In the Pacific
Northwest, the federal government can get tough with lumber
companies because the forests are publicly owned. Not so in the
South, where 85 percent of all timber grows on private lands.
After the federal government drastically slowed
logging in the Northwest in the 1990s, Boise-Cascade and other big
forest-products companies headed for Dixieland. Now, their focus is
on chip mills, whose numbers have tripled since
Chips make particleboard, paper towels and
mail-order catalogs. The relatively low-cost plants can grind 3,000
acres of trees into 250,000 tons of wood chips a year; in 1998,
chip mills in 13 Southeastern states from Missouri to Florida
consumed more than a million acres of
"It's highly mechanized, it's highly
automated. The chip mills get incredible tax breaks for coming into
communities," says Trevor FitzGibbon of the Southeast Forest
Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. And, he says,
"they're liquidating the forest."
defends native forest ecosystems in the South, where the Forest
Service estimates that 36 percent of the region's pine forests
already have been converted to tree farms, and that 70 percent will
have been converted by 2020. Native hardwoods are faring even
worse, since timber companies replace them with fast-growing,
Chip mills use a resource which
generations of sawmill owners, furniture makers and other small
businessmen depend on for their livelihood. In Tennessee, where
hardwood products fuel the second-biggest industry in the state,
Robert Walker is a third-generation sawmiller. He mills mature
trees of walnut, maple and oak for cabinets and furniture, and now
watches his industry decline.
hardwoods are being cut for a lot of what we consider just junk
mail," Walker says. "This is like cutting our own throat."