Woodlands management is heartwood of state’s wood industry

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By Carol Pence

Nearly half of Kentucky’s land is forested. The casual observer might classify those lands as unused acreage, but University of Kentucky foresters know that those “idle” lands are behind the employment of more than 30,000 Kentuckians, double the number employed in the state’s coal industry.

Kentucky’s forest industry adds approximately $8.7 billion to the state’s economy, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Of that, timber sales account for approximately $180 million. In a state where 78 percent of the woodlands are privately owned by individuals and families, that money goes directly to the private woodland owner.

That income hinges on proper woodland management, said Billy Thomas, extension forester with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. However, sorting through all the available management options and trying to find professional assistance can be daunting for landowners.

Thomas recently wrapped up the final session of the 2008 Woodland Owners Short Course, a partnership effort between UK forestry extension and Kentucky forestry and natural resource organizations. The program was presented in east, west and central Kentucky and consisted of three on-site classes in each region. It was designed to introduce landowners to woodland management techniques, managing for wildlife and the state’s wood industry. The latter session, a new addition this year, was an eye-opener to many of those taking the course, Thomas said.

Through the assistance of the Kentucky Forest Industries Association, participants in this year’s short course were introduced to a sampling of Kentucky’s wood industries. Depending upon the region, attendees visited Harold White Lumber and Millworks in Morehead, B&K Wood Products and Sebree Fence Company in Madisonville, and Lebanon Oak Flooring and Ames True Temper, which manufactures tool handles, in Lebanon. Landowners saw first-hand what becomes of their trees.

Harvesting timber is not the only way that woodland owners can derive income from their properties; non-timber forest products, hunting leases, and carbon credits also offer possibilities for income. For those who do want to derive some income from their land through timber harvesting, Thomas cautions that harvesting should not be the end-all-be-all for landowners.

In many instances it is difficult for woodland owners to determine their property’s potential until they have a forest inventory conducted. Once landowners determine their objectives for their property, Thomas recommends they work with a professional forester to develop a management plan. Then, if they do decide to sell their timber, getting a feel for what that timber is worth can pay off in the long run. That’s where he thinks this year’s short course really hit home with a lot of people.