As we celebrate Arbor Day in Louisiana, we think it’s a good time to catch up on the “State of the Forest.”
Trees cover half of our state, and forests are the single greatest land use in Louisiana. It is still the most valuable agricultural crop, although tree farmers certainly don’t have a harvest every year. Figures from the LSU AgCenter show forestry is an $11 billion industry providing 45,000 jobs and generating $700 million in taxes.
So who owns our forests? Like most of the Southern states, Louisiana has most of its timberland owned by small landowners. The average landowner is 55 years of age and has 40 acres or less. Most of our forest manufacturers have spun off their forestlands during the past decades to concentrate on production.
At the Louisiana Forestry Association, we work with landowners, manufacturers, foresters and loggers to ensure that our forests will be here today and sustainably managed for future generations. We see no problem here. In fact, the economic downturn in 2008 was a great hardship on forestry. Most landowners need an economic reason to keep their land forested, even as they enjoy other benefits such as recreation and wildlife management.
We are on the rebound, although our solid wood products such as lumber still have room to grow when housing picks up. But our pulpwood use is back to pre-recession levels, and with at least two pellet mills beginning operations this year we will see that use expand.
Don’t worry–– we have room to grow with the closure of two paper mills during the past decade.
The Louisiana Forestry Association administers two certification programs that ensure modern standards of Best Management Practices are the norm. We have those enrolled in the American Tree Farm Program, mostly small landowners, and other larger landowners and producers are in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. We provide logger training programs for mills to enlist Master Loggers in their harvesting, and we also have a confidential complaint line to report a violation of Best Management Practices.
For all of you who don’t own forestland, you can enjoy the aesthetic benefits of living in a green state. Our forests also provide clean air and protection for our watersheds that provide clean water.
The latest health research shows that even just visual interaction with nature can alleviate mental fatigue and help restore the mind and body. So go ahead, take a deep breath and enjoy the forests of Louisiana. It’s really good for all of us.
C.A. “Buck” Vandersteen
executive director, Louisiana Forestry Association