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

I remember very well that in your welcome speech, you mentioned that raised money from the 2017 Timberland Investment Conference will support students at University of Georgia. Could you tell us more in which aspects?

    – Certainly. This is an entirely self-funded program with no support from the University of Georgia or the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. So, we have to raise the money ourselves. Conference sponsorships do that for us. We do not use the funds to defray conference expenses. Graduate assistantships for our students waive all tuition and pay a monthly stipend. So, they are critical to our continued success in recruiting the best students for our unique program in forest investment science.

The Southeastern United States (SE U.S.) is a particular region in the whole U.S. in terms of wood production, timberland investment opportunities or number of companies that operate in forest sector, such as forest consultants, appraisers, pulp mills, pellets facilities and many others. Probably, no other region in the world has produced as much timber as SE U.S. Was this situation beneficial for your School?

    – Location, location, location! The coastal South Carolina/Georgia/ North Florida wood basket is the most developed and dynamic wood market in the world along with dominant private forest ownership and the ability of forest owners to manage their forests freely to meet their objectives.  Pellets have only added to that. Being located near this region is a very positive influence for faculty and students because we are exposed to this market – and the expanded Southeastern wood basket –  on a daily basis.

I am not sure, but I think that University of Georgia is currently the only university in the world that offers explicitly the forest business education and degree. Could you tell us more about the Forest Business Program at Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business at UGA? I am particularly interested in, what kind of knowledge students get at your School, and what usually your students do for a living after the graduation?

    – There are forestry schools and there are business schools. But the forest business management graduate education program in forest investment science offered through the UGA Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business is the only program in the world which combines graduate forestry and business education in a degree program. Our students are equally exposed to core Master of Business Administration (MBA) classes through the UGA Terry College of Business and forest business operations courses at the Warnell School. In the very particular case of timberland and timber as a real estate asset, our students are exposed to core business principles and then apply them to a business asset that is alive and has biological growth as well as the potential for product class and real estate price gains. It is a rather illiquid asset which has biotic and abiotic risks attendant to it. Our students learn how to adjust for those very unusual business risks in a forest operations scenario.

The other very tangible thing our students are exposed to in their time here is the tremendous depth of our faculty private industry work experience.  Our 9 forest business faculty have a collective 120+ years of private forest operations experience as foresters, executives, analysts, consultants, etc.  You can’t put a price on that, but it brings real world operational experience directly into the classroom.  Our students benefit greatly from that depth of practical expertise.

Our students land jobs as forest consultants, foresters in traditional forest products manufacturing, Timber Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Timber Industry Management Organizations (TIMOs), lenders, insurance companies, banks, public and private pension funds, endowments, banks, non-profits, family offices, other financial institutions – and very rarely – government positions.

Is it a long-process to build a great relationship between the University and your students, and what kind of benefits such relationship can bring?

    – The thing about the US higher education model is that for hundreds of years, US universities, both public and private, have sought to build brand loyalty. A case in point are the many Harvard Clubs scattered throughout the US and abroad that give administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni opportunities in interact on a very frequent basis.  Most US universities do this as part of their mission – brand loyalty brings donations of money, stocks, bonds, art, land, etc.  US public Land Grant Universities have a mandated three-part mission of teaching, research and service to the general public (taxpayers) which you don’t see in European universities.

At Georgia we start this brand relationship with students on their first day and continue it until death.  It is a model that works! A case in point is the lifetime relationship we had with Harley Langdale, Jr. who was a 1938 graduate of our School.  Upon his death at age 96, we received a substantial set of gifts from his estate.

We not only get gifts in many tangible forms, but our alumni and friends also look out for us politically and are great recruiters for us for faculty, students and funding. Our alumni provide numerous professional training and employment opportunities for our graduates.

Recently, I have noticed that at many forestry schools in Europe and U.S., there is a reduction in positions related to forest economics, management, which are getting outnumbered by programs focused on forest ecology, or for instance, effects of climate change on forests. It seems that your Center is selecting a different way, and tries to fulfill this gap. Is it true? And, do you expect any potential competitors in this niche educational market in coming years?

    – We have noticed with great sadness the demise of many world class forestry schools who have taken a different path as you so correctly note.  This trend seems to have begun in the mid-1970s. We have chosen a different – so might say radical way – in that we have remained steadfast in our adherence to traditional forestry education. As a friend of mine from Texas noted: “Conservation without cash is just conversation.”  All the green programs in the world won’t amount to anything, if you can’t pay for them. “There ain’t no free lunch.” Someone has to actively invest in land, labor and capital to make our forests work for a financial return and many amenities – green benefits if you will. Your forest has to make money or its ownership will gravitate to some owner who will. Those who are averse to “hanging a dollar on things”, don’t get that.

With that being said, we are almost the last US School left with a forest  business/industrial/economic focus. There are about four more I could name who are much like us. We welcome any competition in our forest investment science niche, but I think they will have to follow our model to succeed. 

A last question what are yours, and your School plans for 2017? Any particular objectives to accomplish?

    – We are still wrapping up from the Timberland Investment Conference. This usually takes well into May.  There are so many details which have to be attended to and the books have to be closed by June 30 which is the end of our Fiscal Year.  Then, we get ready for the incoming students for Fall Term 2017. So far, about 11 have been admitted, but we expect a few more.  I have to personally schedule all their classes with the Terry College of Business. In mid-September, three faculty members, one alumna and two industry supporters will present a panel on timberland investing and sustainability at the 125th Anniversary IUFRO Conference in Freiburg, Germany. Then, there are investment conferences in Portland, Oregon and London, UK where we will present and attend.  The year won’t be as busy as it has been, but it will be fun.  If it weren’t, we’d all retire!

We welcome all to visit our website and plan on attending our 2019 UGA Timberland Investment Conference, March 2021, 2019 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, FL.

Bob Izlar has been the Director of and Faculty member in the Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business at the the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources since 1998.  He has 26 years prior experience in private forest industry throughout the world.



Main photo: Loblloly pine in Florida (USA). Author: Rafal Chudy

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