What can be done about clear-cutting? We’re about to see what will perhaps be the best opportunity to impact clear-cutting, and other forest practices in North Carolina, for years to come.

In 1998, Gov. Jim Hunt responded to citizens’ demands that something be done to assess the impact of the growing number of chip mills around forests like Chatham County’s. Hunt directed state environmental officials to do the first thorough study of the technical and environmental issues associated with wood-chip production.

As a result, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources contracted out the study to the Southern Center for Sustainable Forests, a cooperative effort among DENR, N.C. State University and Duke University. The Center formed a study team composed of academicians from N.C. State’s College of Forest Resources and Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Assisting the study team is an advisory committee including representatives from the forest-products industry, forest landowners and environmentalists.

For the past year-and-a-half, the study team has been analyzing both the economic and ecologic impact of wood-chip production across the state. They’ve applied mathematical models to analyze the impact on timber supply, wood-based manufacturing firms, forest landowners and local economies. They’ve examined the ways that wood-chipping has–and should–alter forest-management practices in North Carolina, in addition to studying the ways it affects forest structure, plant and animal communities, soil fertility and water quality. The study group has also explored the ways North Carolina’s forest resources might be better managed for sustainability.

Everyone interested in this issue will want to check out the committee’s final report, due in March and accessible through the Southern Center’s Web page (http://www.env.duke.edu/scsf//www.env.duke.edu/scsf).