07/29/04 — Forests getting eaten up by urban development

View Archive

Forests getting eaten up by urban development

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on July 29, 2004 1:57 PM

SMITHFIELD -- The decrease in forests in North Carolina and increase of urban development were hot topics Wednesday during a summit at Johnston Community College.

Around 600 N.C. residents attended a day-long conference about the future of the state's forestland, which decreased by 1.7 million acres, or 11 percent, between 1990 and 2002. Most of the land was converted into urban and suburban development.

"The forests are disappearing at a consistent and rapid rate," said Bill Ross, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.

He and other state officials and forestry experts addressed the residents during the free event.

Ross said there needs to be more emphasis placed on forest conservation because the health, happiness and prosperity of the state depends on clean air, water and healthy forests and farms. Private landowners who manage and conserve their land provide benefits for themselves and the general public.

According to Barry New of the N.C. Forest Service, Wayne County had 144,600 acres of timberland in 1990 and that had been reduced by 3,000 acres by 2002. He said that land has not necessarily been lost, but could have changed in some manner. Forty percent of the county is considered timberland, he added.

Fred White of The Forestland Group was the event's keynote speaker and discussed the current and future values of forestland.

He said the land provides many things for the state, including a place for hunting, camping and hiking. Tree processing is the second largest industry in the state, behind textiles.

There is a potential to use wood chips as a fuel source, which would have many advantages to fossil fuels, including being renewable and free of air pollution problems, he added.

Forest watersheds help replenish wells and streams and reduce the frequency and magnitude of floods.

"Our forests don't need us, we need them," said White.

Dave Wear of the USDA Forest Service said the forecast over the next 20 years shows a continued loss of forestland in the state, specifically around Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Charlotte, as well as toward the Appalachian Mountains and the coast.

Statistics show that 8 out of every 10 acres in the state are privately owned.

Many landowners attended the summit, including Boon Chesson of Montgomery County. He owns 107 acres that he purchased in 1974. He said a majority of the land in his county is forestland, and he said local communities need to be more mindful that forests are of real value.

"We need incentives to help us maintain those tracts of land," he said.