Wood is key to W.Va.’s well-being

“Wood is wonderful.” This is a statement that I hear repeatedly in this area, especially during the “Mountain State Forest Festival,” which is a tribute to wood. Now, everyone knows that wood grows, and April is the month for Arbor Day (April 27) when people are encouraged to plant a tree. At the same time, they are encouraged to properly care for the trees that are currently growing.

On a percentage basis, West Virginia is the third most heavily forested state in the nation. This state is only behind Maine and New Hampshire from this standpoint.

Forests cover nearly 80 percent of this state’s 15.4 million acres. Just about all of this forested acreage is classified as commercial forest lands. In the year 2000, more than 88 percent of the timberland in West Virginia was privately owned by individuals, corporate businesses, farmers, and the forest products industry.

West Virginia is the second leading hardwood state in the nation with more than 22 billion cubic feet of hardwood growing and trailing only to Pennsylvania in this category. White and Black Oaks are by far the dominant hardwood in West Virginia at 71 percent of the total timberland. Other northern hardwoods include: beech, black cherry, hickory, maple, white ash and yellow poplar.

Because of proper management of the forests, West Virginia’s timber-lands have continued to mature over the years. The average volume of timber per acre has steadily increased over the past 60 years.

While the most recent forests inventory clearly indicates that West Virginia’s forests health has improved, there are still risks to the overall health to all of the forested land. This is something that should be everyone’s concern.

On an annual basis, more than 135 million cubic feet of West Virginia’s hardwoods are lost for numerous reasons: insect pests (beetles, gypsy moth, etc.), severe weather (ice storms, wind damage), and wildfires that are caused by human activities. When situations are like this, it is often a bigger waste not to timber, than it is to timber. Proper forest management is important when it comes to the prosperity of West Virginia’s forest-based industries.

West Virginia’s wood products industry contributes more than four billion dollars annually to the economy of this state, trailing only to the coal industry. The state’s wood products industry accounts for nearly 30,000 jobs across the state and pay an excess of more than 700 million of employee compensation.

Beyond timbering, West Virginia’s forests contribute to the state’s economy in many other ways. Outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, back-packing, camping, and wildlife watching are indirectly related to our state’s forests. It’s like what I stated in a past column this past February, responsible timbering means jobs, money, and sense.

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Last week, I mailed in my questionnaire to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. For the most part, I am in favor of just about all of the changes the DNR was recommending for this fall and next year.

In addition to this, I also made my usual recommendations that I would like for the DNR to implement sometime in the future. These include:

• Turn Kanawha and Kumbrabow State Forests into older-aged deer management areas.

• Open the squirrel season on the last Saturday in September.

• Return the annual regulations meetings to the old classroom-type format. Sportsmen and women were better informed of new developments when the DNR conducted this meeting in this manner.

• Have continuous open season on all foxes.

• Continue with year-round trout fishing.

I will try to give a report on the summary of this year’s questionnaire sometime in May.

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