The Forest-Tree Story
Story and Photos by Bill
Myers with a young pine.
poet Lucy Larcom’s bastions of hope — spring skyward from nearly 16 million
acres of Virginia soil. And more than 12 million of those acres are
The business of developing, planting, growing, nurturing,
harvesting and processing trees and their byproducts is huge in the Old
“Agriculture and forestry combined are the number-one
industry in the Commonwealth,” notes John W. Campbell, Jr., director of
public information for the Virginia Department of Forestry.
From paper to chewing gum, furniture to food, forestry
and forest products are everywhere. In Virginia, more than 5,000 products
originate with trees, and forestry accounts for more than $23.4 billion in
annual commerce and 144,000 jobs, Campbell says.
“A tree in the city is just as important in its own way
as a tree on a rural tree farm. Trees are an enormous resource in the
Commonwealth,” he adds.
And today’s forestry ensures that trees are a resource
Virginians will enjoy far into the future. Trees aren’t just a renewable
resource, they’re an expanding resource. For years, more trees have been
planted than harvested annually in Virginia, according to Campbell. Forested
acreage being lost in Virginia is being lost to uses other than forestry.
About 78 percent of Virginia’s trees are hardwoods,
according to Campbell. The rest are various types of pines.
And most tree farmers plant pines. The species of pine
used in most Virginia plantings outside of the highlands is the loblolly
There are essentially four steps in a forestry cycle:
harvesting, planting (or natural regeneration), thinning, and harvesting.
Trees cut in the harvesting and thinning steps are sold for pulpwood, lumber
or other uses. During its 20- to 30-year life cycle, a stand of pines
provides habitat for a variety of wildlife, cleans the air and water, and
provides a pleasing view for all to behold.
and his wife Jane bought their 160-acre
Caroline County farm in 1997.
“In Virginia, especially in the Piedmont, loblollies are
most predominant,” notes Rob Wait. An Ashland resident, Wait is a retired
investment advisor who currently serves as chairman of the Virginia Tree
Farm Committee and treasurer of the Virginia Forestry Association. He and
his wife Jane have planted trees on their 160-acre farm in nearby Caroline
Wait says there are between 1,400 and 1,500 Virginians
involved in the American Tree Farm System, and the average size of their
tree farms is 300 to 500 acres. “There are some as large as 5,000 acres, and
some smaller, but most are in the 300-to-500-acre range,” he says.
How did an investment advisor get into the tree-farming
“I was looking to buy a farm, and this (tree farming) was
good investment diversity. Jane and I looked three or four years before we
found a farm we liked. When we bought the farm in 1997, there were 50 acres
of loblolly pine that had been planted in ’87,” notes Wait.
“In 2004, we took 45 acres out of rental for farming and
planted oak. Some of my forestry friends joked with me and said I was nuts
to do this, since I’ll never see these oaks reach maturity. But it’s been an
interesting exercise, and planting oak helps to provide wildlife benefits
and diversity of the forestry makeup.”
Apparently not everyone thought his oak plantings were
too nutty: Rob and Jane Wait’s Five Poles Tree Farm was selected by the
Virginia Tree Farm Committee as Virginia’s Outstanding Tree Farm in 2005.
“When you own a tree farm, you’re not just doing it for
the income,” Wait continues. “The trees are helping to clean the air and
filter the water on the way to the Chesapeake Bay. Trees are a renewable
resource and provide a great benefit to society. Forestry people often don’t
get credit for this.”
Forestry’s unsung environmental benefit is a theme that
echoes across the industry. “People often don’t
think about how much forestry means to Virginia, beyond the obvious economic
impact,” says Paul Howe, executive director of the Virginia Forestry
Association. “There are thousands of private landowners with trees on their
property. Someday, they’ll cut those trees for money; but in the meantime,
the trees are helping provide clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat,
visual enjoyment and a host of other environmental benefits.
Such benefits range from removing carbon dioxide from the
air, to replenishing oxygen, to filtering pollutants from rainwater runoff
headed for, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s impossible to put a price tag on that, but we hope
that people can see the value that timber and forestlands bring to the
eco-system,” Howe adds. “Forestry is an industry that supports natural
Morgan, president of Morgan Lumber Co. chats
with the company's forester manager, Michael
Ken Morgan is immediate past president of the Virginia
Forestry Association. He is president of Morgan Lumber Company, a
wood-products milling operation located near Red Oak in Charlotte County.
The business was founded by his grandfather in 1939. His son, John, is the
fourth generation of the family engaged in the business.
“I’m not only interested in cutting trees — I’m more
concerned about planting trees,” says Morgan. “If people are truly
interested in healthy forests, it’s important for them to understand what
makes a healthy forest. Forestry is the way we manage our forestland and
maintain healthy forests. If we don’t manage our forests, we’ll see diseased
trees, wildfire, and forests being cleared for development.”
One of Morgan’s favorite causes is the Virginia Forestry
Educational Foundation (see sidebar), which provides forestry scholarships
and promotes forestry education in general. He is vice chairman of the
foundation’s board of directors. Morgan believes that education is vital in
ensuring that forestry and forests thrive in the future.
“I’m at the point in my life that I’m not looking to
create something for myself. But I do want my grandsons to have the same
opportunities I had. I want to ensure that there are more and healthier
forests in Virginia when I retire than there were when I started working,”
Newbill of Franklin County got into the
tree-farming business in 1967, when he
bought a 152-acre tract of land.
Tom Newbill, who succeeded Morgan as president of the
Virginia Forestry Association, is a Franklin County certified Tree Farmer
whose Montmorenci Tree Farms, LP, land includes acreage he first purchased
in 1967 to get into the tree-farm business. That 152-acre tract has expanded
over the years to approximately 1,200 acres, including many relatively small
tracts purchased since 1967, according to Newbill. In 2008, Newbill and his
wife Sallie were named Virginia Tree Farmers of the Year.
“I got into tree farming because I thought it would be a
good investment,” Newbill notes. “As opposed to, say, savings accounts, I
felt like land would be a valuable asset in the future. When we first got
into this, I bought three or four tracts and paid for them mostly with
proceeds from the timber sold off the land.”
Since 1967, Newbill adds, the other assets of forest
management have come into focus for him. “Forestry is good for wildlife and
all of the recreation associated with it, from hunting and fishing to just
Forestry is also a good complement to traditional
agriculture, according to Newbill. “The majority of tree farms have some
form of agriculture associated with them,” he notes. “And forestry itself is
a huge contributor to the state’s economy.”
For the Love
of the Woods
Franklin B. Myers is vice president of M.M. Wright, Inc.,
and Gasburg Timber Corp., and president of Gasburg Land and Timber Company,
Inc., in Southside Virginia. A native of Augusta County in Virginia’s
Shenandoah Valley, Myers graduated from Virginia Tech with a forestry degree
in 1981 and moved to Southside in 1987. His wife Susan’s father founded M.M.
Wright, Inc. in 1949. Since then, the business has expanded into four
separate companies employing 60 people. M.M. Wright was named the National
Outstanding Logger by the American Pulpwood Association in 1991.
“We run four crews, all the time,” notes Myers. He
estimates that his company harvests 275 tractor-trailer loads of wood per
week, using a variety of equipment such as feller-bunchers, skidders,
knuckle-boom loaders, bulldozers and service trucks.
Myers, who serves as a member of Mecklenburg Electric
Cooperative’s board of directors, began his career with Continental Forest
Industries and has been in forestry since he left college. Recently elected
to the board of directors of the Virginia Forestry Educational Foundation,
Myers is passionate about forests and forestry.
“Personally, I love the outdoors. There’s nothing I’d
rather be doing than working outdoors,” he says. “And as people who work in
the forest-products industry, we consider ourselves stewards of the land. We
make our living off the land, so we want it to be here forever.”
Foundation Promotes Forestry Education
Founded in 1958, the Virginia
Forestry Educational Foundation (VFEF) is a charitable and educational
The VFEF advocates conservation and wise use of forests
and its primary goal is to support educational programs that speak to the
benefits of forests and forest products and to the perpetuation of our
forest heritage through conservation. VFEF underwrites scholarships for
qualified students enrolled in forestry and forest-products programs at
The foundation supports programs that demonstrate that
sustainable forestry can protect watersheds and wildlife while preserving
aesthetic and recreational values of the community. Sustainable forestry
supports jobs for local loggers, sawmills and other segments of the local
The mission of the Virginia Forestry Educational
Foundation is to financially support statewide youth education to promote
sustainable forests for the environmental, social and economic benefit of
To fulfill this mission, the foundation supports programs
that advocate many of the positive benefits of healthy, sustainable forests.
Healthy forests help moderate climate extremes, filter the air and produce
oxygen, reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.
Some of the programs VFEF supports are: Project Learning
Tree, which instructs teachers (K-12) on forestry and environmental programs
so they return to the classroom and impart this to students; the Forestry
4-H Program, which teaches students about recommended forestry practices,
tree identification and environmental information; and the Scholarship
Program, which assists the best forestry students at the College of Natural
Resources & Environment at Virginia Tech.
Other programs supported by VFEF range from forestry
internships at Virginia 4-H centers to a project locating and identifying
the state’s oldest, most historic, largest and most interesting trees.
To learn more about the Virginia Forestry Educational
Foundation, visit www.vfef.net, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call 804-278-8733, or
write to the foundation at 3808 Augusta Ave., Richmond, VA 23290-3910.
For more information about
Virginia Department of Forestry:
Virginia Forestry Association:
American Tree Farm System:
Virginia Forestry Products Association:
Virginia Logger’s Association: