Texas Forest Service – Strategic Plan for Forest Based Economic Development

ChallengeForestry and forest products industries play an important role in the economy of Texas and a critical role in the economy of rural East Texas. Over the past several years, however, external factors—such as increased competition, weak product markets, and troubled financial markets—coupled with rising costs have eroded the industry’s strength. The resulting consolidation and divestiture of timberlands has brought significant uncertainty to the East Texas forest economy. Recognizing the need for creative strategies and capitalizing on its unique position to help the beleaguered forest-dependent communities in its service area, the Texas Forest Service (TFS) and the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas engaged TIP, along with Bob Bowman & Associates, to develop a strategic plan for forest-based economic development. The goal of the plan, which was funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, was to assist the TFS in defining its role in meeting the economic development needs of rural East Texas.

ApproachOur approach centered on the following definition: Economic development is the application of public resources to stimulate private sector investment. From this starting point, we asked three questions: Is there an economic need for TFS services in East Texas? Are there gaps in service delivery? Does economic development fit within the agency’s mission? To answer these questions we analyzed economic data for the agency’s 43-county service region; inventoried rural development programs and initiatives available to East Texas residents and businesses; conducted a survey of “best practices” used by other state forestry agencies; and met with agency officials and area stakeholders. The result was a detailed plan that not only helps the Texas Forest Service define its role in meeting the economic development needs of rural East Texas, but also maps out specific steps to implement the plan’s innovative strategies.

OutcomeEconomic need, service delivery gaps, and legislative authority are not by themselves sufficient to justify action. Although it is clear that there is a role for forestry agencies to play in the future development of rural East Texas, any new strategies undertaken by forestry agencies must create the opportunity to impact the economy more significantly than the approach to economic development currently being used. In addition to furthering the agency’s role in the recruitment and retention of forestry industries, the plan identified new areas where TFS could have an impact. The biggest of these was tourism. As stewards of some of the most scenic lands in the country, state and federal forestry agencies are positioned to play a unique role in tourism development. Participating with regional tourism development would allow the agency to have a significant economic impact with very little financial investment, as tourism development not only impacts jobs and industries directly related to tourism, but also raises the profile of the region, spurring other types of development.

TIP Contact Tom Stellman

Photo credit Kevin Raggio

Photo credit Theodore Scott