Cautionary Tales

Thousands of Southerners Planted Trees for Retirement. It Didn’t Work. (From The Wall Street Journal)

Notes and key points:

  • Published October 2018


  • “A glut of timber has piled up in the Southeast. There are far more ready-to-cut trees than the region’s mills can saw or pulp. The surfeit has crushed timber prices in Mississippi, Alabama and several other states.”
  • “It has been a big loser for some financial investors, among them the country’s largest pension fund. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System spent more than $2 billion on Southern timberland, and harvested trees at depressed prices to pay interest on money borrowed to buy. Calpers sold much of its land this summer at a loss. A spokeswoman for the pension fund declined to comment.”
  • “Most Southern woodland owners are stuck with whatever the nearest mill is paying. Hauling logs cross-country chasing better prices isn’t an option. It doesn’t take many tree trunks to fill a truck to its 80,000-pound limit on interstate highways. Loggers, paid for each ton they cut and deliver to the mill, are reluctant to make all-day trips.”
  • “Waiting for better prices carries its own risks, because after a certain age, trees, like people, become more susceptible to disease. Hurricanes can lay down entire tracts. The Southern pine beetle can alter financial plans in days.”
  • “In the 1950s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started dangling forestation incentives to stem erosion and prop up crop prices. At the depths of the 1980s farm crisis, when prices for agricultural commodities plunged, the Reagan administration launched the Conservation Reserve Program. Starting in 1986, it promised farmers annual payments of about $30 to $50 for each acre they planted with trees or grasses.”
  • “Southern mill owners—who buy logs from landowners and resell them as poles, lumber and pulp—anticipate wide margins for years because their raw material is so cheap. Billions of dollars of new saw mills and mill expansions have been announced by the likes of Georgia-Pacific and Canada’s Canfor Corp. Lumber is more practical than logs to haul long distances to stronger markets.”
  • “A run-of-the-mill power pole could fetch about $50 a ton at the mill, Mr. Nelms said, and logs big enough for larger transmission poles could be worth as much as $130 a ton delivered. Saw logs, on the other hand, got only about $20 a ton.”
  • “Pine trees that would have been worth $45 a ton “on the stump” back then might return $14 a ton now, he estimates. For income, he leases forestland to hunters. He built a small lake and a cabin, planted some cleared spots with clover to provide food for deer and other wildlife and set up some blinds. Four men from Birmingham pay him $65,000 a year to drive out on weekends and hunt whitetail deer and turkeys in season.”

This Tiny Beetle Is Devastating Forests in the Worst Outbreak Ever | Short Film Showcase


  • Video uploaded in March of 2018 by National Geographic


  • “This is the largest mountain pine beetle ever recorded. It’s something like 10 times bigger than we’ve known in the past.”
  • “Mountain pine beetle outbreaks are climate driven. We’ve had an extended period of warm and dry, and that has allowed the beetle to take off.”
  • “At this point, 70 million acres across North America have been killed. It changes water dynamics, it changes habitat for wildlife. So the effect of losing these trees could have massive ramifications for a lot of things we don’t typically think about.”
  • “Outbreaks in the past have been regenerative. They restore the forest.” (The difference is that this one was much bigger).