Pollen may be annoying, but it's the color of money in SC - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Pollen may be annoying, but it's the color of money in SC

Pollen on Lake Wateree (Source: Roland Wade, Facebook) Pollen on Lake Wateree (Source: Roland Wade, Facebook)
Johney Haralson surveys trees in various stages of growth Johney Haralson surveys trees in various stages of growth

It may choke allergy-sufferers and drive people who like clean cars crazy, but all that pollen in the air means money to South Carolina.

The trees that make that pollen contribute $17 billion dollars to the South Carolina economy and provide 90,000 jobs that provide $4.1 billion in payroll, according to the South Carolina Forestry Commission. Timber is the state's number one manufacturing industry and cash crop. Two-thirds of South Carolina is forested.

"It's a very large impact," says Johney Haralson, a tree grower in Denmark. Forestry is a hobby to Haralson, who serves on several local, state and national boards in the timber industry.

The Forestry Commission says timber and wood products are the number-one export from the Port of Charleston by volume, accounting for 1/3 of the products shipped.

"We're shipping wood products all around the world," says South Carolina State Forester Gene Kodama.  China overtook Canada this year as the number-one destination for South Carolina wood.

"China has a huge demand for wood and very little wood supply, so they import from all over the world."

The timber exports helped industry survived the recession. But Kodama would like to see the wood stay a little longer in South Carolina before it's shipped out.

"We need to seek ways to keep those logs in South Carolina and saw mill them, and mill them and peel them and make products out of them here in South Carolina so that those jobs sty here in this state and in the country rather than sending them raw materials," Kodama says.

Grow the trees. Harvest the trees. Mill the trees. Make boards. Make pulp for packaging.  Make things to go inside the packaging. That creates jobs and that's Kodama's plan.

But to do that, Kodama says the commission needs the staff to lure companies to South Carolina who will make products to put into the packaging.

"We're way behind North Carolina," he says. "We've studied this. We know this and one of the reasons is we don't have enough people dedicated to making that happen."

South Carolina's crumbling infrastructure is affecting the timber industry, too.

"We have 413 bridges that have severe problems," says Dr. George Kessler with the South Carolina Tree Farmers.  The bridges he's referring to are load-restricted, which force timber trucks to be re-routed, costing money and time.

"We have 849 that are structurally deficient," says Kessler. "You're talking about almost 1,300 bridges that need to have some work done on them to allow the industrial transportation to occur."

Those transportation costs affect most timber growers in South Carolina, an increasing number of which are family growers.

"The face of forestry ownership has changed completely," says Kessler. "It used to be that the industry owned a fair amount of land in our state.  The industry owns very little of the forested land in our state today and the ownership is more with the private forest landowner."

The value of South Carolina's timber goes beyond money.

"For every pound of wood that's grown in the forest, the forest emits one pound of oxygen and consumes 1 ½ pounds of carbon dioxide," says Kodama. "So you have a tremendous air cleaner that's out there."

And the trees filter groundwater that eventually becomes drinking water.

"Forest are the best natural filter there is for rainwater. About 60% of the water that we drink comes directly from forested environments," Kodama says.

Because of the economic, environmental and societal contribution, and its sustainability, Kodama calls forestry the "ideal industry."

"If you want to take care of your rural communities, bring in secondary manufacturing for the rural communities that need jobs."

Because the industry is sustainable, forestry in South Carolina is growing.

"It's a resource," says Kessler. "When managed properly, can provide plenty of growth."

"It's a great life to walk in the woods," says Haralson.

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