In 1956, we purchased our first southeastern timberlands in Mississippi and Alabama. Today, we own almost 7 million acres of timberlands across 11 southern states from Virginia to Texas. These timberlands grow on a variety of landforms, from the rich organic soils of eastern North Carolina to the shallower, rocky soils of the Ouachita Mountains in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and they cover diverse landscapes, ranging from low and broad flatwoods, hills and bottoms, to steep hillsides and mountains. Yet across all this variation, these southern forests benefit from long growing seasons and a mild climate, making them highly productive.
By incorporating decades of research and operational experience, we sustainably grow vast swaths of timber while conserving important environmental attributes of these ecosystems. Throughout our southern ownership, we work to maintain or enhance diverse wildlife habitat conditions and provide a home for terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, including a large number of federally and state-protected species and species of concern. Through the application of best management practices and implementation of forest certification standards, we protect water quality in streams, from small intermittent channels to large rivers, as well as wetlands, lakes and reservoirs. Much of our ownership is in large, contiguous blocks, which provide important wildlife habitat and water quality protection in an increasingly fragmented landscape.
In the southeastern United States, most forests were logged and converted to agricultural uses in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the mid-1900s, an emerging conservation ethic and an increasing demand for timber products created incentives for many agricultural lands to be reforested. Much of the land we own in the southeastern U.S. was former agricultural land that was returned to forest.
We maximize wood growth and value by practicing intensive forest management on most of our ownership in this region. Our even-aged, managed pine stands are generally harvested when they reach 25 to 35 years in age, followed by site-preparation methods tailored to ensure successful regeneration of each unique harvest area. We plant our pine seedlings in rows by hand or using machines, and, once these trees are between 10 and 15 years old, we thin the stands to reduce competition among the remaining trees and accelerate their growth into quality sawtimber. The result is a continuous cycle of sustainable forest management.
As we work to maximize wood production, we carefully follow sustainable forest management practices that ensure the protection of environmental quality and conservation of water, soil and wildlife resources. Our environmental management includes measures to protect aquatic ecosystems and provide habitat for threatened, endangered or sensitive species, such as the Louisiana pinesnake, Red Hills salamander, gopher tortoise, red wolf and bald eagle. Our southern forests also provide habitat for bird species that rely on young forests, such as prairie warblers; aquatic-dependent species such as spotted turtles; and species that require a variety of habitat types, such as bats.
Our primary conservation measure to protect aquatic habitat in our forests is the establishment of buffers along water bodies. Trees retained in buffers are either never harvested or selectively harvested to achieve site-specific conservation objectives.
Across 7 million acres, there are countless examples of unique and critical habitat being protected or improved by our practices. In North Carolina, for example, we’ve protected more than 5,000 acres of our land across eight counties that contain remnants of the original, old-growth Atlantic coast forest, an extremely rare forest type in today’s modern landscape. The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy hold the easements that prevent future development on these lands. Additionally, we’ve donated easements and conserve additional land through the North Carolina natural heritage registry, including our Cool Springs Environmental Education Center, which hosts more than 2,500 students in a typical year.
RESEARCH AND PARTNERSHIPS
To manage our forests sustainably, we continue to learn more about upland and riparian ecosystems and how our activities affect them. We partner with other organizations to fill knowledge gaps and ensure that our practices are consistent with the best available science.
We are engaged in many research projects in our southern forests. Recent research includes long-term sampling to evaluate stream water and habitat conditions for mussels, identifying riparian and groundwater characteristics that support healthy burrowing crayfish communities, and landscape-scale occupancy and abundance of salamanders in Arkansas.
Lending a hand to mussel research in Alabama
We are supporting mussel research in the Sipsey River that consists of long-term sampling to evaluate stream water and habitat conditions and associate these with mussel presence and population productivity. Previous surveys have shown that properly managed forests are compatible with mussel diversity, and this work is identifying specific habitat needs, as well as the location of healthy communities.
Examining the endangered burrowing crayfish
We are participating in a study to learn more about burrowing crayfish, which are endangered. This work is identifying riparian and groundwater characteristics that support healthy burrowing crayfish communities. A recent field collection on a Weyerhaeuser site found a celestial crayfish, only known to occur in one other place.
Proving the efficacy of riparian buffers in Arkansas
To understand the contribution of our managed landscapes to biodiversity, we examined amphibian and reptile occupancy in riparian buffers on more than 100 stands in Arkansas. We documented 37 species of amphibians and reptiles in riparian buffers, including several species of conservation concern, indicating that retaining trees along small streams can support diverse communities of salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles, snakes and lizards.
We conduct our own research and also collaborate with and support outside scientists from universities and agencies across many disciplines. We provide financial support and site access for important ecological research and help with data collection and logistics, when appropriate. We communicate findings with our foresters and operational teams to ensure everyone understands the importance of high-quality implementation of best management practices.