There’s a saying that money doesn’t grow on trees, but foresters at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Forestry Resources Office at Fort Stewart, Georgia, may beg to differ. They generate thousands of dollars every year from something that grows on trees - pine cones.
Next to timber, pine cones are one of the biggest generators of revenue on the installation, accounting for roughly $80,000 last year according to Resident Forester Josh O’Neal, who is responsible for managing the land, timber harvesting and forestry program at Fort Stewart.
The installation is heavily populated by longleaf pine trees, which is native to the southern United States. These trees are typically sought out by farmers for their pine cone seeds.
“The cones do not look like your typical pine cones used for holiday decorations,” said O’Neal. “Instead they resemble a long green banana. The seeds are used to grow young long leaf pine trees, which are ultimately planted all throughout the Southeast United States and on Fort Stewart.”
Pine cones are not the only revenue generator. There’s also pine straw, timber, pine stumps, palmetto berries, willow stakes and pine resin.
“When you think of a tree, you just think of wood products, but there’s all these other resources they extract from a tree that can be used in products like cough syrup, bubble gum and medicines,” said O’Neal. “I don’t think people realize that we try to utilize and harvest almost every portion of the tree.”
Combined, O’Neal said these resources generate more than $3.5 million annually at Fort Stewart, which helps support the forestry program.
Corps-wide, the Savannah District has the largest program in terms of staffing and revenue produced. In fiscal year 2017, the entire district program generated $7.2 million, which includes sales from Fort Stewart and the district’s two other field offices at Fort Bragg and J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake, according to Ean Jones, supervisory district forester.
“The most responsible thing in a land manager’s eyes is to make sure the land is productive,” said Jones. “We try to manage our lands in a way that promotes forest health. Having our lands sit idle and allowing Mother Nature to manage it on our behalf, for the most part, is counterproductive to the Army’s needs.”
The district hosts approximately 100 product sales throughout the course of an average year at forts Stewart, Jackson, Gordon, Benning and Bragg, and at civil works projects Thurmond Dam and Lake, and John H. Kerr Reservoir, where forestry products are widely advertised and sold competitively to the highest bidder. In addition to routine sales, Jones said the district also hosts emergency sales due to pine beetle outbreaks, storm damage, and to remove trees from construction sites that have severe time constraints.
“The revenue goes back into sustaining the program,” said O’Neal. “We generate enough money to pay our salaries and improve the land, to build new roads, perform prescribed burns, etc.”
Because the Corps’ primary Real Estate mission at Fort Stewart and other installations and civil works projects is to support military training lands, O’Neal and his team strive to be good stewards of the land.
“When we harvest these products, our goal is not to cut down a bunch of trees to make money,” said O’Neal. “We make money, but it’s just a byproduct of what we do. We are really just managing the forest to meet the Army installation’s training needs and to help facilitate the betterment and restoration of any identified threatened and endangered species population located on the installation.”
The extensive piney woods acreage at Fort Stewart is also critical habitat for endangered species such as the red cockaded woodpecker, a bird species that is specific to ecosystems where longleaf pines exist.
According to O’Neal, the birds live in cavities inside longleaf pines.
"In addition to enhancing military training lands, most of the timber sales are for the purpose of restoring habitat to support the Red-cockaded woodpecker,” said O’Neal.
Many woodpecker species build their nests in dead trees, but red cockaded woodpeckers are unique because they are the only species that builds in live long leaf pine trees."
“It is unique, because the two can’t survive without each other,” said O’Neal. “That’s why we keep replanting longleaf pines, so that in 50 or 60 years the area will have grown up so the woodpecker can continue to have viable habitat,” he said. “Without foresters, the forest would decline and endangered species would be extinct, so we are trying to make sure they are around and thriving for generations to come."
Money may not grow on trees, but when trees are managed to support military installations and endangered species, money is a happy by-product that sustains responsible land stewardship.