The forests of the ACE Basin are a vital part of its ecology, economy and beauty, and the practice of forest management is one of the traditional methods endorsed by the ACE Basin Task Force to husband this natural resource and maintain the natural character of the area. Forests are a renewable resource and a new forest can be produced after harvesting, though permanent effects on the ecosystem may not be taken into account. Both natural and planted forests, however, provide a wide range of benefits for wildlife and people. Forest survey reports for 1993 (Conner 1993) indicate that 56 percent of the land use cover (457,069 acres) in Colleton County is classified as timberland. This acreage is dominated by upland planted pine and forested wetlands, with evergreen upland forest, mixed upland forest, and deciduous upland forest being less important (Composition of forested lands ). Hardwood-dominated forests constitute only 1.4 percent of the total forested area. Of the total forested acreage for the county, 70 percent is classified as nonindustrial private forest land. This reflects the ownership patterns statewide, where individuals own most of the commercial forest land.
The demand for forest products and the bounty of forests in South Carolina help make timber, with an annual stumpage value of $454 million, South Carolina's most valued agricultural crop. The forestry industry is the third largest industry in the state and ranks fourth in total wages paid among all manufacturing segments. (See related section: Forestry Land Use: Economic Considerations .) The ACE Basin's forests are an important contributor to the economy of the area and the state. In 1994, the value of forest products harvested exceeded $31 million, with additional revenues of $12 million from logging and delivery of timber (Draft Colleton County Land Use Plan 1997). The stumpage value paid to nonindustrial private forest owners in Colleton County in 1996 was $22.2 million (SC Forestry Commission 1996).
Improvement of private forest land through site and tree management has been a major goal of public and private organizations in recent years. Tree planting and tree farming, however, have been fairly recent means of forest replenishment, gaining popularity (and profitability) just since the 1950s. Forestry in coastal South Carolina has undergone a major change in conservation ethic from the days of clearing, cropping, and abandonment that occurred in the cypress-oak-gum dominated flatwoods of the coastal plain in the 1700s (Larson 1951). This trend of clearing and abandonment was repeated in the 1800s, when intensive clearing of forests and conversion to cotton plantations occurred following the invention of the cotton gin. During the post-Civil War reconstruction period, and again, following the 1921 decimation of cotton crops by the boll weevil, land abandonment resulted in the slow regrowth of forests as pines seeded into the abandoned fields. Fewer fires and heavy cutting of pine favored the establishment of aggressive hardwood species and resulted in reinvasion of hardwoods on the original hardwood sites (Larson 1951). Reduction of native longleaf pine forests due to its use in the production of naval stores in the 1800s, the arrival of railroad logging and large bandmills, and the reduced use of fire for management created a niche for loblolly and shortleaf pine in the coastal plain. These became the preferred species for regrowth. For a cultural perspective on the development of the forestry industry of the southern coastal plain, see the account in Hanlon (1970).
In recent years, forestry efforts in South Carolina have been oriented toward growing pine for timber, with a resulting 14% increase in pine and oak-pine stands. (Koontz and Sheffield 1993). As of 1993, loblolly-shortleaf pine constituted 212,457 acres (47%) of timberland in Colleton County, followed by forested wetlands, consisting primarily of oak-gum-cypress stands totaling 133,401 acres (29 %). In contrast, longleaf-slash pines constituted of only 20,294 acres (4%) of the total timberland acreage (Coverage by forest type ). In the ACE Basin study area, 185,296 acres are classified as upland planted pine based on the 1997 National Wetlands Inventory, which constitutes most of the total forested land cover. In addition to directed efforts to grow pines by converting scrub oak and other low-quality hardwood stands, natural reseeding of idle or abandoned agricultural land has also favored establishment of loblolly-shortleaf pine.
In 1995, softwood product volume far exceeded hardwood volume in Colleton County. Loblolly and shortleaf pine species provided the greatest volume of any softwood species, while white and red oaks and sweetgum accounted for most of the total hardwood output. Saw logs and pulpwood were the principal products with a combined output of 20.7 million cubic feet. Saw log volume for Colleton County was higher than that produced for other counties in the southern coastal plain (Johnson et al. 1997). Plantings of seedlings since the 1950s has resulted in an increase in growing-stock-- commercially important species qualifying as desirable or acceptable based on tree size (Knight and McClure, 1969; 1979). The net annual growth of growing-stock of all species in Colleton County, exceeded removals for the period from 1986 to 1992. The overall volume of Colleton's standing timber increased an average of 6 - 8% (Draft Colleton Land Use Plan 1997). Sawtimber also increased, with pine constituting 74% of the total board feet for all species. These trends reflect an improvement in tree stocking as a result of intensive forest management.
A common forest management practice in the southeastern United States and Colleton County is the establishment of loblolly or slash pine plantations. After years of rapid growth, these plantations are harvested to produce fiber, lumber, and wood-based chemicals. New trees are then planted and the cycle is repeated (See related section: Forest Regeneration). Each cycle is called a rotation. The length of the rotation is dependent on tree species, economic and growth factors, and landowner objectives (e.g. production of pulpwood, chip and saw, or sawtimber products). During each rotation, the forest must be protected from insects and diseases and cultivated. (See related sections: Insect Infestation and Forest Diseases.) Each year, approximately one percent of the timber in southern forests is lost to fire, insects, and disease. This amounts to 2 billion cubic feet and equates to nearly one-fourth of the harvest volume (SC Forestry Commission, not dated).
Forestry practices have been associated with a number of negative effects on the environment over the years. These include impacts on habitat, water quality, biodiversity, and scenic vistas (see Forestry Land Uses: Ecological Considerations ). Conversion of forests to pine monocultures produces a reduction in diversity of forest-dependent animals, and canopy and subcanopy vegetation (Meffe and Carroll 1994). In a 14-year study of wildlife response to loblolly pine conversion in Alabama, major declines in forb and vine cover were found in the fifth year following pine planting. Populations of quail, raccoon and opossum also declined in later years (Johnson 1986). Although deer forage was reduced, deer populations remained high, possibly due to the mosaic of conversion plots in the study area.
The effect of even-aged pine plantations on the quality of wildlife habitat has become an issue in forestry. Wildlife habitat enhancement will not occur by itself under current timber operations (Yarrow 1990). By using some alternatives in physical design, location, and management of pine plantations, however, habitat quality can be improved (Allen et al. 1996). Modern forest management, where implemented, can increase the diversity and amount of habitat available for a variety of game and non-game species (Hurst and Warren 1980; Dudderer, 1987).
Management practices that use ecological principles to achieve good harvests while maintaining natural biodiversity are gaining acceptance. One approach being used in the southeastern United States involves development of selective harvesting techniques that ultimately produce uneven-aged stands of pine and hardwood as well as a diverse understory (Hunter 1990). This mixed forest community improves habitat quality for game species such as deer and turkey while providing a reasonable economic return from the harvested timber.
This multiple-use forestry aims at developing and maintaining diverse habitats for wildlife. Forest management practices can be prescribed for the creation of different forest types and trees of different ages across a property.
For this purpose, maintaining scenic vistas is another important forest management issue. Maintaining roadside buffers along well-traveled highways and waterways reduces the visual impact of forest harvests to visitors and residents of the ACE Basin. Expanded roadside buffers can also provide additional wildlife habitat.
Protection of water quality is an important consideration in forest management planning. Management practices described in the South Carolina Forestry Commission's Best Management Practices (BMP) Manual offer guidelines for protecting water quality and maintaining environmental quality. A key feature of BMPs is the establishment of Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) to protect water quality. In SMZs, a forest overstory is maintained in close proximity to a stream system. This helps to stabilize water temperature, protects stream banks from erosion, and provides a habitat for wildlife. Streamside Management Zones protect headwaters, perennial, and intermittent streams, and reduce sedimentation by forming a buffer around sensitive environmental areas.
Many private forest landowners in the United States, including those in the ACE Basin, are using sustainable forest management techniques. The American Tree Farmer System is an organization with more than 70,000 members nationwide and upwards of 60 members in Colleton County who are committed to excellence in forest stewardship. Members strive to protect watersheds and wildlife habitat, conserve soil, and maintain aesthetics of forests while continuing to harvest wood products. The benefits of membership in the Tree Forest System include recognition of the importance of, and satisfaction in, practicing sustainable forestry. Other benefits are improvement in timber yield, tax benefits, improvement in habitat and water quality, and preservation of the aesthetic beauty which is inherent in forested lands.
The application of sustainable forest management by private landowners is also encouraged by federal, state, and industry-sponsored assistance programs. The federal government offers several federal assistance programs that provide financial assistance for reforestation and timber stand improvement (Varnedoe 1993; USDA Forest Service, not dated).
Seven states, including South Carolina, have financial assistance programs for private timberland owners. The Forest Renewal Program in South Carolina was established in 1982 to assist woodland owners in reforesting poorly stocked or idle forestland. Eligible practices include site preparation and planting, timber stand improvement, and natural regeneration techniques. The assistance is available to any private individual or group which is not involved in the manufacture of wood products provided there is a minimum of 10 acres and the land is capable of producing at least 50 cubic feet of industrial wood per acre per year. Currently, the average cost-share is 50% and the maximum is limited to the amount needed to complete the practice on 100 acres (Varnedoe 1993).
Industry-sponsored landowner-assistance programs are operated by many forest industry companies in the South. Since 70% of the forested lands in the ACE Basin are privately owned, industry depends heavily on private lands in the area for its raw material. Industry-sponsored programs benefit both landowner and industry because the landowner receives good management advice from professional foresters to maximize their forest investment, and the forest industry ensures a renewable resource to meet its needs for wood and paper products. Industry foresters aid landowners by helping them develop a forestry management plan and suggesting ways to lower costs and take advantage of available forestry programs. Specific services provided by some landowner assistance programs include free seedlings, boundary and fire line maintenance, insect and disease control, and relevant tax advice. Each company's program is different but the goal remains the same: the growth of trees to meet future needs for wood and timber products (Shaddeau 1993). In the ACE Basin, Westvaco and Georgia-Pacific are major industry foresters who have landowner assistance programs.
In 1994, the American Forest and Paper Association, whose members own 90% of the industrial forestland in the US, adopted the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Program (SFI). This program is a comprehensive system of principles, guidelines, and performance measures that integrates the growth and harvesting of trees with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil, air and water quality. The five principles and twelve guidelines established by the SFI program are designed to assist member companies in practicing sustainable forestry and improving their performance. Since its inception, the SFI program has enrolled 54 million acres of forestland, educated 20,000 loggers and foresters in sustainable forestry practices, distributed information on sustainable forestry to 86,000 landowners, and spent $178 million on research related to forestry, wildlife biodiversity, ecosystem management, and the environment (American Forest & Paper Association, 1998).
An example of an industrial landowner that is practicing sustainable forestry in the ACE Basin is Westvaco Corporation, the single largest private landowner there. The company manages its property in South Carolina to produce a continuous supply of wood and wood fiber for two company sawmills and a paper mill. Whenever possible, Westvaco applies an award-winning "Ecosystem-Based Multiple Use Forest Management System" on a comprehensive basis throughout entire watersheds. These same techniques are promoted for use by private landowners who are enrolled in the company's Cooperative Forest Management program. Westvaco's system promotes the use of intensive management practices on portions of each landholding while remaining portions are managed less intensively for timber production and more intensively for water quality and habitat diversity. These latter areas provide older forest habitats which are of value to certain wildlife species (Muckenfuss 1994).
Conversion to agriculture and expansion of urban and suburban areas poses the largest threat to the natural forests of the ACE Basin. The outlook for forestry in the ACE Basin, however, is one which reflects advances in science and technology balanced with conservation. These advances will continue to help forest landowners meet increasing needs for renewable wood and paper products for local and global markets.
At the same time, more and more forest management schemes which seek to use ecological principles to achieve sustained harvests are being implemented. For example, foresters must comply with the Forestry Commission's Best Practices Manual where ever there is discharge of dredge or fill materials into jurisdictional wetlands or where there is a potential for violating the water quality criteria of the South Carolina Pollution Control Act. In summary, an increasing awareness of forest ecology and protection of soil and water in concert with sustainable forest management will help maintain the integrity of forests and contribute to the quality of life in the ACE Basin (see Forestry Land Use: Management ).
E. Wenner, SCDNR Marine Resources Research Institute
L. Zimmerman, SCDNR Marine Resources Research Institute
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