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About That Timber Cut

Georgia leads the nation in many Forest Industry metrics, and timber harvest does not occur at the expense of wildlife, water quality or overall tree volume.

Dewey Sherrer | June 1, 2021

The great state of Georgia has a multitude of things to be proud of, but many are unaware of how we measure up against the rest of the nation when it comes to timber and forest products.

When I say how we measure up against, what I really mean, is how we lead by example!

At some point in their lives, most people in Georgia have probably driven by a log truck loaded down with pine trees, passed by an active timber harvest on the side of a dirt road or have seen that massive old paper mill sitting beside the river, but few probably realize how important those things really are to us.

Here are a few key metrics about Georgia:

• No. 1 in Commercially Available Timberland

• No. 1 in Annual Timber Harvest Volume

• No. 1 Exporter of Pulp, Paper and Paperboard Mill Products

• No. 1 Exporter of Wood Fuel……

• No. 1 Exporter of Wood Pellets

These are just a few of the ways Georgia paves the way in the Forestry Industry. We have been at or near the top of the leaderboard for years because of the tremendous people and natural resources that inhabit our state, and we will likely continue to lead the way. Paper, lumber and thousands of other products necessary for everyday life come from trees, and we will continue to derive those things from our working forests for many years to come.

Ritchie Mullen, Georgia Forestry Commission’s Water Quality Specialist, and Dewey Sherrer, the author and a Forester for North Georgia Timber, discuss Best Management Practices (BMPs) and plan out future road work to divert runoff and minimize erosion on a tract in Pickens County.

This is a fact, although, the thing that may come as contrary to the belief of the general public, is that this is absolutely not done at the expense of our state’s water quality, wildlife populations or overall tree volume. If there is one word that we in the Forestry Industry like to try and live by, it is “Sustainability.”

Sustainability is defined as the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. In order to achieve this way of using but not abusing the forests, while also keeping our water clean and plentiful, foresters and logging crews in Georgia have a detailed program to follow. This set of guidelines, known like the back of our hands, is called Georgia’s Best Management Practices for Forestry, or Georgia BMPs for short.

Every experienced forester and logger in the state treats this BMP handbook like a bible and uses it to ensure that the quality of their work on a day-to-day basis abides by these practices. These minimum practices were first developed in 1981 as required by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which mandated states to develop programs to “protect and improve the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters so they remain fishable and swimmable for today’s and future generations.” We have since edited and revised, and continually add, to these principles as the years go by to ensure that we are using the most effective means and methods of silvicultural and harvesting operations in Georgia.

Experienced foresters and loggers in the state treats the Georgia BMP handbook like a bible and uses it to ensure the quality of their work on a day-to-day basis.

So now that you know we have something called Georgia BMPs for Forestry, and you may be wondering what all of that means when it comes down to the boots and tires on the ground that are actually doing the work in the woods. Years ago, when men and women were felling giant, old growth timber with a crosscut saw, and using mules to drag the trees out of the forest one by one, they were not fortunate enough to have all of the resources and knowledge that we now have. Although those people were probably some of the hardest working individuals in the country at that time, there was nowhere near the foresight and education that we now have to perfect those methods of timber harvesting that will likely have a lasting impact on our water quality. There are now many things that help make our environment a better place and keep all of us in the industry in check on a regular basis.

Nowadays, from our road construction and culvert dimensions to our stream buffers and reforestation, everything we do is down to a science. We have detailed topographic maps to design new access roads and locate potential new load deck sites to minimize land disturbance. We know how to properly install evenly spaced broad-based dips, ditches and water turnouts along our roads with a bulldozer to limit erosion. We can measure overall watersheds down to the exact acreage to gauge what size culvert to use in a stream crossing, based on historical weather data within different physiographic regions of Georgia, to ensure adequate, continuous water flow.

We know exactly what basal area of timber to leave in a Streamside Management Zone to prevent any temperature changes in the water that would negatively affect flora and fauna in that specific stream and riparian zone. We have an online database of all soil types in Georgia to determine what tree species are best suited for planting in different areas to grow the most efficient trees.

Logging may come off to many people as a reckless line of work where uneducated people just carelessly cut down as many trees as possible, but as you can see, that is just not the case. There is a whole lot more planning, preparation, maintenance and management involved than most people realize.

A snag—a still-standing dead tree—that is left intentionally undisturbed on a clearcut serves as a potential home for cavity-nesting birds and other animals, and they make a popular perch for birds of prey.

Another common misconception is that by cutting trees, we are somehow “destroying” natural habitat for wildlife. This is actually far from the truth. Now of course, in the case of clearing trees in exchange for concrete and steel, there is not much benefit there to our wildlife. But when it comes to timber management techniques such as thinning, there are tons of ways this actually improves wildlife habitat and populations.

Basal area (BA), in layman’s terms, is a measurement of the amount of an area that is taken up by trees, usually given on a per-acre basis. The higher the BA, the more trees and the thicker the canopy, therefore allowing less sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor. This, in turn, provides less forage for most animals that feed on plants such as grasses, forbs, legumes, shrubs and saplings. By thinning, or selectively removing trees within a stand of timber, those early successional plants grow wherever the sun can now reach the ground and provide exponentially more available forage for most desired species, especially white-tailed deer, wild turkey and bobwhite quail. By regularly managing your timber and thinning when necessary, whether in a pine plantation or a natural, mixed stand of pine and hardwood, you are greatly increasing the carrying capacity and wildlife diversity of your land. It always shocks people to see the positive effects of a thinning on a property they hunt on, especially when they see numerous fresh deer tracks laid in the dirt along a skid trail on an active timber harvest.

Believe it or not, even a clearcut can provide benefits to lots of different species. To the human eye, a fresh clearcut can come off as a barren wasteland with no capability of supporting any life at all. However, this drastic change of habitat actually draws in all kinds of animals and becomes an essential part of a diverse landscape that animals need. White-tailed deer for example, thrive in “edge” habitat, which is the area where two different habitat types come together. Deer constantly travel along habitat edges and love the thicker areas in recent clearcuts for bedding.

Turkeys, field mice, rabbits, bears, birds of prey and many other animals will also take over a fresh clearcut, especially for the first few years when the new forage is booming. In order to give those birds of prey in particular a good place to scout out their next meal, and keep the growing rodent population under control, most loggers are taught to leave the large “snags” within their clearcuts. These standing dead trees provide great habitat for cavity-nesting birds such as woodpeckers, wood ducks and several species of owls. It is very hard to convince some people that a diverse, early successional habitat is important for wildlife, but there is a reason why state officials, professionals and biologists are occasionally clear-cutting timber on the public land we call Wildlife Management Areas.

The aspect of our industry that may come as most counter-intuitive to the masses is the current level of tree volumes in Georgia. Some people may get the impression that we have become so proficient at timber harvesting that at the rate we are going, in the near future, we will run out of trees altogether. Thankfully, this is the polar opposite of what is going on, and we have plenty of data to support this.

The Georgia Forestry Commission publishes a lengthy review every 5 years titled “Sustainability Report for Georgia’s Forests.” The latest publication was in 2019, and the information continues to reinforce the good stewardship of our men and women in the Forestry Industry. Georgia’s timber volume inventory began in the 1930s, and at that time we had approximately 21.4 million acres of timberland. In the past four decades, since 1982, that number has grown to and remained constant between 23 to 25 million acres. From 1998 until 2016, both softwood and hardwood growth rates have continued to exceed removals. Within that time frame, the overall timber volume in the state increased by 18%. In other words, on an annual basis, we are growing far more wood than we are harvesting. We have people working day in and day out to improve the genetics of our trees to make them grow more efficiently, working to pass legislation to incentivize tree planting, working to help reduce taxes for those landowners, and to assist landowners with harvest plans to get the most growth and revenue out of their timber. These numbers and facts are a testament to our level of planning and outlook on our forests for not only today’s generation, but for many more to come.

We have so much to take pride in throughout the state of Georgia, and Forestry is at our core. Everyone in this industry plays a key role in keeping that foundation growing, and every person and animal in the state is affected in one way or another by our forests. From the foresters, loggers and truck drivers who responsibly get the trees to the mills, to the men and women working diligently to produce the forest products we all rely on, and everyone else in between. We depend on our trees for a lot more than just the air that we breathe, so let’s keep our forests working just like our people and utilize them to their fullest potential.

Editor’s Note: The author George “Dewey” Sherrer Jr. is a Forester with North Georgia Timber. Dewey can be reached at 404.606.2569, or visit www.northgeorgiatimber.com.

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1 Comment

  1. B B Club on September 30, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    Been hunting in Georgia for 50 years. My how clearcuts have changed. Weyerhauser and take a cut producing 200 lbs of forage per acre to zero in one month with their posion.

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