ATLANTA — The people whose livelihood depends on forests have a message for Georgia’s tree huggers, and they’re launching a campaign next week to deliver it.
The campaign kicks off May 14 at the Atlanta headquarters of Georgia-Pacific, a company founded in Augusta that is one of the world’s largest forest-product makers, everything from lumber to paper to disposable diapers.
The message is that the industry isn’t just about cutting down trees. It also plants and cares for trees and the environment they grow in.
Contrary to common perception, the number of trees in Georgia is growing, not shrinking, industry representatives say.
“Forest losses in metro areas have been offset by converting old farmlands back to forest lands in other parts of the state,” said James Norris, co-chairman of the Forestry Community Speakers Bureau. “Because the net growth of our forests has consistently exceeded net removals, the volume of timber in Georgia is greater now than it was in the 1930s.”
Of the state’s 37 million acres of land, 25 million is in forestland, according to industry estimates. Georgia forests grow 19 million tons more wood yearly than is harvested. Its 24.4 million acres of timberland available for commercial use is the largest in the country. That might be why forest products are the state’s second-largest industry in terms of jobs or wages, with a $28 billion economic impact.
Pulp and paperboard constitute the two largest export commodities from the ports in Savannah and Brunswick.
The message will also highlight the environmental benefits of forests, noting that without a ready market for the trees, landowners would have no financial incentive for replanting them.
Environmentalists argue there are limits to the benefits of large tree farms of one or two species, cleared of natural underbrush to facility harvesting of pine straw. Instead, they say there is more biodiversity in virgin forests which are more hospitable to a wider range of wildlife and a variety of trees and shrubs.
The campaign is sponsored by the Georgia Forestry Association’s Emerging Leaders, the Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Forestry Foundation and other groups. Over two weeks, the speakers bureau has presentations scheduled across the state in cities including Augusta, Columbus and Valdosta.