So, if we are supposed to be taking care of conservation land should we have forestry crews on some of our properties this fall? Yes, we should.
First let’s consider the history of forestry in Georgia. If you want the long answer go here: http://www.gatrees.org/about-us/history/index.cfm and here: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/environmental-history-georgia-overview
If you want the short answer: Timber production has been very important to Georgia landowners and businesses starting in the 1930s. Timber companies owned huge portions of land across the state. Most undeveloped land has been used for pine production. Land planted as a pine plantation does not make a good forest.
Frankly a planted pine forest is really only ideal for pine harvesting. But they do offer value for water protection, soil structure and enrichment, carbon sequestration, and of course there are some animal species that thrive in such an environment. These land tracts also play an important role in alleviating pressure on natural forests for timber and fuel wood production. There is still some good environmental value in a properly managed forest plantation.
A natural forest has a variety of trees and a natural density. A natural density is such that the tree canopy keeps the forest floor from becoming thick with growth, but not so dense that trees aren’t able to reach their potential. The tree population also has a diversity of tree ages unlike our properties in which the trees were all planted at the same time.
The properties that we are thinning were clear cut and replanted with pine seedlings at some point in their history. These properties are so dense now that the trees are crowding each other which caused the forests to fall apart. The weakest trees died. Even the comparatively strong trees aren’t all that good because of all of the competition for sun, water, space and nutrients that they have dealt with throughout their lives. As trees fall they become potential hosts for pine beetles which can devastate a forest.
We have consulted with Georgia DNR foresters prior to cutting any trees and use their best practices recommendations when we plan the harvests. During the initial harvests we selectively cut between 40-50% of the trees in a pine plantation area. This allows for the remaining trees to begin reaching their potential. As a rule of thumb a pine tree lives about 40 years. Our properties haven’t been harvested for at least 20 years which is about 8 years too long. This means we will get on a cycle of thinning trees every 8 years and after two more harvests we’ll have the forests in a natural state.
The harvest process leaves behind what foresters call logging roads but we call hiking and biking trails. They also leave behind a couple of landing areas which can become parking areas, camping areas, and other uses. We also receive revenue which we reinvest in to the properties.
So yes, we are cutting trees. But our forests will be all the better for having done so.