Conservation Locally Made Sustainability

Local Products: Our Forests

Western North Carolina Forests

Photo by Joye Ardyn Durham

By Lang Hornthal

From the time of pioneering forestry educator Carl Schenck forward, Western North Carolina has relied on our forests and the products made from them to sustain families across generations. Trees are central to the sustainability of our region. The clean water, wildlife and recreational benefits have fueled economic growth and continue to assist tourism as our primary industry. But now, more than ever before, we must proactively plan for the potential changes that our forests are facing.

Western North Carolina is fortunate to have more than one million acres of public forests. The services these forests provide to our ecosystem help drive the popularity of our region. But sustaining these public forests is only one piece of the puzzle. Of the more than 18 million acres of forests found in North Carolina, more than 10 million acres are owned by private, non-industrial landowners. This means that private landowners’ management of their forests has a direct impact on our communities as well as on the public lands they border.

These private landowners are the unsung heroes of our region for protecting and managing their forests—and they need to be supported. This support can come in many forms, but it begins by recognizing that the needs and goals of landowners are as different as the myriad tree species of the region. Support even includes the need to cut trees, for both economic and restoration purposes.

Lately, we have gained a greater appreciation for the role trees play in sequestering carbon that is contributing to the warming of our region, drought, floods and wildfires. Trees are a magnificent resource that must be celebrated for their multiple uses and managed in a way that supports the many different services they provide communities.

Our region is steeped in rich forestry history and is recognized as the birthplace of modern forestry. Past logging was done selfishly for the benefit of industrialization and left our landscape barren and ill equipped to service the needs of the people of the region. Fortunately, our forests are resilient and, unless you are a forester, you would see little evidence of that historical mismanagement.

But foresters also see even aged stands that lack the diversity found in a natural landscape, as well as species thriving in areas where they should not be. While trees will grow back, they often do so in competition with faster growing invasive species that crowd out native trees and plants. Trees are also under threat from insects like the Emerald Ash Borer that indiscriminately crosses state lines, leaving a wake of dead trees in its path. These threats must be planned for with wise management.

Strong forests mean a healthy environment and a vibrant economy. You can help by supporting nonprofits that promote sustainable forestry and by buying local forest products that keep trees in our region and promote sustainable practices.

Forest Resources

Lang Hornthal is the director of Root Cause, a forest products nonprofit in Asheville. He is also a member of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership and Stakeholders Forum that is seeking common ground while advising the USFS on their current management planning.

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