Part of what makes living in northeast North Carolina so tranquil is our abundance of natural resources – namely our forests.
The southeast United States, ranging from Virginia to Texas, is aptly known as the country’s “woodbasket.” At least 12 percent of all of the world’s wood products are sourced directly from the southeast, while 60 percent of America’s wood exports come from the region.
However, these forests of the “woodbasket” are shrinking.
While it should come as no surprise that the world is losing forest cover – thanks to logging, palm oil plantations, wildfires, etc. – it may come as a shock that the southeast has seen more tree cover disturbance than that of South American rainforests. Four times higher disturbance, in fact, thanks to a study done by the University of Maryland in 2013.
In addition, since 2001, the southeast has lost nearly 20 percent of its tree cover.
Using data from the U.S. Forest Service Inventory and Analysis (FIA) along with Esri’s (Environmental Systems Research Institute) GIS platform, forestry researchers have determined that while paper mill operations are declining, deforestation is not necessarily following suit.
The wood pellet industry, which has boomed in the last ten years, has been driving forest clearings from the Gulf Coast to the Chesapeake Bay. That industry operates in northeast North Carolina too, with pellet plants nearby that accept wood harvests from over 70 miles away. Nearly every county between Nags Head and Raleigh has fallen victim to harvesting for wood pellets.
Recent cuts in Chowan County, from Tyner in the north to areas along Soundside Road in the south have seen a lot of wood go to these pellet plants, often for a quick buck or to attract potential developers.
I’ve met people from all across the political spectrum who support the protection of our forests, especially on publicly owned land. It should not be a partisan issue.
Forests help clean the air of pollution, they improve quality of life, they help mitigate flooding and they provide hunters with reliable and quiet areas to track game.
Recently, regional governments and property owners have been granting timber deeds to loggers to harvest forests all over the area, with much of the wood being shipped to Europe as wood pellets for “clean energy.”
The reality is that harvesting, manufacturing and burning pellets creates more pollution than burning coal (which isn’t much better).
But the folks in Raleigh who draft the energy agendas look the other way for wood pellet companies, why? Because money. Lots of money.
Unfortunately, large National Forests aren’t exactly the sanctuaries we think they are. National Forests (maintained by the USDA) are logged more than any other public land – and it’s increasing. This includes massive National Forests such as Croatan near New Bern and Francis Marion near Charleston, S.C.
Not to mention the ongoing loss of natural forests not publicly owned as well. This is loss not just to traditional logging or wood pellet operations, but to intensively managed pine tree plantations – which make up 20 percent of southeast forests. In the coastal plain, where industrial logging is highest, these plantations make up 27 percent of the forests now.
Next time you drive through one of our beautiful coastal counties and look for the wide expanses of forestland, only to be met with broken timber, consider asking your elected officials if those trees are going to be replanted. Chances are, they won’t be.
The forests our parents and grandparents once enjoyed may be barren once our grandchildren inherit them. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the only thing.