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Covering the State with Forests

Carson Sands (right) on site with Bubba Banks

Look around almost any place in Georgia, and you see forest. More than 24 million acres of the state, nearly two-thirds of the total area, is covered in forest. In fact, Georgia has more privately held forest land than any other state.

It wasn’t always that way. Cotton was king in 1914, the year the Yancey brothers opened their hardware store in downtown Atlanta. Farmers in Georgia planted a record 5.2 million acres of cotton that year.

One year later boll weevils entered southwest Georgia. Cotton prices plummeted after World War I, and by 1923 cotton production in the state had dropped 80 percent.

Then in the 1930s a discovery by Georgia scientist and businessman Charles H. Herty would dramatically change Georgia and the South. Working in the Savannah Paper and Pulp Laboratory, which he had formed, Herty developed a process for converting southern pine pulp into paper. Until that discovery, newsprint had been imported from Europe.

Herty’s process meant that Georgia forests could supply enough newspaper for the entire United States. Georgians began converting their worn-out farmland to forests, and a new industry was born.

Carson Sands, who bought his first Caterpillar 535 skidder in 2001, was named Georgia Logger of the Year in 2013 by the Southeastern Wood Producers Association.

Despite problems with the economy, he says, “It seems to me the pulp and paper industry is as strong as ever. It’s not all paper. Some of the things we were marketing have died out, and they’ve found some new uses, like pellets for fuel, especially in Europe. They’re exporting a lot of that now. Housing industry is making a rebound, and lumber needs are going up. That’s a plus for us.

“If the economy ever really kicks in, the wood inventory is out here, but I don’t know if Georgia has enough logging force to bring it all in.”

The forestry industry has a $25 billion annual economic impact on Georgia, which generates $487 million in state tax revenue. More than 118,000 jobs statewide are supported by forestry. In addition to the traditional economic impact, Georgia’s forests provide citizens with over $37 billion in ecosystem services (clean air, clean water, and recreation) each year.

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