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Inheriting the Forest

A close family keeps a forest healthy

Landscapes Summer 2011
Allen and Ginny Nipper

Allen and Ginny Nipper

Photo by Jeff Scott 


At least once a year, Ginny and Allen Nipper gather together with their three adult children, Weldon, Emilie and William, for a family meeting. These meetings are not your typical holiday or party gatherings. They have a strategic purpose: to discuss the family’s timberland interests.

The family meets in a neutral location where there will be few distractions from the task at hand. Each family member has a role in the meetings, such as taking minutes or moderating.

“We gave our kids specific responsibilities to report on at the meetings that use their unique skills, such as painting property lines, backing up computer data or building Web pages,” says Allen.

They believe the benefit to their family from having these family meetings is well worth the effort it takes to plan and conduct them. One day, their children will inherit this land, and when they do, Ginny and Allen want them to have a smooth transition.

“We want to keep our entire family involved in the process,” Ginny says, because she and Allen know from experience how hard an intergenerational transfer can be when all family members are not informed.

Learning Through Experience

The couple, longtime Louisiana Land Bank customers, currently own and⁄or manage approximately 500 acres of land and timber in central and north Louisiana and in southwest Arkansas. The majority of their land was acquired through intergenerational transfer from both sides of their family more than a decade ago.

The transfer of land came with several major difficulties for the Nippers. They discovered that tracts mentioned in one of the wills had been given away. In Ginny’s case, they did not know much about her family’s property because family discussions about the properties had excluded the female members. In addition, because neither Ginny nor Allen was a professional forester, they had much to learn about their lands and timber.

To address these issues, the Nippers set themselves on a course of study: They attended local, regional and national forestry association meetings to learn all they could about managing forest resources, and both graduated from the Master Tree Farmer I and II programs. They also attended several seminars on the intergenerational transfer of forestlands, where they learned that many of the difficulties they faced could have been prevented with effective family communication, using family meetings as the foundation.

Benefits of Family Meetings

In 2006, the Nippers decided to take what they had learned and teach other landowners how to organize and conduct family landowner meetings. They developed presentations that include examples and pictures from their lands and experiences, and exercises that the participants can take home and use with their families.

 

“We wanted to provide others with a set of tools for conducting family meetings,” says Allen. “If they only do one of the steps we recommend, then we have accomplished something.”

— Allen Nipper

A successful family meeting, say the Nippers, can be achieved by following a series of steps that range from establishing goals, to identifying topics related to those goals, to evaluating the results of the meeting. They stress that both verbal and written communication is critical at all stages of the meeting process.

Ginny urges women to be a part of all technical meetings and to understand everything they can about the family land. The couple also recommends including a time for family story-telling in the meeting process, to introduce a light-hearted element to the gatherings.

“We wanted to provide others with a set of tools for conducting family meetings,” says Allen. “If they only do one of the steps we recommend, then we have accomplished something.”

In this way, the Nippers feel like they can give back and help prevent some of the challenges they faced as new landowners. In the following article, Ginny focuses on two families and how communication influenced the families’ knowledge of the goals and plans for their family land. 

– Staff


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