On Thursday morning the U.S. Department of Agriculture will release its updated numbers on the size of this year’s corn, soybean and other crops, something that happens just about every month of the year.  The numbers don’t come out nearly as often for some of the other valuable crops produced in this country, like our woodlots.

      But a new report done in 2010 has just been released regarding the status of our forests.  It’s called the “National Report on Sustainable Forests, 2010.”  Forestry officials believe this is the first such inventory of U.S. woodlands in about the last 10 to 15 years from the U.S. Forest Service and it points out the good as well as the bad news about our nation’s forests.

      Officials at the National Woodland Owners Association (NWOA) and area foresters see seven key points in the 155 page document.  According to Chris Widstrand, area forester in Eau Claire with the Department of Natural Resources, there are some points in the report that are more noteworthy than others.  He told us, “The first is that our forested area around the country has remained stable at 751 million acres, but the breakdown of the land has changed.”  The inventory shows American woodlot owners are actually growing more wood than we’re harvesting but part of the reason for that is that we’re importing more wood than previously, and “more and more of the harvested wood is coming from a smaller and smaller percentage of the land”, according to Widstrand.  The ownership breakdown also comes out at almost 50-50 public versus private ownership, both nationally and in Wisconsin.  Widstrand also added that “all those trees make up a huge carbon sink, tying up billions and billions of tons of carbon that are tied up in our forests, helping to offset any potential effects of climate change.”

      The effects of climate change are a big concern for foresters and active woodland owners who look at their trees as a harvestable crop.  They point out that as temperature and precipitation patterns change, new and different insect and disease pressures have appeared.  In fact, Widstrand pointed out, “we’ve seen a threefold increase in the amount of timber killed by insects and disease since the last survey of our woodlands.”  In the West, the Mountain Pine Beetle has decimated Lodgepole Pine stands while closer to Wisconsin the Emerald Ash Borer is marching through and destroying Ash trees while a relatively new disease, Annosum, a fungus that destroys roots and is persistent in the soil, is causing problems in pine plantations in at least 23 counties around the state.

     What consequences we may see in our woodlots in the future from those challenges as well as pressure put on by using wood products to produce cellulosic ethanol “will depend on our management of our woodlots”, according to Widstrand.

     The newly released study shows there are fewer working forests in the U.S. now because woodlands have been parceled out with private lands getting broken up into smaller and smaller chunks.  According to Widstrand, “even our traditional industrial woodlots are getting smaller and smaller and taking up less of the land area.”  He pointed out that future markets for pulp and saw logs is also a concern here in Wisconsin and around the country.  Later this month, he told us, Wausau Papers is scheduled to close its Brokaw plant north of Wausau and that for loggers in that part of the state there are only two pine mills left, one at Mosinee and Domtar at Port Edwards.  He told us, “losing many more lumber markets could really affect the industry negatively in the future.”

     The third part of the study that foresters see as key for the future good of the industry is the making sure all the private landowners understand their responsibility for keeping their woodlots in good health.

Widstrand feels that should be easy.  He said, “all a woodlot owner needs to do is get a plan for their woodlot so they know if they have insect or disease problems and if it’s mature, get it harvested and plant new trees for the next generation.”  Too often he said, “people think they own trees and not a viable crop that needs to be taken care of just like any other crop because there is value in our woodlots.”

   For a copy of the report, the National Woodland Owners recommend googling at National Report on Sustainable Forests, 2010.  Or you can request a hard copy of the report from NWOA at their offices at 374 Maple Ave. E, Suite 310, Vienna, VA. 22180.