Joe Lee Farm, NC

Forest Statement
By Don Handley

Handley Forestry Services has been managing the Joe Lee Tract Model Forest, owned by heirs of Tom John in Scotland County, North Carolina, since 1993. The forest is sustainably managed for profit under an uneven-aged management, sustained-yield approach. The 357-acre forest is covered by 57 percent upland loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and 41 percent mixed hardwood swamp, with 2 percent of the area left as power line right of way.  Our approach to management is in stark contrast to the prevailing style of the Southeast pine region, where the pulpwood industry rules the area and emphasizes short rotations with no natural regeneration.

The Tract is one of the few upland loblolly forests in the state with diverse stand structure.  The current landowners’ father planted the land, originally cropland, in loblolly in the sixties and planned on managing it with 30-year rotations. The children who inherited the land brought me on board after the property (pine and hardwood swamp) had been cutover hard. The Tract does have one 60-year-old stand that has naturally regenerated. The Tract serves as an example to others about how to manage for profit and the health of the forest. We are the only consultants in the area that practice an uneven-aged silvicultural system.

The Tract has six stands: five pine and one hardwood swamp. The swamp is still recovering from previous heavy cutting, and we are not actively managing it. In the remaining pine stands, one of our management goals has been to return them to natural regeneration. We do this by entering the stands every five years for maintenance thinnings. We also remove hardwood competition, often at a loss as either fuel chips or pulpwood. We use a combination of a prescribed cool surface fire and herbicide to suppress the hardwoods and enhance the babies (pine seedlings) under older trees. The prescribed fire has the added benefit of being natural to loblolly. In fact, we’ve found that nothing beats the combination of fire and herbicide for natural pine regeneration.

We do this and turn a profit for the landowner. To put some numbers on this, one 45-acre stand has seen five entries since 1988 and produced $168,000 of profit. The stand initially produced pulpwood, but as it matured it is now producing quality sawtimber. Stocking across the pine forest was initially measured at 1,400 board feet per acre in 1993, and the inventory is now 2,500 board feet per acre. This represents an increase of over 75 percent. We take off the annual growth of fully stocked stands every year while maintaining an overstory component, ensuring there is always a fully stocked forest. The Tract produces $139 an acre annually from pulpwood and sawtimber, while management costs average just $17 an acre annually.

Prevailing opinion in our area argues that our style of logging is more costly than the short rotation clearcut followed by planting. That is just not the case. Due to the investments in roads, prescribed fire, and weed tree removal, our loggers can efficiently get in and out of the forest with larger, more valuable trees than they get from short-rotation, even-aged forests. I try to spread the word about the benefits, both economic and ecological, of the uneven-aged system, but the voice of the pulpwood industry resonates with state agencies.

Another issue facing loblolly management is the use of prescribed fire. The costs used to be less per acre than herbicide, but as herbicide costs lower and prescribed fire costs increase, mostly due to liability issues, we’re using herbicides more frequently, which is a shame since the pine forests need fire.

The greatest advantage in loblolly management is the quality of the timber product. At a recent sale at the Tract we received $40 a ton for pine sawtimber and $8 a ton for pulpwood, reinforcing our management goal to grow quality sawtimber instead of shorter-rotation pulpwood. By dividing the Tract into five stands with a five year cycle of entry, the landowner can see timber sales every year rather than one windfall sale in a lifetime of lower quality timber with a high regeneration cost.  

Forest Statistics and Documentation

  • Acreage: 357 acres
  • Forest Type: loblolly pine, mixed hardwood swamp
  • Model Forest Manager: Don Handley, Handley Forestry Services
  • Primary Uses: sawtimber, pulpwood, fuel chips, wildlife
  • Certification: Forest Stewardship Council

Downloads of documents and maps