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Sustainable Pine Silviculture in the Coastal Plain of Florida and Georgia

Dan Roach, Rayonier

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“Who is Rayonier?”  That question led off today’s presentation by Dan Roach, title leader for Rayonier’s Forest Policy and Environment Division.  The answer:  Rayonier is a global forest products company maximizing value from a growing timberland base and the production of the world’s highest purity specialty cellulose fibers.  The 85-year-old company, headquartered in Fernandina Beach, has three core businesses:  performance fibers used in such diverse products as computer screens, food products and diapers; real estate investment and development overseen by its TerraPointe subsidiary and forest resources, which was the focus of Dan’s presentation.  He noted that this three-pronged business shared one motto:  “Value from the ground up.”

While Rayonier is recognized as the global leader in the cellulose specialties market – commanding a 75 percent market share – none of the performance fibers the company manufactures would be possible without Rayonier’s vast forest resources.  The company oversees some 2.7 million acres of timberlands in 10 U.S. states as well as in New Zealand.  In order to maximize the value of those timberlands, Rayonier – unlike many other companies – has continued to acquire strategic timber tracks, purchasing $300 million in timber lands in the last seven months alone.  The company also employs state-of-the-art silviculture techniques to ensure every acre is used to its highest value. 

One such technique involves a strong commitment to sustainable forestry practices.  Rayonier was certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative as a Third Party SFI in 2001 and undergoes annual audits to maintain its certification.

Roach went on to define sustainable silviculture as the theory and practice of controlling forest establishment, composition and growth.  He pointed out the company actually manages soil first and trees second.  But managing the trees – primarily slash and loblolly pine – is key to the quality of the performance fibers Rayonier produces.  Toward that goal, the company strives to grow the best pine trees possible by selecting pollen from “superior” tress, applying controlled pollination techniques, harvesting cones from these improved trees and sowing the genetically improved seed in the company’s own nurseries in Glenville, GA and Elberta, AL.  The seedlings, which are selected for disease resistance, growth and form, are then harvested from the nursery, bagged and delivered to planting sites in Florida and Georgia where they are planted by hand.

Rayonier’s sustainable growing practices extend to how the land is planted with only 60 percent of the acreage being planted in pine trees and 40 percent left in its natural state.  In addition, the land is planted for optimum density to ensure the best product.  Thinning of trees is also important to maintain quality of the timber.  Fertilization of the timberland is usually only done once every 24 to 26 years because it is expensive and rarely needed more often.  Competition from shrubs and undergrowth around the trees must also be managed in order for the forest to stay healthy.  While controlled burning was often used in the past, it is considered too risky now because fires can get out of control.  Instead, Rayonier uses herbicides to reduce fire fuel and competitive shrubs.

After some 25 years of careful forest management, the trees are finally ready to harvest.  Large “feller buncher” machinery fells trees and gathers them into bunches of six.  A skidder pushes the trees to a “knuckle-boom loader” that then loads the trees onto log trucks for transportation to Rayonier’s mills in Fernandina and Jesup, GA where they are turned into cellulose and, ultimately, performance fibers. 

But the process doesn’t end there.  Part of maintaining SFI certification requires that the company replant 100 percent of every site within two years of harvest.  The site is prepared, raised beds are created and superior seedlings are once again planted by hand.  And so, the cycle begins again.