Are West Virginia's forests really growing faster and faster? Or are loggers cutting down more trees than they should? Can the state really sustain continued growth in the timber industry? And are we doing enough to educate landowners about managing their forests? Find out in a special series on the state's forests, The Forest for the Trees, originally published in a series of installments from September through December 1996.
HEATERS - U.S. 19 winds north from the Flatwoods Go-Mart, the Days Inn and the soon-to-be-opened outlet mall. Five miles up the road, past old farmhouses and weathered school bus stop shelters, sits West Virginia's newest timber giant.
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LESLIE - Wayne Barfield tromped up the side of the hill, looked out across the forest and shook his head. The surrounding landscape was a mess of crooked maple trees and stunted yellow poplars.
West Virginia isn't alone in facing an onslaught of chip board plants and pulp mills that could gobble up valuable hardwood forests. Most surrounding states are already home to or are targeted for similar operations.
NONE other than George Washington provided an early description of the untamed forests that greeted the first explorers and settlers of West Virginia.
West Virginia loggers are cutting twice as many trees as they did just seven years ago.
A logging law West Virginia many say is too weak was actually pushed through by outgoing House Speaker Chuck Chambers, one of the Legislature's staunchest environmentalists.
West Virginians cut down a lot of trees. But they don't turn those trees into as many jobs as they could.
RIPLEY -- Leroy Cadle pulls on the lever again. Another red oak flips over and heads toward the spinning saw blade at Facemyer Lumber's mill. The blade shaves off another in an endless stream of flat, straight boards.
MOUNT HOPE -- Every day, 90 trucks full of West Virginia trees pull into the woodyard behind Georgia-Pacific Corp.'s new timber plant in Fayette County.
Some West Virginians think the timber industry will be part of the state's economic salvation. Others fear it will be an environmental disaster.
Buck Harless likes to cut down trees. But he's tired of shipping them all out of state to be made into furniture.
Why does West Virginia's timber industry mostly consist of loggers and sawmills? Why doesn't the state have many furniture factories?
Loggers in West Virginia are more likely to be hurt or killed on the job than coal miners.
If you believe the state Development Office, West Virginia has an unlimited supply of trees that can be cut down to feed pulp mills and chipboard plants.
Huge wood products mills that are driving the increase in timber cutting in West Virginia have received substantial state money to locate here, records show.
Would you like to pay income taxes on just half the money you earn?
West Virginia's hills and hollows are home to some of the finest hardwood trees in the nation.
DELLSLOW - The old railroad grade southeast of Morgantown used to pass through a dense forest. Local hikers planned to turn it into a trail.
Across Southern West Virginia, forests are being destroyed not only to feed new chipboard plants and sawmills, but to make way for strip mines.
When the state Legislature passed the 1992 Logging Sediment Control Act, lawmakers concluded "that some activities associated with the commercial harvesting of timber results in the exposure of soil and that, if uncontrolled, such exposed soil can erode, resulting in gullying, soil slippages and sediment deposition in streams."
PICKENS - Bulldozers and log skidders hauled some of the finest cherry and oak trees West Virginia has to offer out of Kumbrabow State Forest earlier this year.
Bill Maxey says letting environmentalists, newspaper reporters or common citizens decide how forests should be managed is like letting candy stripers perform brain surgery.
LEAD MINE - Charleston businessman Ted Armbrecht enjoyed examining a slice of wood drilled out of a giant oak tree. Counting the rings, he figured out it was more than 80 years old.
Two years ago, Westvaco Corp. opened a new company forest south of Adolph in Randolph County.
Back in August, West Virginia Division of Forestry officials declared that a new study had found state forest growth was "in the green."
More than 1,300 logging operations have been cited over the last three years for violating West Virginia's timber law. Only one of them has ever been fined.
The West Virginia Development Office has formed a committee to examine concerns that the state's timber industry has grown too much and focused too much on chipboard plants and a huge pulp mill.
SUPPOSE you want to sell some timber. Maybe you inherited some land when your grandfather died. Selling some of the trees might help send your kids to college.
Andy Egan is going out into the woods, trying to answer questions about the effects of increased logging on West Virginia forests.
The fate of a big hunk of West Virginia's forests is in the hands of a very few people.
West Virginians love walking in the woods to hunt, fish or just look at the trees, wildflowers and animals.
West Virginia activists think they might have found a better way to handle the state's forests: Get more public input, consider forest uses other than logging and, above all, talk a lot more about it.
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