Healthy Markets Are Key to Forest Health

By Pryor Gibson, Executive Vice President, North Carolina Forestry Association (NCFA)

I recently saw a posting from the Dogwood Alliance, a group that advances its agenda based on misinformation, political hijinks, and alternative facts about North Carolina’s forestry products industry.  It would be a chuckling read if the stakes in conserving the health of our state’s forests and our state’s rural economies were not so important to all North Carolinians.

In the new world order of hurl and swirl with hand-held one-liners, there is still a simple, powerful, basic truth:  You can sound sincere and still be very wrong.  The Dogwood Alliance has been using the same playbook to advance its fund-raising falsehoods since the organization’s inception.  The group makes false, alarming claims about the forest products industry, seeking to gain new counterproductive regulations on forestry.

In the 1990’s, the Dogwood Alliance claimed that chip mill facilities would result in the “rapid snowballing of forest destruction” in North Carolina and the southeast.  The alliance embarked on a full-scale marketing campaign that produced a series of statewide public hearings and eventually, an academically researched and state government sponsored chip mill study.  The study did not substantiate the Dogwood’s claims, concluding the biggest threat to North Carolina’s forests was the loss of forestland due to the population growth and overall urbanization of the state.

So what has happened on the ground since then?  Thanks to the stewardship of the over 500,000 private forestland owners in cooperation with forest products professionals, North Carolina boasts some 18.6 million acres of forestland.  This is an amazing achievement considering the urban growth in our state over the past 30 years!  Over 85 percent of North Carolina’s forests are still privately owned, and over two-thirds of those forests are owned by private, non-industrial landowners.  Our forest not only provide the starting point for our state’s top manufacturing industry, forest products, but these forests produce clean air, clean water, and a myriad of outdoor recreation activities and economic opportunities for North Carolinians.

Today, the Dogwood Alliance is trying to resurrect its false rhetoric about chip mills and apply it to the wood pellet industry.  So, we have to repeat ourselves as well.

The key to healthy forests is healthy markets, and the more the better.  In the forestry cycle, trees are planted and harvested at different times with various methods to ensure the landowner is meeting his/her forest management objectives.  For some landowners, the top priority may be creating habitat for wildlife, or for outdoor recreation, or maybe just for the aesthetics, but in the end, a landowner paying taxes on his/her property will look to generate some financial returns on the investment of owning the land.

Incentivizing landowners to plant trees on their land is our best and often only sustainable model for increasing the amount of healthy forests in our state.  The present-use value tax system and cost-share programs are terrific public policy measures, but in the end, the marketplace provides the best and highest return to forest landowners.  We need healthy markets, and we need as many as possible during the forestry cycle.  Wood chips used in the production of paper or pellets are produced from small diameter, low value trees that a landowner may have growing on his/her land.  The removal of smaller trees is a forest management practice known as thinning, and it creates more space for the remaining trees to grow.  A landowner makes the majority of his/her profit on a timber sale of the larger trees on the property that are manufactured into dimensional lumber products.

We have heard the same claims from the Dogwood Alliance before, and each time, their claims have be refuted by academic studies, U.S. Forest Service statistics, and on the ground results.  Instead of the blame game, the Alliance should be heaping praise on our forest products professionals and forest landowners for one of the state’s best success stories.  Our forests and our rural communities deserve better.