A Hunters View On, “About That Timber Cut”

Reader Contributed | June 24, 2021

While reading the article on the timber industry, I had the feeling I was reading a Mark Twain story from the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. You know, the story where Huck and Tom are trying to convince their friends, that “white washing” the fence is pure pleasure, and much more fun, than anything else their friends could be doing at the time. While I believe in capitalism, the free market, and the rights of timber corporations to manage their land the way they choose, I also know a “white washing” when I see one. I believe there is room for the timber companies to be more friendly and considerate to the hunters who lease timber land. Let me be upfront and state: that I live in a house made of wood, I still write on paper and I sometimes write with a wooden pencil. I realize how important the timber industry is to the citizens of our state; and like all citizens, I utilize their products. I also believe that timber harvesting methods have improved. What I don’t see, is significant improvement to the recreational side of their industry. Across our state, hunters pay millions of dollars, annually, to lease timber land. Though timber companies receive income for recreational use of their timber land, It is clear to me, that timber land is managed solely to maximize profit from timber sales. Any benefit to wildlife is the accidental result of their current efforts to maximize profits from the production of lumber;  or an incidental result of staying within the mandates of state and federal laws. I also believe, there is a bit of price gouging going on when it comes to what hunters pay to use timberland. The hunter’s voice, on how the land can be better managed for wildlife is being ignored –- hunting wildlife is the only reason why hunters are paying millions of dollars to the timber industry across our state.

I started deer hunting in 1969 at the age of 12 (that was the “traditional” age a youth was allowed to carry a firearm and hunt—back in 1969). Many hunters may not remember this, but in 1969 timber companies did not charge you to hunt their land. You simply went by their office, or wrote them a letter, and they gave you a free permit to hunt any of the land they owned in Georgia. Times have changed, the ten cent pay phone is also extinct.  I recognize there are advantages to leasing land. Primarily, the ability to control who gets to hunt the land with you.  I believe, for safety reasons, it is important to know who is hunting the same woods you are hunting. It is also nice to manage the hunting rules the way your club chooses. I am not against timber companies leasing their land to hunters. My question is: what are hunters getting for our money, and why do the prices keep going up? Especially, considering the price used to be free!

Let’s start with the price. Before I got priced off a piece of property, I once belonged to a 3000-acre club that paid $15 per acre to lease timber land. The campsite acreage lease was $200 per ¼ acre ($800 per acre), and an additional $200 for each RV in camp. Why the extra cost? This seems likes price gouging to me! I understand the timber company can’t cut the trees in a camp when RV campers are parked under their trees. But the $200 per ¼ acre charge should be sufficient compensation. (Does it cost $800/acre to lease a dove field, before the farmer incurs any cost to plant the field)?  And why stick it to the hunter and charge them an additional $200 per camper? That’s not a friendly gesture toward hunters.  On our lease we paid more than $50,000 each year, or ½ million dollars every ten years, or 1 million dollars every 20 years. If all 3000 acres were clear-cut on day one, the timber company wouldn’t make a dime on timber sales for more than 10 years, and probably closer to twenty years. So what are hunters getting for the millions of dollars we are paying the timber companies (during a time period where their land is producing no other income, except the income we pay them)? We are getting the opportunity to hunt a monoculture forest of loblolly pines, growing in long straight rows, closely spaced, and all growing at the same uniform growth rate. After a few short years, no sunlight can reach the forest floor for any other plant species to compete with the pine trees. So I ask you; “How much do the deer, turkey, quail and grey squirrels browse the pine tree limbs and pine needles on your hunting Lease”? We are paying millions of dollars! Wouldn’t it be nice to have more mast-producing hardwood trees? After all, nature timed the dropping of acorns, beech nuts, dogwood berries and other hardwood mast to coincide with the first killing frost. When the succulent green browse is killed by frost, the animals could switch to eating acorns and other hard mast (if hardwoods were available) until spring—when the browse will green up again. On every timber lease I belonged to, mast-producing hardwood trees were cut and replanted with pine trees. No hardwoods were ever planted. Foresters are taught these monoculture industrial pine forests are the least important forest types for wildlife. Why not be friendly enough, and considerate enough, to the hunters who pay millions, to leave some hardwoods standing. Or replant hardwood trees where hardwoods were harvested, instead of planting pines. Will it come down to hunters uniting with one voice and demanding lawmakers pass laws requiring such action? Such a law would certainly benefit both the wildlife and the hunters across our state.

These industrial pine forests are mistakenly referred to as, “being part of the natural landscape.” If we were honest we could admit that very little is natural about planting a monoculture of pine trees in long straight rows. Today, hunters hunt the industrial pine forests “created” by the high-tech tools and best practices of the modern forest industry. It was stated that those best practices were mandated in 1981. However, better practices were used by Gifford Pinchot 100 years ago. Did the timber companies volunteer to adhere to those best practices, or did they wait until they were mandated by law? If Gifford Pinchot used better practices decades ago, when he managed the forests at the Biltmore estate, why did it take another hundred years for Georgia to follow? I agree that a clear-cut changes the Basal area, and can create new growth of plants that are beneficial to wildlife. However, I think those clear-cuts are too large. They would be far more beneficial if they were only 50 acres in size. Small patchworks of different age forests, scattered over a large tract, are much better for wildlife than a huge clear-cut. In 8 years that huge clear-cut will be a shaded monoculture of nothing but pine trees.  The practice of thinning every 4th pine row does open the canopy, and should allow sunlight to penetrate and stimulate growth on the forest floor. But on our lease, they spray round-up poison after thinning the pine rows, to keep the wildlife friendly plants from growing on soil where the thinning has allowed sunlight to reach the forest floor. If they are not poisoning the new growth in the thinned pine rows on your lease, get ready, it is one of those best practices that is gaining in popularity, and will be coming to your lease soon. So much for the basal area change, and the new browse the deer could eat—spraying round-up eliminated that. Leaving dead snags does provide nest habitat for woodpeckers and other birds, but the logging operator I spoke to, told me he avoided pushing these dead snags over, because, as he said, “The top can break out of the dead tree, and a falling tree top from such a great height will damage expensive logging equipment.” Comparing today’s timber volume inventory to the timber volume inventory of 1930 is misleading. By the year 1930, when the first timber volume inventory began, 95% of Georgia’s native longleaf pine forest had been harvested. Also by 1930, the American chestnut trees were almost all gone from our Georgia mountains—killed by the chestnut blight. The timber volume inventory today, may be close to the same amount as it was in 1930, but the variety of trees have changed.

Variety is truly the spice of life, so let’s look at the variety of trees we would have if nature managed our forests and not man.  If timber harvesting tools, of every kind, ceased to exist after tomorrow, nature would manage our forests as it did before man populated the earth. Through the process of secondary succession, climax forests would eventually cover all of Georgia. North Georgia, from the piedmont to the mountains, would be considered a mixed forest, but would be dominated by multiple varieties of oak and hickory (the Georgia mountains used to be dominated by the American chestnut—those trees are all but extinct now). South Georgia and the coastal plain would be dominated by a climax forest of wiregrass and longleaf pines; huge pine trees growing on such wide spacing that farm wagons, pulled by a team of  4 mules, could drive between the trees, without the need for an established logging road   (GPTV published a wonderful program about the disappearance of our longleaf pine forest; if you get a chance to see it, I recommend it). Georgia’s land and soil types are highly varied. We have river valleys, sand ridges, Carolina bays and other unique land features, which alter the climax forest in certain areas of our state. Though my statement about the climax forests for Georgia is generally accurate, I recommend reading, “The Natural ENVIRONMENTS OF Georgia”, Bulletin 114,  by Charles Wharton. It includes all the various areas of our state that are exceptions, to what would commonly be the climax forest in Georgia. For much of our state, a volunteer natural forest would be a mixed forest of pines and hardwoods, growing at different growth rates. Slow-growing deciduous trees like oaks, would lose their leaves in winter, allowing filtered sunlight to reach the forest floor under neighboring pine trees. This filtered sunlight in spring, would promote the growth of legumes, forbs and other herbs beneficial to wildlife. I’m not saying that natural forests can’t be manipulated to provide better wildlife habitat—they can! I am stating: that compared to natural forests, the Industrial pine forests that are increasingly dominating the Georgia landscape, are managed strictly, to increase the amount of board feet of lumber per acre; and any benefit to wildlife, or hunters, in these industrial pine forests are accidental, or mandated by laws. I don’t believe in “white washing” these facts.

In conclusion; We need the timber industry! They are as vital to our modern world as farmers and agriculture are to our world. Farmers have also altered the natural landscape, but the nature of row crop agriculture restricts hunter access, so farm acreage doesn’t earn as much money in recreational leases as timber land enjoys. I realize that hunting timber land is a privilege—timber companies are not required to let us hunt their land. However, because hunters walk timberland while hunting, we see both the good and the bad; we don’t need to be told glossed over facts about timber land. My hope is that the timber industry will become more wildlife and hunter friendly. Nobody supports the timber industry more than hunters. We lease timber land for our recreation, and we purchase forest products for our everyday life. Please treat us like we are your greatest supporters. Please consider leaving a little more land in mixed forest or planting hardwoods. Please loosen some of the campsite restrictions –-well water and electricity make our stay in camp more comfortable. Camp is where we socialize, and organize, to protect hunting from gun control lobbyists and animal rights activists. Please reduce lease rates where possible. Make campsites affordable. Don’t price us out of camp, or price us off your land. In nature, any permanent teamwork between different organisms is referred to as symbiosis. Mutualism, a type of symbiosis, occurs when both teams benefit (win-win). Everyone should look forward to a mutualistic relationship. Because I don’t think there is enough public land to support all of today’s hunters, and I don’t know what other recreational group,0 timber companies would find to lease the amount of acreage that hunter’s lease.

Tony Peters

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