Forestry is the practice of managing forests. It is concerned with the growing of forest trees for lumber, pulp, and veneer production; trees and shrubs for ornamental purposes; forest-growing herbaceous plants for food and medicine; wildlife (including fish) for hunting, trapping, catching, and viewing; tree flowers for honey production; and nuts and soft fruits for wildlife and human food.
The early settlers felled trees for fuel and for building, and especially to clear the land, but timber as a major industry did not begin in West Virginia until the 19th century. By 1845, there were three dozen primitive sawmills, and by 1911, 83 band mills and approximately 900 circular mills were in operation. By the late 1920s, the original forests were nearly depleted. As the 20th century progressed, there was a strong offsetting trend at work as agricultural land was abandoned and allowed to revert to forest.
In 1935, a School of Forestry was established at West Virginia University. The first class graduated in 1939 and became the nucleus for professional forestry on privately owned lands in West Virginia. In 1968, a two-year associate degree in forestry was developed at Glenville State College. The first consulting forester in West Virginia, in Boone County, began work in 1946. Today, the number of professionally trained foresters in the state exceeds 400. About a third of them work for industry, a third work independently, and the remainder work for the government.
By the late 1980s, the forestlands of West Virginia had increased from a little more than 60 percent of the state’s area in 1949 to 78 percent in 2012. The state is the third most forested in the country behind Maine and New Hampshire.
The logging industry grew as well, now cutting second-growth forests. New records were set by 1993, the first time that estimated lumber production exceeded 1.5 billion board feet since 1909.
The West Virginia Division of Forestry regulates logging in West Virginia. Loggers must have licenses, which they receive after having passed first aid, safety, and environmental tests. The law provides that the Division of Forestry must be notified of timbering operations as they begin and that loggers must manage erosion on the skid and haul roads and log landings. Critics call for stricter regulations, citing environmental concerns.
The Division of Forestry also works to control forest fires, tree diseases, and forest insects; collects and distributes statistics on the forest industry; regulates the digging of ginseng; manages state-owned forests for multiple purposes; and conducts various training programs for employees of forest product companies.
The entire Monongahela National Forest and parts of the George Washington and Jefferson national forests are in West Virginia. These, plus the several Army Corps of Engineers lakes and surrounding forests and other federal installations, several state forests, wildlife management areas, and municipal and county owned forest lands compose 15 percent of West Virginia’s commercial forest land. Very large landholdings predominate in the state’s private woodlands, with West Virginia forests owned by major national corporations, coal companies, railroads, utilities, and other concerns. Numerous West Virginians hold tracts of much smaller size, with the average acreage owned by individuals currently less than 20 acres. Surveys indicate that a majority of these small owners are interested only in the fringe benefits of forestry and not in harvesting timber.
This Article was written by William H. Gillespie
Last Revised on June 29, 2012
Brooks, A. B. Forestry and Wood Industries. Morgantown: West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey, 1910.
Williams, Michael. Americans & their Forests: A Historical Geography. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989.