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Your Views: Protecting states forests should be top priority beyond Earth Day
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It is easy to take forests in Georgia for granted. They are often viewed as natural gifts akin to the sun and the clouds, timeless and steadfast. But Georgia’s forests have not been here forever, and they don’t take care of themselves. As we pause on Earth Day to appreciate our environment, let’s reflect on the many benefits provided by working forests, and resolve to confront the public policy threat they face.

The majority of Georgia’s forests, 91 percent, are privately owned. Forest landowners, large and small, invest their resources to manage healthy forest lands that benefit every Georgian. Their forests provide air to breathe, water to drink, beauty and recreation to enjoy, along with billions of dollars in economic impact to Georgia. These are Georgia’s working forests.

Working forests are planted and replanted to produce the raw materials for products we use every day and, increasingly, as a source of energy. These renewable resources on 23 million acres of privately owned working forestland are part of the state’s second largest industry in terms of wages and salaries. The forestry sector supports 133,000 jobs and provides an annual $28.9 billion boost to the state’s economy.

In local terms, working forests are vitally important to Gainesville and surrounding counties. According to the Georgia Institute of Technology, forest landowners and forestry-related industries provide $964 million in total economic output, $134 million in wages and salaries and 2,159 jobs to the 13 counties that comprise the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

The impact of working forests extends well beyond the economy to the environment. A 2011 University of Georgia study conservatively estimated the value of these services — in the form of clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty — at $37.6 billion annually.

We enjoy these benefits thanks to a fair and reasonable federal tax policy that recognizes the long-term investments and responsible land management of forest land owners. These provisions allow landowners to deduct the annual costs associated with growing healthy, sustainable timberlands. The proposals being considered in Washington would raise taxes on private forestland and flatten our forest economy perhaps to a devastating degree for many rural Georgia communities.

It is alarming that a tax policy that is helping the environment and the economy could end up on a congressional chopping block as lawmakers look to reform the nation’s tax code. We stand to lose the many public benefits that privately owned forests provide.

As you observe Earth Day, please take a moment to consider the many benefits of our working forests and the privileges we enjoy as residents of a state with a healthy and vital forestry economy. If you agree that federal policy should support an industry that helps both the economy and the ecosystem, please let your congressional representative know. The current timber tax provisions are a great example of how Washington can help, not hinder, growth and prosperity.

Steve McWilliams
President & CEO, Georgia Forestry Association, Forsyth

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