Land of the Pines

— Written By Zack Taylor and last updated by

Did you know that North Carolina has a state toast? It begins with the line, “Here’s to the land of the longleaf pine.”  That is because for generations, forest production has been a major part of our state’s economy. Take a drive around Lee County, you will begin to realize just how important forestry still is to the citizens of Lee County. Almost 65% of the land in Lee County is classified as forestland, and almost all of it is privately owned. Forested areas bring income to the county, provide a backdrop to everyday life, and help clean the air.

The Loblolly pine is the most commercially important forest species in the South and many of the forested acres here in Lee County are managed with this pine. The loblolly is a native tree, with rapid juvenile growth, which can tolerate a variety of soil types. The tree does drop old needles; however, commercially produced pine straw is more commonly collected from the longleaf pine. The tree is used primarily for lumber and pulpwood. The typical lifespan is about 150 years, although commercial harvest usually occurs much sooner. Depending on management, loblolly may be harvested after 25-35 years.

Longleaf pine is less common in Lee County, found in the southern portion of the county on deep, sandy soils. It is a tree of major important to our state forestry industry though, and is the state tree of North Carolina. The longleaf used to grow in huge stands throughout the South, with an estimated 60 million acres prior to settlement. Longleaf is valued for its lumber and pine straw production. In years past, the resin from the tree was used to make turpentine and naval stores. Longleaf is a slower growing tree, especially in its juvenile stage, and can be difficult to establish. However, stands of longleaf provide a diverse and fascinating ecosystem. The longleaf can live over 500 years, but harvest typically occur after 40 to 50 years. After this time, they have grown tall and straight enough to be used as utility poles. Pine straw provides an additional revenue stream for landowners to help make the longer wait for harvest more bearable.

Even with fast growing trees such as the Loblolly, forest landowners may only see one harvest in their lifetime. It is important to ask questions prior to the harvest and to hire a consulting forester to assist with the harvest and sale of the timber. Land may also be divided up into smaller tracts so that harvest may occur at certain intervals, for example every 5 years. This allows landowners to harvest and see a return on their investment every 5 years.

Forested land can also be enrolled in the Present Use Value Tax Program, if the tract consists of more than 20 acres. Since forestland requires virtually no county services, such as water, sewer, or police assistance, the present use tax program bases the tax value on its current use as forestland. Otherwise, the tax value would be based on market value, the same as a residence or business which does use county services. This provides a savings for the landowner, who may not be able to afford to pay the market value tax price and would otherwise be forced to sell the land. In order to qualify, the tract must be under a sound forest management plan that includes timber production as a primary objective. Although the landowner may write his or her own plan, there are professionals who can help, including the NC Forest Service.

Forest production pumps over 8 million dollars into the economy in Lee County each year. But that is not all forested areas do, they also serve as a trap for pollutants and carbon dioxide, which helps to offset the effects of global warming. Each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day, and captures enough carbon to offset driving a car for 26,000 miles.

Forestland also provides habitat for wildlife, and gives us a place to enjoy the outdoors. Visit the NC State Extension Forestry website at http://forestry.ces.ncsu.edu to learn more about forest production in North Carolina.

Zack Taylor is the Agriculture Agent – Field Crops and Livestock for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.