Originally created 02/04/05

Study: Area faces increased tree loss



ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia faces the loss of millions of acres of forest land over the next decade, and some of the most rapidly changing areas might be counties around Athens, according to a new study by a pair of forest economists at the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service.

Economists David Newman, of UGA, and Dave Wear, of the forest service, say forest land prices continue to be pushed higher by sprawling development around places such as Atlanta and a handful of other urban areas - and as land values go up, so do property tax rates. At the same time, prices for forest products remain low, which means it makes increasingly less economic sense for forest products companies to hang on to the vast tracts of forest they own in the state.

By selling out, companies can avoid escalating tax bills and profit from the sale of the land.

"It becomes harder and harder to keep when there are good financial reasons to sell," Mr. Newman said.

About 20 percent of the state's roughly 24 million acres of forest land is owned by forestry industry companies, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Such companies already have sold off big tracts of land in recent years. The economic pressure on the companies to continue those sales will only increase in coming years, according to Mr. Newman and Mr. Wear.

"It's really accelerated over the past decade," Mr. Newman said.

According to the forest economists, about 25 percent of the state's remaining industry-owned timberland will be ripe for conversion over the next decade, meaning it's likely to be sold.

Among the areas where pressure to sell already is high are Jackson, Oconee, Madison, Oglethorpe and Morgan counties, according to the study.