The Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee heard testimony this week from Tennessee Forestry Commission Chairman John Ross and State Forester Jere Jeter about the health of Tennessee’s forests. Forests cover half the state and provide more than 60,000 jobs. They also help promote clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation for all Tennesseans.
Ross and Jeter provided members of the committee with an annual update assessing the health of the state’s forests and how the commission is working to address important long-term issues. This includes how to preserve working forest landscapes, protecting forests from harm and enhancing public benefits from the forests.
General forest condition trends on Tennessee’s private forestlands include the aging of forests and a decrease in pine forest types. Another key concern is pests. Tennessee’s highways and waterways are potential pathways for pest introduction and are cause for concern for several pests currently found in other regions of the continent. The Division of Forestry has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to improve the health of Tennessee trees by engaging people in early pest detection, tree health monitoring, tree planting and stewardship. In good news, the report said no gypsy moth infestations are present in Tennessee at this time.
Fire protection is a main concern for forest preservation. Ross reported a new record low in the number of fires in Tennessee last year. The state saw the lowest number of fires since 1927, with a total of 639 wildfires that burned 9,033 acres. Ross said efforts in fire prevention and suppression greatly assisted with this record low.
Wood products from Tennessee forests are an important part of the state’s economy. The Tennessee Wood Products Program initiated last fall, connects consumers and the state’s forest products industry through “branding” of products produced here. The campaign increases visibility and enhanced marketing opportunities for forest products businesses and is open to any business that produces or manufactures wood products.