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Plantation and forest: forest in flux

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Sat May 25 20:47:23 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, May 25, 2002, p E1 (Business)

Forests in Flux
Increasing harvests and development change the face of Southern timber
By ALLEN G. BREED, The Associated Press

	LOUISBURG, N.C. - Jim Speed still gets up every morning, climbs into
his pickup and drives his 300 acres of timber. They're a legacy that's
been in his family since before the Civil War.
	At 87, Speed is twice the age of most of his oldest trees, but that
doesn't make him impatient. He points to a stand of 60-foot loblolly
pines that would make good saw logs today, but they'll stay there a
while longer.
	Growing trees is a business to Speed. And only two forces - God in
the heavens and the markets down below - will dictate when he cuts
them down, he says.
	"I wait until it's mature," the former state legislator says from a
155-year-old farmhouse built from timber cut on site. "It's not only
more profitable, but it's more environmentally sound."
	Speed and thousands of other private landowners like him make up the
unique face of the Southern forests.
	Unlike the forests of the West, which are mostly public property, the
vast carpet of green that covers 60 percent of the Southern landscape
is almost entirely privately owned, its harvest largely unregulated.
	Individuals and corporations own about 90 percent of the South's 201
million acres of timberland. And 79 percent of that is owned by
nonindustrial owners such as Speed, who intend to log some or all of
their property at some time.
	The South produces more wood than any single country in the world,
and that wood is the region's most abundant resource.
	Today, Southern forests are in flux. Harvests are increasing.
Development is taking a bit out of forestlands, and timber owners are
increasingly planting row upon row of fast-growing pines to meet
	A comprehensive, two-year federal study of the region's forests
released this winter projected timber harvests would grow by a third
during the next four decades. At the same time, the South is projected
to lose 31 million acres of timberliand to urban develompent, turning
trees into garnish for golf courses and Wal-Marts.
	Nonetheless, the overall acreage is expected to hold steady, largely
because of the planting of forest farms in the continuing transition
of natural stands to man-made.
	The federal study found that the region's natural pine forests
declined from 72 million acres in 1953 to 34 million acres in 1999.
Pine plantations now occupy 32 million acres, or 15 percent, of the
Southern forest and are projected to increase to 54 million acres by
2040, comprising a quarter of Southern forests.
	A recent study by the University of the South in Tennessee found that
15 percent of the native forests on the southern Cumberland Plateau
have disappeared since 1981. It said 74 percent of that loss results
from the conversion of hardwood forest to pine plantations by timber
	Industry seeks softwood
	That change has come as the timber inudstry has sought more softwood
to feed chip mills, making paper and other wood products, which have
more than quadrupled in the region in the past two decades.
	John Evans, who led the Tennessee study, worries that such a large
swing toward pine monoculture will make greater areas of the South's
forest susceptible to pine beetle infestations. He thinks more of the
region's trees will require chemical help to grow where none was
required before.
	But Holland Ware, a Georgia-based timberland investor who owns
hundreds of thousands of acres across the South, maintains that a
man-made pine forest is just as good as a natural one. And he has
little patience for people who complain about an industry that plants
millions of trees a year.
	The changes in the region's forestlands also have brought changes in
the way those lands are owned and managed.
	Private investors and timberland investment management organizations
have bought nearly $2 billion worth of Southern timberland since 1997,
says Craig Blair, senior vice president of forest investment for
Alabama-based Resource Management. Timberland sales also have jumped
from 750,000 acres a year a decade ago to about 2 million acres a
	Blair sees that as a positive trend because it means most of that
acreage will remain in trees and be managed for the long haul.
	But Cielo Sand, director of an environmental group called
ForestWatch, doesn't see that as a positive development.
	"Those people have no attachment to what happens to the land, the
long-term outcome of the land," Sand says. "But they certainly are
focused on the short-term commodity."
	Serious implications
	This shift in timberland ownership could have serious implications
for the South's forests, says David Wear, an economist with the U.S.
Forest Service and co-chairman of the recent federal study.
	Wear says those new owners probably will focus on the most productive
land, selling off other parcels that might have high wildlife or
ecological values. That could lead to increased fragmentation of a
forest system that is losing critical wildlife habitat.
	To counter that, conservation groups are working with timber
companies to buy or set aside large tracts of land in strategic areas.
And they're funding some of those purchases in away that might at
first seem counterintuitive - by cutting the trees.
	Fourty miles north of North Carolina's buregoning capital of Raleigh,
Jim Speed has seen forests increasingly replaced with subdivisions,
many of which seem to have the word "Woods" in the name.
	Speed hopes his three children have learned something from watching
him manage the land all these years.
	"They've been taught that that's the most profitable and the most
desirable and the most environmentally sound system to follow," Speed
says. "My children will reap the benefit of the inheritance. Of
course, the general public reaps the advantage also."

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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