If you love green spaces, clean air and healthy wildlife, you may consider thanking a timber expert the next time you meet one. These forest caretakers are trying to change the perception of the timber industry.
“We work with conservation organizations, conduct research, and we teach others about identifying and preserving animal habitats,” says Eric Handley, 36, forester at Usher Land and Timber Inc. in Chiefland. “We work under very strict regulations and are trained in nature conservation.”
In North Florida, many land and timber companies are family owned. These 50 or so companies run logging crews in forests that hedge the northern region, bringing timber to mills for diverse types of processing—from lumber to paper to mulch—leading to the manufacture of more than 5,000 products.
According to the Florida Forest Service—which manages more than 1 million acres of state forests for public uses—the tree harvest-to-plant ratio is 1-to-2.
Audubon Florida collaborates closely with landowners, timber companies and the Florida Forestry Association. Formed in 1923, the continuing mission of the nonprofit FFA is to promote the responsible and sustainable use of Florida’s forest resources, bringing together those who grow and those who use Florida’s forests.
Resources on the FFA website include educational videos, legal information, research and a questionable timber practices reporting system.
The carbon marketplace—the brokerage environment for carbon credits that offset corporations’ emissions—directly involves timber companies and landowners in climate projects.
Eric says research shows old untended forests have higher carbon “banks”—the trees’ carbon storage is full—and young trees suck in more carbon at greater rates, filling their new empty banks because they need the carbon to grow. Harvesting and replanting, then, is key to effectively and systematically maintaining those carbon banks, which helps keep the air clean.
The timber industry in North Florida holds the key to preserving the vast green spaces that characterize a way of life in what many here call “God’s country.”
Land stewards are made while growing up in scrub and pine. If lucky, they grow up and get paid to be in the woods working with heavy equipment—a dream job for some people who hail from rural areas in the state.
A brief by the World Resources Institute defines working forests as “forests that are actively managed to generate revenue from multiple sources, including sustainably produced timber and other ecosystem services, and thus are not converted to other land uses such as residential development.”
Eric, who serves on the FFA Board of Directors and earned bachelor’s degrees in forestry and finance from Auburn University, cautions his fellow Floridians.
“Every forest has to be a working forest,” he says. “It must produce money, and it will do so one way or another—either by producing timber or by getting bulldozed to make way for a strip mall.”