October 15-21 is Working Forests Work Week in Florida.
Members of the forestry community are working all this week to help people understand the business of forests and trees. I am a member of this community because my sisters and I inherited a small tree farm from our Dad and years later my husband and I used the proceeds from the farm to buy another.
The theme this year is “May the Forest Be With You.” It is a play on words using a phrase from the “Star Wars” movies.
What is a Working Forest?
The short definition of a working forest is a forest that produces something of economic value. Did you know that there are over 17 million acres of forests in Florida? They are mostly in the north and central regions of the state and almost 65% are in private ownership. That is more than half of our state’s total land area.
So just how do forests work?
Well, the same way we do – they produce something that has economic value.
It costs money to properly manage a forest, and few landowners have the resources to manage their land without it producing income. In short, forests have to earn their keep if they’re going to survive, especially in heavily populated states like Florida.
So what are the benefits of trees in general?
Trees are very important to providing oxygen. If it weren’t for trees we would all be in trouble. In fact, in the timber business, for every tree that we cut down, we plant five trees to replace it. We have been so effective in our efforts to replant that today there are twice as many trees in America as there were 30 years ago.
As you probably remember from elementary school science, trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen.
Green Space and Natural Beauty
No explanation needed here. Just one picture.
If you were standing in the forest and we showed up with a giant tractor and started cutting down trees, would you stand there or would you move out of the way to safety? Well, that is what most animals do when we start cutting. They move out of our way and safely go on about their business.
Cutting trees help animals by letting sunlight reach the floor of a forest. When this happens, scrubs and other understory plants grower bigger, providing more food and shelter.
We bought our second piece of property clear-cut, devoid of all its pine trees. We replanted, and we are in our third year. I love to ride on the property because I’m seeing an increase in tracks. It has turkey, deer, and all kinds of critters including just lately a bear walking its roads.
You know that animals, including humans, cannot make their own food and that when animals eat plants or other animals, the energy stored in the food source is passed to them.
Believe me, no one cares more for my trees than me. I cut trees to make a living. If the forestry community cuts down all the trees and didn’t replant them, we would not have jobs!
Our forests provide clean water for all of us to drink. They filter water down into the ground and into the aquifer.
Sound water management is a big need for Florida today, and it’s going to get bigger. Florida’s forests can play an important part in the solution to our water quantity and quality.
We have a lot of rules that tell us to stay away from rivers and streams, as well as from the homes (whether nests or burrows) of certain birds, like the Bald Eagles and gophers. There are all kinds of rules to make sure that we take care of the environment.
Harvesting more than we should?
Some people are concerned that we cut more trees than we should. As you remember earlier, though, we plant more than we cut.
Sustainability is an important keystone for our industry. We take trees out of the ground; we put more trees back in the ground. According to the Florida Forest Service, more than 450 million seedlings were planted in Florida between 2010-2015.
It’s important to find ways to incentivize landowners to continue planting trees instead of other crops or houses.
Healthy markets are big incentives to replant.
Goods from the Woods
Forests supply boocoodles of products that we all want and need, more than 5,000 of which are made from our forests. Products such as paper and paper products, pencils, rulers, chewing gum, cinnamon, Gatorade, Advil, toothpaste, insect repellant, band-aids, paper towels, lotion, cleaning supplies, and soap, to name a few.
The cell phone you have in your hand? You’re holding a Forest product. Forest products are used to make cell phones, computers, and tv screens.
Having a good hair day? Forest products were used in your shampoo, conditioner, styling products, and hairspray. And I don’t know about you but I would hate to face a day without hairspray. Chuck accuses me of making every unruly lock stand in line and at attention.
Recovering from a cold, headache or another ailment? Forest products are used in the coatings of pills and other pharmaceuticals, as well as in some medicines, including cancer treatments.
Feel like playing sports? Baseball bats, football helmets, and skateboards all include goods from the woods.
The list goes on … toilet tissue … cosmetics… food (ice cream!) … bandages…. diapers… crayons … paints … laundry detergent … car tires … root beer! You would be amazed if you realized how many times in your day you come in contact with some form of forest products.
So I am proud to be part of an industry that helps provide jobs for 124,000 Floridians. Forestry contributes more than $25 billion to Florids’s economy. Forestry and forest products are Florida’s top agricultural commodity, running neck and neck with the horticultural industry, and our top ag export.
And as you see, the forest IS with you in many, many ways, even if you are miles and miles away from the nearest tree.
So may the forests be with you and all of us forever!