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Forestry requests research funds

Posted: January 21, 2014 - 3:47pm

COLUMBIA — State forestry officials are hoping to nurture tree-growing activities in a little-known patch of Edgefield County.

The South Carolina For-estry Commission is asking the legislature for $365,000 in recurring dollars for its “tree- improvement” program.

The amount includes operating funds and other resources for tree breeding, testing, and research, and the addition of at least one new technician position at a Trenton nursery. The Taylor Nursery, on Girl Scout Camp Road just east of the Edgefield County Airport, is where seedlings are grown and picked-up.

The tree improvement money would also bolster Jasper County tree-growing activities. The agency’s tree improvement Web page lists the Niederhof Seed Orchard, which is based just north of Hardeeville.

More broadly, funds would be used to rejoin the Tree Improvement Cooperative, made up of Southern states, and hire a forest geneticist to assist with genetic improvements of trees.

The timber industry is unique and critical to the state’s economy, said officials from the agency, who presented their budget needs to a panel of House lawmakers last week.

South Carolina’s top forester, Gene Kodama, told the subcommittee that businesses look to locate and expand where there is a stable supply of timber.

“That wood is there or it’s not there,” said Kodama, a state forester.

He said an array of existing companies already rely on timber harvested within a 50- to 100-mile radius, as opposed to some huge manufacturers that tap resources from international sources.

“For them to be able to function, you have to have a good supply on a consistent basis that’s sustainable in the long term,” said Kodama.

“They can’t order up half a million tons of wood from Taiwan.”

The agency is also seeking a 2 percent raise for the state’s 160 frontline firefighters and $5 million for new firefighting vehicles and equipment.

The latter is considered a safety concern aimed at giving firefighters closed-cab vehicles that won’t expose them to smoke inhalation and flying debris. Bulldozers, transport trucks and plows cost about $275,000 apiece. South Carolina has fewer firefighters per forested acre than either North Carolina or Georgia, according to the South Carolina agency.

Forestry is central to the state’s export economy. Nearly one-third of the exports leaving the Port of Charleston are timber products, according to the agency.

South Carolina’s forests support 90,000 jobs and span 13 million acres, of which 88 percent is privately owned. With growing demand for wood, the economic impact of the resources is projected to grow from its estimated $17 billion to about $20 billion by the year 2015.

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