Georgia Pacific Saving Forests, Company Future; NEW POLICY Making Some Trees Are off Limits Will Bring Success Benefiting the State Economy. BIG GOAL Not Only Will G-P Not Harvest Hardwood, but It Also Won't Take from Converted Land

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Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

BRUNSWICK - Georgia-Pacific LLC is lauding its new policy to help protect endangered hardwood forests by not buying timber harvested from environmentally sensitive areas.

In putting some trees off limits, the comprehensive policy will help ensure healthy forests in the future, which in turn will fuel the wood and fiber product manufacturer's future growth and leadership in a highly competitive global industry, company officials said. That success will benefit timber landowners, loggers, mill employees and the economy of Southeast Georgia, company officials told the Times-Union.

Even environmentalists are praising the policy, up to a point. Former Satilla River Keeper Gordon Rogers said Georgia-Pacific's policy will help in conservation efforts, but it comes decades late.

Virtually every day, trucks loaded with pine logs stream off U.S. 341 to Georgia-Pacific's pulp mill on the Turtle River. The imposing mill helps the company maintain its status as the world's largest producer of absorbent fluff pulp. Made mainly from yellow pine, a softwood, fluff pulp makes diapers and other hygiene products absorbent.

"We don't use hardwood at this pulp mill," company spokesman Randal Morris said.

The company's sawmill in the Sterling community north of Brunswick occasionally receives hardwood, but primarily uses pine, Morris said.

"This area will not be impacted that much, but company-wide the impact is significant." Morris said. "We believe the steps we are taking with this policy will help protect the environment as well as help create long-term value for our company, our customers, for consumers and for society."

Under the voluntary policy, Georgia-Pacific will not buy timber from "endangered forests and other environmentally sensitive areas." It will discourage landowners from clearing hardwood forests.

In addition, the company will not buy pine timber from lands that were previously hardwood forests, but were cleared after July 1, 2008, to plant pine trees in a process known as conversion.

Georgia-Pacific has been working on the policy, which reflects best forestry practices, for seven years. It developed it with assistance from three environmental watchdog organizations and experts from the University of Georgia.

The company is using satellite and other high-tech mapping technologies to pinpoint hardwood forests, and to determine where the pine plantations have replaced the hardwood timber. They will compare "before and after photos" to identify the changes in the makeup of the forest, said Bradley Moore, administrator of Georgia-Pacific's product stewardship program.

To define the environmentally sensitive areas, Georgia-Pacific is using a scoring system based on factors including the diversity of animal and plant life; concentration of rare and endangered species; whether it's a rare type of forest such as longleaf or wetlands; and whether it has roads.

Federal law already protects wetlands from timber harvesting, Moore said.

Rogers said there should be more wetlands to protect but some already are lost to logging practices, albeit not all from Georgia-Pacific.

Indeed, when much of the conversion was done, Georgia-Pacific's current owners, Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries LLC, weren't even in the business. Koch bought Georgia-Pacific's mills in Brunswick and Augusta, Miss., in 2004 and operated them initially as Koch Cellulose before buying all of Georgia-Pacific a few years later.

Rogers is well versed in the impact of the policy, having worked with the Department of Natural Resources's Coastal Resource Division and serving as the Satilla Riverkeeper before moving to west Georgia more than a year ago to become the Flint Riverkeeper. …