Forests occupy 13.1 million acres in our state, which represents 67 percent of our land area.

Forests occupy 13.1 million acres in our state, which represents 67 percent of our land area.
Image Credit: Derrick Phinney / Clemson University

DORCHESTER — Clemson Cooperative Extension forestry agent Derrick Phinney, the longtime natural resources professional, talked about forestry’s importance and value to South Carolina — both as a lucrative resource and as a friend to the environment — in a recent question-and-answer session.

Phinney, who is based in Dorchester, provides programming and outreach education in 11 counties in the Lowcountry region. He has been involved in land management and environmental regulations for the past 18 years. He has also spent much of his time working with landowners on refining their objectives, writing and implementing management plans and coordinating timber sales, reforestation and timber stand improvements.

Here is what Phinney had to say:

How important is forestry to South Carolina?

Forests occupy 13.1 million acres in our state, which represents 67 percent of our land area. First and foremost, forests are a renewable resource that — with proper management — provide many benefits and rewards.

Forests don’t just produce timber. They are used for more purposes than you might think, both from an economic and environmental standpoint. For one thing, they are beautiful and inspirational places to visit, and they are enjoyed by hunters, wildlife aficionados and campers, to name a few.

Environmentally, they absorb carbon dioxide and through photosynthesis produce oxygen, while also storing carbon in their biomass, all of which benefits our planet’s atmosphere. They also help filter water and stabilize the ground to significantly reduce erosion.

What is the state of South Carolina’s forestry industry right now?

The industry is strong. Our most recent numbers show that the forestry sector has an annual economic impact of $18.6 billion. This makes forestry No. 1 in the following categories:

  • Manufacturing — 90,320 jobs with a payroll of $4.5 billion
  • Harvested crop — totaling $759 million
  • Exported commodity — No. 1 for the past eight years from the Port of Charleston at $1.5 billion

In 2008, the South Carolina Forestry Commission began a collaborative initiative titled the “20/15 Project” with the goal of increasing forestry’s economic impact in S.C. to $20 billion by 2015. These numbers won’t be confirmed until late 2016, but we feel this goal is realistic and obtainable.

Is the timber industry still recovering from the economic downturn?

The economic downturn did affect the growth of the forest industry. When housing and development are down, the industry is negatively impacted. But forestry is more diverse than just dimensional lumber. Other products that help drive it include pulp and paper, paperboard, cardboard, furniture, wood-based chemical products and fuel wood. And don’t forget that these products are sold nationwide and globally.

If you look at the forestry industry as an investment portfolio, you will recognize the value of its extraordinary multiplicity. When one area suffers, another steps up and provides stability. So during periods of economic uncertainty, the industry doesn’t take huge hits. If you compare the economic impact pre-recession to today’s more robust economy, the industry is up about $1.2 billion.

How has weather impacted the forestry industry?

The relentless spurts of erratic weather have impacted forestry on two fronts — one being a supply-and-demand issue, the other a tree health issue.

It’s estimated that the flooding and persistent wet conditions have caused about $100 million in losses, mostly for the following reasons:

  • Lost production and increased operating and wood supply cost
  • Losses experienced by loggers because of down time
  • Damage to private and public roads and bridges, which has created detours and stopped traffic
  • Damage or destruction to young stands (2-3 years old)
Derrick Phinney is a forestry and natural resources agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.

Derrick Phinney is a forestry and natural resources agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.
Image Credit: Clemson University

But though $100 million is a lot of money, it represents only a fractional amount of an $18.6 billion industry. This being said, the damage to our roads and bridges can’t be understated. Each year, more than 1 million loads of timber are transported on our roads. Some of South Carolina’s larger mills receive more than 500 loads per day. Damaged roads and bridges impact our ability to effectively and efficiently move wood products from place to place.

Is now a good time to plant?

Any time is a good time to plant and manage a forest. A managed forest has up to five times more profit value than an unmanaged forest.

In terms of the health and well-being of the tree, the best time of year to plant is during the dormant season: December to March. But there are a number of things to be considered prior to planting. Phinney suggests that landowners start planning their planting regimen about a year in advance.

“Private landowners are the key to retaining and growing our industry,” Phinney concluded. “So I would encourage them to be good land stewards, and to contact Clemson Extension for advice on managing their land.”