Augusta Economy

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Commercial forestry plays major role in Augusta area

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Pine tree pollen might drive people crazy in the spring, but those pine trees are a silent, steady foundation for the Augusta area's economy.

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Trees are cut during a timber operation near Spirit Creek Forest off Smokey Road in Augusta. Forestry is a key part of Augusta's economy.   Sara Caldwell/Staff
Sara Caldwell/Staff
Trees are cut during a timber operation near Spirit Creek Forest off Smokey Road in Augusta. Forestry is a key part of Augusta's economy.

The forest industry had a $27.2 billion impact on Georgia's economy last year, and experts say there are 118,000 jobs supported by forestry.

Georgia leads the nation in number of acres available for commercial forestry with 24.4 million acres.

Cathy Black, a forester with the Georgia Forestry Commission, said the timber industry provides jobs in areas of the state that often get overlooked.

"In rural areas, forestry is a big employer," she said. "A lot of families pass these jobs down, and people work in the industry their entire lives."

The Augusta area is not only a large timber-producing area but also one that processes a great deal of lumber.

Black said that International Paper, Pollard Lumber and Augusta Newsprint are local companies that use large amounts of wood products in their processes.

"Those are some big ones right there," she said. "We've got major producers and major players right in this area."

Gary Capes, the fiber supply manager for International Paper, said that the Augusta mill is an important job provider for more than 800 employees and innumerable foresters, landowners and people working in other forestry-related jobs.

"We're one of the area's largest consumers of local wood, which allows us to provide a consistent and reliable market for trees grown by local forest landowners in the region," he said.

Capes said that over the past few years, demand for pulpwood has remained steady while the saw-timber market has dropped.

"The demand for sawlogs in the Augusta basin has fallen approximately 20 percent from historical levels due to lower lumber demand caused by a significant reduction in U.S. housing starts," he said. "Future demand for sawlogs will largely be driven by the recovery."

Kevin Teston, a partner at Mossy Oak Properties of Augusta, said the Augusta region has always been a strong timber area. Even though the economy has hurt timber just like everything else, eastern Georgia continues to do a little better than the rest of the state.

"We get a lot of growth from the Atlanta area. There's not a lot of population, so there's more room for timber," he said.

The slow housing market has directly affected the demand for saw timber, the more lucrative side of the timber industry.

"The timber industry has been hurt by the recession just like everything else," Teston said. "There's not as much demand, fuel costs have been rising and landowners just don't get as much on a per-ton basis."

Timber landowners do have options, however, and many are getting creative with their forest-management plans.

David Hogan, a landowner and forestry consultant in Waynesboro, said that many landowners have decided to save their saw-timber trees for a few years and focus right now on the pulpwood side of production.

"The housing market has been pretty well depressed, and that's definitely affected the saw-timber market," he said. "The only thing that's really promising is the pulpwood market."

Forestry stands are thinned periodically to allow certain trees to grow larger for saw timber. Hogan said many landowners are leaving those crop trees for a few years longer than usual.

"Just to wait out the market," he said. "Of course, I can't give you any idea when that will be."


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