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Private forest management in the American "Lower South"

Southern Forest Experiment Station, U. S. Forest Service

More than thirty percent of the commercial forest land in the United States lies in the lower South. In this great forest domain there is an unparalleled opportunity to observe the operations and problems of private management, since about nine-tenths of the land is privately owned. The high level of productivity of much of this area, the abundance of logging and wood-using activities, and the contrasts from one locality to the next are all remarkable. In addition to great variety, the region is characterized by an excellent network of main and secondary roads which, by rendering these southern upland forests very accessible, aids vitally in their management and exploitation.

To study the region's various aspects let us assume a tour starting in the toe of Louisiana and southern Mississippi, thence moving north and east across the shortleaf and loblolly (Pinus echinata, P. taeda) pine-hardwood uplands of Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Turning south, through Georgia and Florida, we then go westward through the longleaf (P. palustris) and slash pine (P. caribaea) forest which borders the Gulf Coast.

The second half of the tour, west of the Mississippi River, starts in the longleaf pine belt in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas, and proceeds through shortleaf, loblolly pine-hardwood uplands in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Finally, starting in northeastern Arkansas, we travel south to New Orleans through the hardwood and cypress groves of the Mississippi bottomlands, or along virtually the whole length of a belt called the "Delta," which runs from Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf of Mexico.

A Vast Private Forest Enterprise

Bogalusa, Louisiana, is the center of perhaps the largest private forest plantation in the world. There, the Gaylord Container Corporation has a huge pulp and paper plant which consumes more than a thousand cords of pulpwood daily, supplying paper for a number of ancillary manufacturing plants. Forestry on these holdings goes back to 1920, when the Great Southern Lumber Company, which was merged with the present owners in 1937, began a great program of reforestation on its cutover longleaf pine land. By 1937 it had hand-planted 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) to pine - chiefly slash pine but some longleaf and loblolly. By keeping out fire and leaving seed trees, many thousands of acres of cut-over land have been restocked naturally. Since 1937 the planted area has been increased to 68,000 acres practically all within 15 miles of the pulp mill.

The forests are handled by 14 graduate foresters and some 40 trained woodsmen. The forestry crews have the most modern equipment: mechanical tree planters, a fleet of jeeps, two-way radios, a fire-patrol airplane, and complete facilities for taking and interpreting aerial photographs. Through their efforts, and aided by the South's favorable soil and climate, recently-acquired cut-over lands are already assuming the appearance of productive forests. There can be found 21-year-old plantations of slash pine averaging 32 cords of standing timber per acre (202 m3 per ha.) which have already yielded 9 cords per acre in thinnings.

While the company's policy is to keep its plant supplied with pulpwood, it also seeks to make as large a profit as possible by cutting the mature trees into the most valuable products they are capable of yielding. Thus, the company sells 15½ million board feet (70.2 million m3) of pine sawlogs and piling and 15¼ million feet (69 million m3) of hardwood logs and ties annually, and gets three-quarters of its pulpwood, not from its own lands, but by purchase from small forest owners.

Forestry Extension and Assistance

Leaving this area, we travel north through characteristically interspersed woods and farm lands, from which the pulp and paper plants and the sawmills obtain much of their wood. Many of these woodlands show signs, of recent heavy cutting, and are stocked mainly with low-grade hardwood and with pine too small to be usable. What prevents the large companies from using conservative cutting practices on these farmlands?

Part of the difficulty is that the owner of the small woodland often insists on, or because of small volumes is forced into, selling all marketable timber. Again, over two-thirds of the cuttings are made by or for wood users who have no constructive policy. Furthermore, even those wood users who have constructive policies may exert little direct control over the activities of timber cutters on lands other than their own. In the case of pulp companies, for example, cutting is done by contractors, not by company employees.

To eliminate this condition, progressive companies must approach the owners of these woodlands through forestry instruction and technical assistance. Most pulp companies and some lumber companies and large contractors devote part of the time of their forestry staffs to this purpose. The pulp industry, through the Southern Pulpwood Conservation Association, and the lumber industry, through the Southern Pine Association and the Southern Hardwood Producers, Inc., supplement the efforts of other private bodies and of state and Federal agencies in an expanding program to persuade and assist woodland owners to practice conservative management. This program still has far to go.

A typical stand of pine.

A routine thinning operation is in progress in a slash pine plantation.

These two photographs give some idea of the fine forests produced under private management in the Lower South. Ten cords per acre are being remained, twice that volume left for further growth.

This sketch map of the area covered by our article gives a good idea of the wide range of types of forest found in the Lower South. Conifers predominate, with a great belt of hardwoods up the bottomlands of the Mississippi Valley.

Cutting Practices on Small Holdings

Small holdings (taken to be less than 5,000 acres) comprise seven-tenths of the private forest land in the lower South. A survey made in 1945 by the U. S. Forest Service showed that good cutting is practised on only 2 percent of these holdings. Since then only moderate improvement has been made. These holdings, both farm and nonfarm woodlands, are the crux of the timber-management problem in this region. The majority of the owners, have little or no investment in wood-using plants, and sell their produce on the open market. Their holdings are the principal scene of activity of an army of itinerant loggers, contractors, and small sawmill operators.

Some small owners, however, do practise good cutting. For example, the owner of a 25-acre woodland in Bullock County, Alabama, has netted $1,038 in money and lumber from six sales of standing timber during the 31 years he has been managing his land. This means an average income of $33.50 a year from 25 acres (10 ha.) of timber land, or about $1.35 per acre ($3.34 per ha.) a year. In addition, he has cut several hundred dollars worth of fence posts for his own use. Today he can still show a good stand of pine and hardwoods; his forest is growing rapidly and will probably triple its present volume within the next 10 years. Although he was never taught to select the trees to be cut, he marked those he thought should be felled and recently called in the local farm forester to help him improve his cutting practices.

For every small property like this one, there are dozens where timber-cutting practices have been poor or destructive. A great number of the owners or operators of these woodlands are unaware that their woods can produce a high, regular income if well managed. Others are too occupied with farming or other business to have time for forestry. Still others have sold all their marketable timber because they needed the cash; often they accepted the first offer without knowing the amount or value of their timber.

Cutting Practices on Large Holdings

In 1945, three-fourths of the total acreage of well-cut forest properties in the lower South was in holdings of more than 50,000 acres. The prime interest of many large owners in the region is to stay in business. Their forests are their source of raw material - in many cases for the present, in all cases for the future, when the open market may not be so ready a source of wood as it is now. The 1945 Forest Survey showed that 75 percent of pulp-company land and 50 percent of the large number company holdings were being handled with good cutting practices. Since then spectacular progress has been made in improving practices on large holdings.

A typical scene on the Mississippi, where barges are used to get big logs to the riverside sawmills.

Across the river rise new generations of cottonwood and willow.

There are some 15,000 sawmills the in Lower South, of which this is one of the larger examples. Between them, they turn out three-tenths of the United States' lumber production.

(U. S. Forest Set-vice photographs).

One example is that of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, of Birmingham, Alabama. This company has 275,000 acres of forest land. About four-fifths of it is in northern Alabama, in shortleaf, loblolly and longleaf pines and hardwoods. The remainder consists of longleaf and slash pine forest in southern Alabama. A considerable part of the timber cut from the north Alabama forests is used in company mining and manufacturing operations. By using low-grade hardwoods in these operations, the more valuable pines are saved. From its longleaf-slash pine forest in south Alabama, the company is removing all diseased and damaged trees, and then thinning the remaining stand to provide space for future growth. The principal product is sawlogs, with pulpwood being taken from tops and thinnings. All company forests are protected from fire. A chief forester and five assistant foresters mark the timber and manage all company forests for highest sustained returns.

Fire Protection

One of the great handicaps to private forest management in the lower South has long been the fire problem. Some of the chief remaining gaps in the nation-wide system of state-federal co-operative fire protection are in the lower South. The Forest Service's 1945 survey found that only 32 percent of the privately owned commercial forest land in the lower South received good or fair fire protection up to the official minimum standard.

The protected forest acreage, which in 1945 was 63½ million acres rose, however, to over 95½ million in 1950 but much forest is still unprotected. Fire protection is a job best handled on a large scale. The absence of good public protection, while serious for all, is harder on small owners than on large, who are able to supplement the public system with one of their own.

Wood Utilization

East of the Mississippi it is said that 10 to 20 cents out of every dollar in the pockets of southerners come from the forest. Though not a precise figure, it gives some idea of the great importance of wood to this area. As a source of income, forests produce about half as much as farming, and in fact many towns in the Lower South are largely supported by some sawmill or pulp mill or other wood-using plant. Along the road, countless trucks can be seen bearing sawlogs, pulpwood and lumber, and at many railroad sidings these forest commodities are being loaded on cars. In rural areas loggers are busy everywhere, and near the woods there are small sawmills by the hundred. In all there are some 15,000 sawmills in the Lower South - the great majority of them small - which produce three-tenths of the entire lumber output of the United States. The region's 42 pulpmills utilize over 40 percent of all pulpwood produced and turn out more than a third of the country's wood pulp.

The region's forests are not well enough stocked or managed to support all this activity on timber growth alone. From the mid-1930's to the mid-1940's, total sawlog growing stock fell 14 percent. This represented a drain on timber capital.

Development on a Large Holding

To assure future wood supplies, many companies are purchasing large timber blocks and building up the growing stock on them. One of the largest of these holdings is that of the Southern Kraft Division of the International Paper Company. All told, Southern Kraft owns about 2½ million acres (1 million ha.) of timber land in 9 southern states. Slash (Pinus caribaea), longleaf (P. palustris), shortleaf (P. echinata), and loblolly pines (P. taeda) and hardwoods at all stages of growth from reproduction to large saw timber, are included. The company's nine large pulp and paper mills consume about 3½ million cords (8.9 million m3) of pulpwood annually - about a third of the total pulpwood cut in the South and nearly a fifth of the country's total requirements.

In 1925 the Southern Kraft Division was organized and began to practise forestry. Today, its forestry staff includes 155 technical foresters. Company land is being intensively managed, but because of very conservative cutting it is currently providing less than 10 percent of total pulpwood requirements. The Division's chief concern on these lands is to improve growing conditions and to build up the growing stock. A system of 217 lookout towers, radio-equipped control crews, several thousand miles of telephone lines, ploughed fire lanes, and fire access roads, has enabled the various state fire control agencies and the company to reduce fire losses considerably. Only one percent of the company's holdings burns over annually.

Thousands of acres of-pine have been released from over-topping scrub hardwoods. Dense young pine stands have been thinned. Hardwood sawlogs have been cut and sold to make room for pine on a quarter-million acres (100,000 ha.). The Division has begun a 10-year planting program for 40,000 acres (16,000 ha.), planting about 4 million seedlings each year with machines. Southern Kraft furnishes annually over 100 million board feet (453 million m3) of pine and hardwoods from company land to other forest industries and local wood users.

Southern Kraft foresters also do educational work with forest owners from whom pulpwood is purchased. Each year they mark, without charge, about 240,000 cords (612,000 m3) in partial cuttings on about 80,000 acres (32,000 ha.) belonging to several hundred forest owners. In addition, the company holds exhibits and conservation meetings and distributes annually more than 3 million pine seedlings free for planting by 4-H Club boys, Future Farmers of America, and landowners.

The Hardwood Problem

The hardwood problem, to which the Southern Kraft foresters devote a good deal of their attention, is widespread in the South. On pine sites, unpromising hardwood may reproduce vigorously and threaten to take over the stand.1 Many hundred thousand acres that were formerly pine forest are now hardwood forest. Both here and on hardwood sites, the poorer-quality hardwood tends to increase in the stand as better elements are harvested. The only remedies are to find uses for this poor hardwood or to destroy it.

1 See Unasylva Vol. V, No. 3, p. 107 - "Loblolly Pine," by Thomas Lotti and R. D. McCulley.

The Ozan Lumber Company, at Prescott, in south-western Arkansas, has made a particularly aggressive attack on the hardwood problem. This company has about 120,000 acres (49,000 ha.) of shortleaf-loblolly pine (Pinus echinata - P. taeda) and hardwood land.

It operates three efficient medium-size sawmills and produces chiefly pine lumber. The logs for these mills come both from company land and from outside purchases. The company has employed a forester for about 15 years and has been cutting conservatively and selectively. Much of the poor-quality hardwood of sawlog size was utilized during World War II. Since then a 15-man crew, working under the forester, has utilized or girdled hardwoods on most of the Company's land, and thinned many young pine stands for pulpwood. This crew has also been available to mark timber for cutting on the land of other forest owners without cost. The company has donated numerous small tracts to be developed as school forests.

Forest Research

Research work is an important part of the forestry movement in the lower South. Forest research is well advanced with the development of improved wood-utilization procedures, the study of tree regeneration and cultural measures, the use of advanced techniques in gum naval stores production, and in the development and demonstration of profitable systems of timber management.

This research is being done by both private and public agencies. Among the latter are the Southern and South-eastern Forest Experiment Stations of the U. S. Forest Set-vice. From their respective headquarters at New Orleans and Asheville, North Carolina, these two stations operate 12 branches in the lower South. One of the most important branch stations is that at Crossett, in southern Arkansas. The findings of 16 years of research at this branch have had a marked effect on loblolly (Pinus taeda) and shortleaf pine (P. echinata) management throughout the South.

Especially noteworthy as an example of intensive management is the "farm forestry forty" on Crossett's Experimental Forest. Set up as a trial of what a farmer might earn from his woods through annual selective cutting, the 40-acre (16 ha.) plot has now been under management for 13 years. During that period, 161 M board feet (729,000 m3) (Doyle rule) of logs, 294 cords of pulpwood (750 m3), 228 cords of fuel wood (483 m3), and 418 fence posts have been cut, These products had a value, on the stump, of $2,851 ($5.48 per acre [$13.54 per ha.] annually). The timber stand has improved and the forest today is in far better condition than when cutting started.

On about 1,000 acres (400 ha.) of the Experimental Forest selective timber management under short cutting cycles has been practised for 10 years. During this period an average of 1,755 board feet (7,950 m3) (International ¼-inch rule) of pine logs has been cut per acre. Despite this, the average volume per acre in pine trees of sawlog size increased from 4,800 board feet (53,730 m3 per ha.) before cutting started in 1937 to 6,253 board feet (70,000 m3 per ha.) after cutting in 1946. This is an increase of 30 percent in volume, in addition to the 37 percent of original volume that was cut during the 10-year period.

Land for the 3,500-acre experimental forest was made available by the Crossett Lumber Company. This company now employs 23 foresters in carrying out intensive management on a sustained yield basis on 550,000 acres of shortleaf and loblolly pine and mixed hardwoods. The marking service is also offered to farmers. Crossett, a pleasant city of 10,000 people, is sustained by the company's pine and hardwood sawmills pulp and paper plant, hardwood distillation plant, and wood preservation plant, all utilizing the timber harvested from company and farmer-owned land.

Bottomland Forest Management

Although there is more hardwood timber than pine in the lower South, far more is known about the management of pine than of hardwood in this region. Hardwood forestry remains a challenging problem. The one great section of the lower South where pine is quite out of the picture is the Delta, -which is the floodplain of the Mississippi River.

One of the progressive forest owners in this area is the Anderson-Tully Lumber Company of Memphis. Tennessee. This company, a pioneer in managing hardwoods, owns more than 200,000 acres (80,000 ha., of bottomland forest, including one of the few remaining large areas of high-grade bottomland old-growth hardwood timber. It is one of the largest producers of hardwood lumber and veneer in the country. Most of its high-grade logs are cut from company lands, but many quality logs and most of the common timber is purchased from farm woodlands and other open-market sources. Besides logs, it purchases much green lumber.

To be profitable, hardwood operations must produce a large proportion of high-grade lumber which will meet the requirements of furniture and other factories. Accordingly, when old-growth bottomland hardwood became scarce some years before the last war, the company began selecting the over-mature and damaged old-growth trees for cutting and saving the thrifty ones, for future cuts. In cottonwood stands, for example, no sound trees below 28 inches (71 cm.) dbh were cut. The company now practises very strict selective cutting of old growth, removing only those trees that would probably diminish in quality or die before the next cut, in 5 to 10 years. Similarly, the damaged and low-grade younger trees are utilized for lower grade products and the cleanest, thriftiest trees of the most valuable species are managed for future yields of high-grade logs. A crew of about 10 trained men spends full time in cruising, appraising, and marking both company and outside timber. Woods fires, which are especially harmful to hardwoods, are strictly controlled, and reproduction of the valuable species after logging is very successful. The chief aim of management is to assure adequate supplies of high-quality logs in order to keep future production of all plants up to present capacity.

Forestry Prospects

What does the future hold for private forest management in the Lower South?

One thing is certain; if the success of private forestry depends upon such factors as rapid timber growth, ample labor supply, and ready access to wood-using plants and markets, then the lower South offers outstanding opportunities for private forestry. Another point is fairly certain; the past trend toward good management on large forest holdings will continue. But what of the small forest owners? To this critical question there is no clear answer. Thus far large-scale promotion efforts to instruct small owners in forest management have not induced many to practise good forestry, and as yet educational and technical assistance programs have not had a great effect on small forest holdings. Small owners, however, hold the majority of the forest lands, and probably always will. Their holdings are too important to the public and to industry to be dismissed.

In view of its heavy reliance on these small forests, can industry reform the cutting practice it uses in harvesting wood from them? What shape would such reform take? Regulation by law? Or, would it be better to follow exclusively the education and assistance approach? Is some sort of forest credit needed? What are the possibilities of small owners banding together into co-operative associations for forest management and timber processing? These are urgent questions, not only in the lower South of the United States, but in many other countries as well. On their solution depends the future prosperity of a great many people.

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