Pennsylvania Hardwoods: Building Our Future

11/2/2013 7:00 AM

Pennsylvania is just as much of a forestry capital today as it was in 1681 when William Penn was granted “Penn’s Woods.”

People continue to enjoy clean water and air, hunt plentiful game for food, and secure wood for shelter, furniture, paper, tools, fuel and industrial needs — all from the woods.

Our wood products industry remains a significant part of the agriculture industry. As the national leader in hardwood lumber production, Pennsylvania produces an estimated 800 million board-feet of lumber, generating more than $11 billion each year from Pennsylvania’s 17 million acres of productive forestland.

The Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council, which this year celebrates its 25th year of encouraging, promoting and protecting the industry, has played a vital role in the modern-era growth of the industry.

Educating the Public

The council’s most important resource, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, is the WoodMobile, a classroom on wheels that travels the state educating children and adults about Pennsylvania’s sustainable hardwoods industry.

When you ask most elementary school students, and even some adults, if it’s OK to cut down trees, you’ll probably hear a resounding “No!” followed by a list of reasons to preserve the planet’s rain forests.

The WoodMobile allows us to tell the truth about local forestry — that the industry is committed to sustainable forestry. That means we’re managing our forest resources to meet our needs today without compromising the needs of future generations.

Visitors can also learn how hardwoods are renewable and the most environmentally friendly building products.

Pennsylvania features twice as much forested land as it did a century ago, and nearly 2 billion board-feet of additional wood grows in Pennsylvania each year.

Wood is 16 times less energy-intensive than glass, 21 times less than steel, and 70 times less than plastic. Wood is a zero-waste product, as byproducts are used for mulch, wood pellets, animal bedding, fuel and biomass energy.

The carbon released by harvesting and other steps is absorbed by growing trees, making it carbon neutral, and wood in uses like furniture or flooring store carbon for decades, reducing air pollution.

The WoodMobile travels eight months a year delivering educational programs to an average 11,000 students and 100,000 members of the public. Since its debut in 2002, the WoodMobile has exhibited at more than 500 events attended by nearly 1.3 million visitors.

Creating New Markets

Pennsylvania’s hardwoods are recognized as some of the finest in the world. Countries, especially those with emerging middle classes that are beginning to demand high-quality furnishings, are seeking out our woods.

Pennsylvania’s ideal geography and combination of sunlight, soil, temperature and elevation creates the best oak, black cherry and ash trees. Maple and walnut are also renowned.

Pennsylvania wood features a tight, straight grain with fewer flaws and defects, and desirable natural coloration.

About $1.2 billion worth of Pennsylvania wood and paper products are exported each year to countries like Canada and China.

I’ve met with delegations from China and Turkey who want to expand the use of Pennsylvania hardwoods there, and council staff members have traveled to Brazil, Dubai, China, Germany, Vietnam and South Korea, to name a few. These missions are expanding markets and keeping Pennsylvania the nation’s hardwoods capital.

Protecting the Industry

Invasive species are a major threat to Pennsylvania’s hardwoods industry, and the council is leading the charge to protect the state’s trees.

The emerald ash borer continues its march across the state. The ash tree-killing beetle was first found in Butler County in 2007 and has since been confirmed in 47 additional counties.

Pennsylvania is home to nearly 300 million ash trees that are often used to beautify town streets and make the highest quality professional baseball bats, so the threat to the hardwoods industry is profound.

Thousand cankers disease is a death sentence for Pennsylvania’s black walnut trees. It’s caused by the fungus Geosmithia morbidia and carried by the walnut twig beetle. There is no known cure or control for the disease. In 2011, Pennsylvania confirmed its first case of the disease in Bucks County.

While not yet found in Pennsylvania, the Asian longhorn beetle is in each of our neighboring states. It threatens all of the hardwood species, and damage threatens to reach into the billions of dollars if it continues to spread. Early detection of the pest will be the key to protecting the hardwoods industry.

You can help protect our hardwoods industry by limiting the movement of wood. Firewood carries pests and diseases that can prove fatal to Pennsylvania’s trees, harming the ecosystem and decimating the hardwoods industry.

Even lumber destined for construction, woodworking or other crafts can harbor pests. That’s why some states like Pennsylvania have quarantines in place that may come with stiff fines.

Don’t move firewood more than 50 miles from where it is harvested. Check regulations before you purchase and move wood. Know the law, especially when buying on the Internet, where retailers may not know the regulations for different states.

Building the Future

Pennsylvania’s forest products industry is committed to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and I’m proud of the work done by the Hardwoods Development Council over the past 25 years to promote the industry’s successes.

Thanks to the advances of our hardwoods industry, we can keep Pennsylvania growing while balancing our responsibility to the environment and future generations.

For more information, visit and search “hardwoods.”

George Greig is the Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture.

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