Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plum Creek: The Seeds of Success; Pine Seedlings Business Is Good for Georgia's Largest Private Landowner

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plum Creek: The Seeds of Success; Pine Seedlings Business Is Good for Georgia's Largest Private Landowner

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

GARDI | If you see pine trees growing in rows in Southeast Georgia and North Florida, there's a good chance it started as a seedling on a reddish hill in Wayne County.

The Plum Creek nursery and orchard are off a dirt road near the Wayne-Brantley county line. It is there that Kyle Owens manages the growth of 34 million pine seedlings, loblolly and slash, that should be well over five inches by the end of July.

Most of them are loblolly, he said, because, "in 15 years, lob seems to outgrow the slash."

That many pines are needed because the nursery supplied 25.4 million seedlings that Plum Creek planted in Georgia and Florida in 2012. With 750,000 acres in timberland, Plum Creek is Georgia's largest private landowner. It owns 448,000 acres in Florida, most of it concentrated in Baker and Columbia counties south of Osceola National Forest and in Levy County on the Gulf. In Georgia, many of the seedlings have a short trip for planting with Plum Creek's largest concentrations of land in Wayne, Brantley, Charlton, Camden and Glynn counties and others in McIntosh, Long and Bryan. About half of Plum Creek's land is from Macon north, but it's in much smaller plots.

And business is good partly because of a resurgence in demand and the inability of other suppliers to meet it, said Grant Harvey, Plum Creek's resource supervisor in Southeast Georgia and Florida.

In Southeast Georgia, GP Cellulose in Brunswick is Plum Creek's biggest customer, but it also sells to other Southeast Georgia pulp mills, saw mills and chip mills, Harvey said.

The company also is now selling to companies that produce wood pellets that are burned for energy in Europe. That new market stems from a mandate that 20 percent of European energy come from renewable resources.

The Southeast is better suited to meet that demand than the once huge forests of the colder, drier West, he said.

"In the West, they're on a 80- to 100-year rotation,'' he said of the time it takes pine and fir to grow from seedlings to harvest size. "It's 25 years in the South."

Also, western forests have been decimated by pine beetle infestation. The beetles have their way because regulations of national forest and other public land prevents the quick cutting of diseased and dying timber.

On private land, the reaction is quick, Harvey said.

"We can get them out of there'' before infestation spreads, he said.

Objections to the wood pellet industry are being raised by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Dogwood Alliance, which launched a campaign in late May called "Our forests aren't fuel."

The conservation groups assert the threat to Southeast forests is growing with 24 wood pellet plants already operating and 16 more planned. By 2015, 6 million tons of pelletized trees will be burned each year to provide electricity, the National Resources Defense Council said on its website. …

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