FRA’s Southeastern Region Converges on the Sunshine State:  A Summary of the 2024 Spring Meeting


FRA’s Southeastern Region recently held their 2024 Spring Meeting in Wakulla Springs, FL, on March 12th – 14th. The meeting venue, The Lodge at Wakulla Springs, is nestled in the middle of Wakulla Springs State Park and on the banks of one of our nation’s largest natural springs. The Lodge was built in 1937 by Edward Ball, a prominent industrialist and founder of the St. Joe Paper Company. Hollywood has even featured Wakulla Springs as the setting for several movies, most notably Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The meeting began on Tuesday afternoon (March 12th) with a private Jungle Cruise Tour. Our Park Ranger, Collin Johnson, was an outstanding boat captain, tour guide, and wildlife expert. The former Nashville musician even treated us to one of his songs, which was written about Wakulla Springs! A Welcome Reception immediately followed the tour, allowing meeting attendees to network and socialize. 

The Wednesday morning session (March 13th) commenced with a Keynote Presentation from Mike Nieman, Schneider’s Dedicated Safety & Training Leader. Mike’s presentation titled “Delivering Results Through Safety & Training” set the stage for the entire meeting since transportation-related topics and issues were a common theme throughout the day. The remainder of the morning session served as the latest installment of the Southern Region – Council on Forest Engineering (SRCOFE) meeting. 

It has been a long-standing tradition that SRCOFE meets in conjunction with FRA’s Southeastern or Southcentral Region for their biennial Spring Meeting. Faculty and graduate students from Auburn University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Georgia were in attendance to present their latest research findings on a myriad of forest operations topics. U.S. Forest Service personnel were also on the agenda as featured speakers. Attendees were treated to 8 SRCOFE presentations addressing the following topics: Timber Transportation; Site Impacts, Water Quality, and Sustainability; and Timber Harvesting Productivity, Cost, and Value Recovery. FRA is looking forward to once again partnering with SRCOFE in the Spring of 2026!

The Southeastern Region Awards Lunch was the next item of business. Both of the Region’s 2024 Awards were presented during the lunch session: 

Technical Writing Award and Outstanding Logger Award. Amanda Murphy of Cary, NC, was recognized as the Technical Writing Award recipient, and Dillon M. Stratton III (DM Stratton, LLC) of Green Cove Springs, FL, was recognized as the Region’s Outstanding Logger. Congratulations, Amanda and Dillon!

Amanda’s winning Technical Release is titled “The Be Pro Be Proud Mobile Workshop.” Her article provides a great overview of the recently launched Be Pro Be Proud NC, an initiative to generate student, parent, and teacher interest in technical professions. Amanda’s submission was well-received by FRA members as workforce development initiatives, specifically seeking creative ways to interest young professionals in pursuing forest products careers, is a top-priority issue for FRA and our entire wood supply chain.  

Amanda has led marketing and communications for almost 15 years in multiple capacities. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan Flagler Business School with a bachelor’s degree in business administration (concentration in marketing). Next, she went on to obtain her master’s degree in international studies as part of the political science degree program at NC State University. Amanda started her own business, Momentum for Good, LLC, in early 2023 and went full-time in 2024. She proudly serves clients in state government, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and those in the forestry sector. 

DM Stratton, LLC was founded in 1958 and is currently a third-generation family-owned business based in Green Cove Springs, FL. The Strattons are the quintessential logging family, with Dillon III taking ownership of the business from his father (Dillon M. Stratton Jr.) in 2015. DM Stratton, LLC recieved the 2022 Florida Logger of the Year Award and was nominated for FRA award consideration by Alan Shelby (Florida Forestry Association) and Mike Beardsley (Southeastern Wood Producers Association). Rayonier and West Frasier also endorsed DM Stratton’s FRA Outstanding Logger Award nomination.

DM Stratton, LLC has fostered an impressive safety culture company-wide, ultimately leading to receiving Rayonier’s National “Safety Star” Award in 2022. The company also offers an attractive benefits package for company employees including: employer sponsored 401K plans; vacation and sick leave; and partial payment of employee healthcare, dental, and vision plans. The Strattons are ardent supporters of the Florida Forestry Association and Southeastern Wood Producers Association (SWPA), with Dillon III currently serving as SWPA President. 

They have also been active members of the American Loggers Council since its inception. Dillon III inherited a quality and well-respected logging business nearly a decade ago, and he has set DM Stratton, LLC on an impressive trajectory for continued success under his leadership.

The Wednesday afternoon session included an outstanding lineup of speakers covering several timely and relevant topics for the Southeastern Region. Speakers included Dr. Devin Stephenson (President) and Bryan Brooks (Associate VP for Communications & Community Engagement) with Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC). Their joint presentation featured several successful workforce collaboratives between NWFSC and private industry. Dr. Jarek Nowak with the Florida Forest Service discussed the Impacts of Hurricane Michael on Florida’s Forests and Landowners (5 years post-landfall). 

Mike Beardsley (Executive Director – SWPA) and Richard Schwab (Past President – TEAM Safe Trucking) followed by sharing stakeholder updates for both strategic partners of FRA. 

Next, Tom Beitzel, Forestry Data Coordinator – The St. Joe Company, provided an excellent historical overview of The St. Joe Company, including some facts and stories about the relationship between the company and The Lodge at Wakulla Springs. He also discussed the impacts of recent mill closures in the region from a landowner’s perspective before turning the floor over to Richard Schwab to discuss how recent mill closures have impacted the logging sector. The day’s final speaker was Brian Davidson, CFO – of SmartLam North America. Brian provided a very informative overview of SmartLam’s operations, including the future outlook for CLT and Mass Timber in the US.

The 2024 Southeastern Region Spring Meeting concluded on Thursday morning (March 14th) following a well-attended and engaging Steering Committee business meeting.

FRA would like to thank our speakers, attendees, and the following sponsors for ensuring the 2024 Southeastern Region Spring Meeting was a success!