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Forestry remains a largely untapped industry in W.Va.

By CATHY BONNSTETTER

For The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s forestry industry makes a significant contribution to the state’s economy, and that contribution is poised to grow, according to a recent study from the Appalachian Hardwood Centerand West Virginia University’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

A new study shows West Virginia’s forestry industry accounts for 1.4 percent of the state’s gross regional product.
(Submitted photo)

The study showed that the forest industry accounts for 1.4 percent of the state’s gross regional product.

“That seems like a drop in the bucket, but it is pretty significant,” said Clinton Gabbert, co-author of the study. “One of the main conclusions of the study was how big a driver forestry can be for the state and how we haven’t seen that.”

West Virginia is the third most heavily forested state in the nation. Even with decreasing numbers, West Virginia is still one of the top wood-producing states in the nation, producing more than 700 million board feet of lumber, according to the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s 2017 report.

This recent study notes that a 2005 study by Randy Childs put the forest industry in the state at the $4 billion mark. Since that time, jobs have decreased by 45 percent, according to Gabbert. This newest study reported a decline in employment in all the forest products beginning in 2006, with the largest decline coming after 2008. However, that decline simply indicates the state has an underutilized resource growing on its hills, particularly as the economy grows.

“The governor is looking for an economic driver, and forestry products would be a great place to start,” Gabbert said.

The decline in forest industry jobs coincides with the 2007 recession, according to a 2012 study.

“In West Virginia, we are really fortunate to have hardwood forests, and solid wood products are the backbone of the forest products industry,” Gabbert said. “This includes container and pallet manufacturing, which is big in West Virginia. However, if the economy slows down, we don’t ship as many things, and that affects this industry. One of our biggest factors is the loss of container manufacturing.”

That decline also coincides with the Marcellus Shale boom.

“Forestry and Marcellus Shale share a labor pool, especially on the logging side,” Gabbert said. “The housing market was going under as Marcellus was taking off, and that had a big impact, but I think we can certainly do both hardwood industry and Marcellus Shale.”

Gabbert authored the study with Kathryn Gazal, Ph.D., associate professor of forest resources management at WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design; Joseph McNeel, Ph.D., director of the Appalachian Hardwood Center; and Dave McGill, Ph.D., professor and extension specialist of forest resources management at the Davis College.

Gazal, the study’s lead author, explained that loggers have the same skill sets needed for working in the oil industry.

“That is where these industries will compete,” she said. “The logging sector may not be the main reason for the shift in the work force, but it is a part of it.”

She is working on another study that will examine how employment is moving from the forest industry to mining and why.

Unlike other natural resources, the state’s forests can be both used and renewed.

“Private land owners who have this value on their land can harvest every 25 years,” Gabbert said. “If it is managed correctly you can do that again and again. Hardwood forest is not as common in other places of the country, and it is really valuable. Trees fall down eventually. Managing the forests is just as important as protecting them.”

This new study indicates the industry began gathering steam in 2012, and, as the general economy improved, employment increased steadily through 2015.

The study divided the forestry industry into different sectors to see how each one was performing. The objectives of the study were to assess the economic contribution of those sectors; estimate the overall economic contribution of forest-based industries in the state; and assess the current state of West Virginia’s forest products industry.

“We are a state reaching for resources, and we don’t want to take this one for granted,” Gazal said. “This information is for our policymakers. We are hoping they will notice what the industry is doing for the state and where funding should be focused as far as providing industry subsidies. We are showing people that, although the forest industry took a downturn, it is still alive.”

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