The Forestry Branch maintains an active and extensive timber harvesting program. Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield typically harvests between 5,000 and 6,000 acres annually. This is one of the largest forestry programs in all of the Department of Defense. The specific reasons for harvesting timber on the Installation are to improve, maintain and support military maneuver training throughout the forest landscape; and to enhance threatened and endangered species (TES) habitat, such as for the red-cockaded woodpecker, frosted flatwoods salamander, and eastern indigo snake. Both Soldiers, who train on Fort Stewart, and TES benefit from the results of professional timber management. Other reasons for harvesting timber include longleaf pine restoration and regeneration, southern pine beetle control, game management and removal of undesirable hardwoods. Thinning is a harvest method used to remove undesirable trees such as smaller, weakened or diseased trees, while leaving larger and healthier trees for the future. In addition to thinning, a second timber harvest method used on the Installation is clear-cutting. In this case, all trees in the sale area are harvested. Clear-cuts are used to support construction projects, live-fire range projects, and longleaf pine restoration in areas taken over by other tree species and forest types. Clear-cutting results in only a minor portion of the timber sales on the Installation.
The Forestry Branch’s normal procedure for planning a timber harvest is very intensive. Before timber harvesting can begin within an area, a forestry technician must write a timber harvest proposal based on a previously completed forest inventory. Each proposal goes through review and input by other Environmental Division staff members and military trainers until concurrence is reached. After coordination, the proposed area is cruised, and individual trees are marked for harvest by a team of forestry technicians. Upon completion of the marking phase, the forest management staff prepares a timber harvest availability for the area. This is a document announcing the type, quality and quantity of timber being made "available" for harvest. It is forwarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Resident Forester, who handles the sale of the timber. He advertises, holds a bidding process, and awards the timber to a commercial logging contractor. This bidding and award process takes approximately one month. Upon award of a timber harvest contract, the logging contractor can begin cutting timber. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ employees will oversee and coordinate with the logging contractor, and inspect the timber harvest operation daily to ensure all harvesting guidelines are being followed. All timber harvest actions on the Installation meet the requirements of Georgia’s Best Management Practices for Forestry to ensure wetlands and water quality are protected. Additionally, all other state, federal and local environmental and cultural resources laws are followed during the logging process.
Once all timber harvesting has been completed on a sale, a forestry technician will inspect the site to ensure that all requirements of the sale have been met. Upon a satisfactory final report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ releases the logger from liability. The harvested area is then monitored by the Forestry Branch to determine future timber management actions.
In accordance with federal law, Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield’s timber revenue must be used to fund future forest management activities. Therefore, the military training, TES and ecosystem benefits stated above are incurred at little cost to the Army since much of the Forestry program is funded through dollars generated from timber sales. Another perquisite of the program is that local governments get a portion of the net proceeds from the sale of timber, if proceeds exceed Army expenses. This money is distributed to counties contiguous to Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airlfield via the State government, and is used to support education and roads within those counties. The local economy also gets a boost by the Army providing high-quality wood products on a steady basis to the region’s wood buyers, loggers, forest products mills, and related businesses.
The success of this forestry program can be measured by the Installation’s immensely valuable forest resources, excellent military training platform, healthy natural environment, reimbursable nature of the program, and sustainable flow of forest products to the economy.