State Forestry Commission and U.S. Forest Service Work Together to Improve Health of Forests on Public Lands
Written By: Stasia Kelly November 20, 2018
Rural landowners have long understood the value of good relationships with folks up the road. Shared information about families, crops and the weather are staples in the fabric of life where there are often miles between fences or mailboxes.
Communications can get more complicated, however, when adjacent landowners are corporations or government entities. In the best of circumstances, private landowners have ready contacts within those organizations to maximize land management objectives on both sides of the property line.
Five years ago, the health of Georgia’s forests got a boost when the Good Neighbor Authority was established by the U.S. Congress. It paved the way for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to enter into agreements with state agencies to accomplish projects that likely would not occur under the Forest Service’s normal operating budget.
In early 2016, the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) and the USFS began discussions about ways they could partner on projects that would improve nationally owned forestland for the benefit of all Georgians. GFC concluded that stand inventory, timber sales, firebreak construction and mastication were bestfit services, which were included in the agreement that was adopted and launched later that year. Activities were planned for parts of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.
U.S. Forest Service Fire and National Resources Staff Officer Mike Brod has been working on the initiative since its inception.
“This makes us all a lot more efficient,” Brod said. “We were one of the first in the South to partner with a state agency on an agreement that included a timber sale. It’s worked so well that we’ve expanded the project and have pulled in another agency, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. These partnerships enable us to get more work done on the ground for the American people,” said Brod.
GFC’s Ben Hammond and USFS’s C-O NF Silviculturist Hector Socias verify harvest plan directives.
Prep Work with a Purpose
The first timber sale was for a 239-acre tract in the Oconee Ranger District, known as “Wireskull.” U.S. Forest Service objectives included thinning several stands of young to older timber to specified basal areas, while preserving certain species for wildlife purposes, including shortleaf pine, dogwood, oak and hickory.
Georgia Forestry Commission State Lands Forest Management Coordinator Ben Hammond received a harvest prescription order from the USFS, which included those requirements, along with maps and shape files to guide operations.
“The Forest Service does all the environmental impact studies, and we follow timber sale processes used by the GFC. A portion of the money generated from the timber sale pays for our time and expenses, and the rest is used by the Forest Service for other projects and purposes. It keeps generating income,” Hammond said, of subsequent agreements and envisioned timber sales.
For the Wireskull tract, Hammond produced a bid packet, advertised it statewide and posted it on the GFC public website. Potential buyers were given about a month to submit their bids. The state contract clearly details requirements that must be met by the buyer, down to the type of vegetation and natural elements to be installed on loading decks and skidder trails, post-harvest.
Sale preparation work began in fall 2016 with timber marking and marking for sale boundaries. The buyer was responsible for constructing logging decks and temporary roads and for placing #4 rock gravel on Forest Service roadways. Best Management Practices and contract compliance have been continually monitored by the GFC. The tract is estimated to produce 19,000 tons of forest products. Canal Wood was the successful bidder for this project.
A busy loading deck timber-transfer.
Familiarity Breeds Interest
Because the Georgia Forestry Commission handles a large number of timber sales annually on state-owned property, buyers are familiar with GFC’s timber sale process. As a result, heightened interest is expected in the sales.
Hammond said quarterly GFC performance reports keep the USFS updated on projects, and agency expenses are detailed within them. The remainder of the proceeds is used by the Forest Service.
“This is absolutely helping the Forest Service better manage their national forests in Georgia,” Hammond said. “It’s improving forest health and wildlife habitat. It’s improving hunting areas. And it’s got a ripple effect. It helps local economies, loggers and buyers, making more wood available to local mills. It’s good for everybody.” Hammond mentioned that timber from the Wireskull tract will feed local mills, including Georgia-Pacific’s Madison plywood mill and its Warrenton chip and saw facility. Huber’s Commerce OSB mill will also be served.
Hammond emphasized that stipulations of the Good Neighbor process ensure a secure system for load cards and scale tickets and that post-harvest BMP inspections are part of the procedure.
“Once all of that is complete and everything checks out OK, the performance bond is returned,” he said.
Even though rainfall has slowed GNA activities in Georgia this spring and summer, the first phase of the Wireskull project was expected to be completed by fall, and the wheels are turning for additional projects. Part of the Wireskull agreement included a common stand exam on 3,871 acres of the Dann Gun tract, and bidding was being completed in early September for a sale of timber on 329 acres known as Check Redlands I in the Oconee Ranger District. This winter, the GFC hopes to start preparations for another sale, with fieldwork anticipated to be complete by summer 2019.
New Horizons...Healthier Forests
All indications are that the GFC, USFS and citizens of Georgia are benefiting from this new neighborly relationship. Few stumbling blocks have arisen as the state and national partners push toward a stronger, mutually beneficial connection.
“Our initial challenge was just that this is a new way of doing business for us,” said Brod of the USFS. “To grant authority to another agency was very different. It’s been a cultural change.”
The numerous benefits of this liaison, said Brod, make the adjustments completely worthwhile: improved wildlife habitats, reduced risk of insects and disease, boosts to the local economy, better forest health.
“We’re very pleased with what’s resulted,” Brod said. “Very pleased.”
Stasia Kelly is a media relations specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission. She is focused on telling the story of forestry and the immense impact of the industry on Georgia's environment, economy and heritage.
Georgia Forestry Magazine is published by HL Strategy, an integrated marketing and communications firm focused on our nation's biggest challenges and opportunities. Learn more at hlstrategy.com