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Reserving room for trees.

With the Conservation Reserve Program up for amendment, Georgia Forestry Commission Director John W. Mixon supports an expansion in total acreage as well as acreage to tree planting. Mixon, being from a region that has led the nation in CRP signups, admits to a bias toward the planting. But he argues that it could work in other regions and will benefit the country overall.

Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) has proposed an expansion of 45 million to 65 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the National Association of State Foresters is recommending that a portion of that acreage be slated for tree planting.

Although the majority of landowners across the nation participating in the program have elected to plant grasses, trees dominate CRP activity here in our corner of the nation. To date, approximately 30 percent of all acreage designated for tree planting under CRP is contracted or tentatively accepted in Georgia.

The 547,226 acres committed under CRP during the first six signup opportunities - as well as continuing progress in our extensive reforestation drive started back in 1983 by the Georgia Forestry Commission and cooperating agencies, industries, and individual landowners - led the state to a record tree-planting. In press announcements we have proudly stated that massive planting of 603,000 acres of trees in Georgia last season is believed to have set a world record in the reforestation movement.

Why then are we not content with the progress we have made? Why do we advocate additional lands for tree planting in our state and other states that have already benefitted so greatly from the program?

The answer is obvious when one considers the enormous impact forestry and forest-related enterprises have on my state's economy. Forestry in Georgia now represents an $8.74 billion industry annually, and the figure continues to climb as new processing plants locate within our borders. In the past two years, six plants of significant size in both productivity and payroll have been added to a long list of existing wood-oriented industries in Georgia, including 15 pulp and paper mills.

We must retain the momentum we have achieved in reforestation-and constantly build on that base if we are to meet the demands for raw forest materials at the turn of the century and in the years beyond.

Although hundreds of Georgia landowners have taken advantage of CRP, there remain thousands of acres that are bringing only marginal profits to the farmer in all sections of the state. I am sure this situation can be found in most other states as well. If adopted, the proposal by Senator Nunn and other leaders to change CRP provisions to qualify marginal pasture lands for tree planting would certainly give Georgia and the South - and many other states - the opportunity to turn poor land into potentially profitable land.

In global terms, the importance of reforestation to the welfare of the people becomes even more evident. Each year over 27 million acres of forestland are eliminated worldwide! Trees are the main storehouse of carbon dioxide. Without them, the atmosphere is inundated with excess [CO.sub.2]. Combined with other harmful pollutants, these gases trap the heat inside the earth's protective ozone layer. Some scientists indicate this causes the earth's temperature to rise and may result in dramatic weather changes and higher sea levels, eliminating coastal habitats.

A role model for those who would practice forest conservation is found in C.M. Stripling of Camilla, Georgia, the 1988 National Tree Farmer of the Year and a stalwart advocate of the CRP. Stripling is a pioneer is tree farming, having started in 1939 when he was only 19 by hand-planting 1,000 seedlings. He's been at it ever since and recently competed with more than 58,000 tree farmers nationwide to bring the coveted Tree Farmer of the Year honor home to Georgia.

"The potential of tree farming is tremendous," Stripling said, "and the CRP greatly increases this basic potential. It's one of those rare programs that benefits everyone down the line - from the landowner to the federal government. Even those who know nothing about CRP benefit because they are enjoying the results of a healthy economy."

Stripling can readily prove this statement by punching out a mathematical story on his calculator. Documenting the story every step of the way, Stripling shows how he planted a tract of timber that recently sold for $300,000. The financial details unfold to reveal how this $300,000 translates to $4 million circulating through wood yards, pulp and paper mills, products, salaries, and sales. Based on this calculation, Stripling show how 20 million similar acres of pine in the Conservation Reserve Program can generate $6 billion.

As this example indicates, Stripling's interest is not only his tree farm, but all tree farming now and in the future. He allows his tree farm to be used as a showcase, and other tree farmers have been permitted to place experimental plots on his land.

In addition to his promotional efforts for the CRP, Stripling has worked with Senator Nunn and Congressman Charles Hatcher (D-GA) in preparing a program for farmers to plant trees as a means of Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) debt relief. He gave suggestions to Senator Nunn in forming the 1984 proposal for the Conservation Reserve Program.

Georgia and the South received the biggest boost in reforestration when Congress enacted the Food Security Act of 1985, otherwise known as the 1985 Farm Bill. Within this new law the Conservation Reserve Program was born.

The CRP's goal to remove 45 million acres of highly erodible cropland from production includes five million acres, or roughly 12 percent of the total acreage, for tree planting. After seven CRP signups, approximately 28.9 million acres have been either tentatively accepted or contracted into the total program. Of this total, about 1.8 million acres have been either tentatively accepted or contracted for planting trees, which represents only 6.2 percent of the total program.

Even though tree planting is lagging behind expected levels for the nation as a whole, the story is different in the South. In fact, the South is carrying the majority (93 percent) of tree-planting acreage in the entire national program.

The CRP significantly stimulated the already growing interest in planting trees in the South. Southerners now realize the importance timber has in the economic health of the region. The markets are here, labor is abundant, numerous export facilities are available, and a wide range of products can be manufactured in the region. Southern climate also promotes excellent growing conditions.

Although pine vs the prevalent species in most CRP plantings, hardwood plantings are also acceptable under the federal program and are growing in popularity.

It is projected that in all, some 3.25 million acres will be planted in trees in the South as a direct result of CRP. These forest plantations will provide over 4.8 million cords annually between the years of 2000 and 2020, allow further pulping capacity of 3.2 million tons annually during the same period, and provide an additional 12,800 directly related jobs and 35,200 associated-industry jobs.

The ability of trees and grasses to hold the soil in place nearly eliminated erosion, which is the primary goal of the CRP. It has been estimated that permanent vegetative cover will reduce erosion rates on highly erodible cropland from an average of 22.4 tons per acre per year down to an average of 1.6 tons per acre per year. This is a soil savings of almost 21 tons per acre per year!

A benefit usually taken for granted is a tree's role as a major producer and purifier of our air and water resources. Surely, with global deforestation occuring, it is evident that our entire climatic environment is changing, which will have adverse effects on future human populations. Planting trees helps offset these adverse effects.

Trees offer aesthetic and recreational possibilities. With more leisure time than ever before, people are relying on the accessibility of forests to provide an escape from their everyday routine. Many people commute long distances to and from work just to be able to live in or near the serenity of a forest.

The Conservation Reserve Program is undoubtedly the most beneficial incentive ever offered the American landowner. It surpasses the Soil Bank of the 1950s, and if restrictions are eased to allow additions acreage to qualify, the program will be further enhanced. We have not yet seen the full potential of wood. With wood technology advancing at a rapid rate, we must keep pace by providing adequate supplies of wood. The Conservation Reserve Program and proposed amendments will help the nation do that.
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Title Annotation:Conservation Reserve Program
Author:Mixon, John W.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:A tree before breakfast.
Next Article:Two tree planters on a Mississippi porch.

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