All Posts March 20, 2019

The Blackshear Times,
By Dotty S. Porter,
March 20, 2019,

Thursday is day to recognize how much timberland means to our area

Forests are connected to our day-to-day routine in more ways than we could possibly imagine. Every time you drink a glass of water, breathe in fresh air, write in a notebook or even tap on your cell phone screen, you are directly benefiting from Georgia’s working forests. On March 21, the United Nations International Day of Forests provides us with the opportunity to recognize the benefits of our state’s working forests and what they mean to our survival, comfort and progress.

Georgia has been blessed with 22 million acres of privately-owned, working forests that cover roughly two-thirds of the state’s total land area, according to the USDA Forest Service. Those forests are not here by mistake, however. For generations, private forest landowners have invested in managing healthy forests that provide numerous economic, environmental and social benefits to our communities and our state.

These working forests are planted, managed, harvested and replanted to produce the raw materials for products we use every day. Thanks to healthy demand for forest and paper products, Georgia landowners are given economic incentive to keep their land in trees, supporting a $35.9 billion-dollar industry. Today, more than 147,000 Georgians support the day-to-day operations of the forest industry such as log truck drivers, harvesting equipment operators, millwrights, foresters, scientists, computer engineers and hundreds of professionals and business owners who have dedicated their careers to forestry. Chances are, if you don’t work in the forest industry yourself, you know someone who does.

On a local level, working forests are vitally important to Pierce County and the South Georgia region. According to the Georgia Institute of Technology, forest landowners and forestry-related industries provide $1.7 billion in total economic output, $313 million in wages and salaries and 5,346 jobs to the 17 counties that comprise the South Georgia Regional Commission.

In addition, the 106,000 acres of forests in Pierce County provide benefits extending beyond the economy to services that are provided to our environment. A 2011 University of Georgia study conservatively estimated the value of these services – in the form of clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty – at $37.6 billion annually.

Trees are also contributing to our society’s progress. Scientists have studied wood fiber and are developing new and innovative uses for forest products. Engineered forest products such as mass timber unlock the architectural potential to utilize wood in the construction of safe and sustainable tall buildings for densely populated urban areas.

In addition, wood and other organic materials – such as small diameter trees from thinnings, logging residues, sawdust and other by-products of wood manufacturing facilities and land clearing debris – can be collected to produce carbon neutral, renewable bioenergy, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So, as we pause to celebrate the International Day of Forests, be sure to thank the thousands of landowners and forestry professionals who support the working forests that provide so much benefit to our communities and our daily lives.

• Dotty S. Porter of Blackshear is a Trustee for the Sessoms Timber Trust and a Member of the Executive Board of the Georgia Forestry Association.