The latest Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) shows Alabama has added 1 million new acres of forest over the past 10 years, dispelling some claims that the state’s forests are shrinking. Alabama contains 22.9 million acres of forestland, which now covers 71 percent of the state.The new FIA study is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Alabama Forestry Commission. John F. Kelly, assistant director for research for the Southern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, and State Forester Timothy C. Boyce announced the report at a meeting Feb. 22, in Montgomery.Inventories of both softwood and hardwood species have increased over the survey period, Kelly said. Total softwood volumes were up 12 percent to 13.3 billion cubic feet, while hardwood volumes were up 20 percent to 17.9 billion cubic feet.Traditionally, urbanization and agriculture have been the two primary causes of forestland loss within the state. Although Alabama experienced a gain of 1.7 million acres in 10 years, over 700,000 acres were cleared for agriculture and urban related uses, Kelly said.”The increase in acreage of forestland in Alabama is both good news and bad news, depending on your perspective,” said Steve Guy, director of the Federation’s Forestry Division. “The good news is that forests are being renewed and that our forest management efforts are working. In addition to the economic value that forests add through the paper and lumber industry, they also provide recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.”The downside to this increase in forest acreage, is that it indicates valuable row crop land and pastures are being taken out of production due to the poor economic situation our state farmers are experiencing,” Guy added. Once row crop land or pasture is taken out of production, it seldom reverts back to production agriculture.”
Outlining the scope of the FIA, Kelly said state and federal field crews visited 4,443 plots over a three-year period, ensuring that every corner of Alabama’s forestlands were inventoried and monitored. Boyce seconded Kelly’s assessment and noted the pivotal role private landowners play in the management of Alabama’s forestlands.The results of the FIA survey reflect the outstanding efforts of thousands of private landowners in Alabama, Boyce said. These landowners have taken a leadership role in being good stewards of the land resulting in maximum benefits for every Alabamian.The non-industrial private landowner’s share of Alabama forests has increased by 12 percent since 1990, and they now control 78 percent of Alabama’s forests, Boyce said.”A healthy forest equals a healthy economy,” Guy said. “The forest industry in Alabama provides jobs for nearly 70,000 workers and pumps nearly $13 billion into the state’s economy each year.”Joe Rogers, president of the Alabama Forestry Association, said the FIA shows that the men and women of the forest products industry are practicing responsible and sustainable forestry.”Those of us who make our living in this industry have long maintained that forests are renewable and can serve both as a source of recreational pleasure and fulfill our needs for goods and services made from wood,” Rogers said. “I believe the FIA confirms this to be true. The non-industrial private landowners form the linchpin of the forest products industry in Alabama.”Rogers said it is also important to point out that Alabama’s extensive forests help clean the air by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, and also function like a giant water filter to help keep Alabama’s water rated among the cleanest in the nation.