Rotary hears from the Georgia Department of Forestry

Published 5:17 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Chuck Williams, director of the Georgia Department of Forestry, spoke to Rotary this week. He began by saying that the arrangements for him to come speak had been made well before October 10, the date of Hurricane Michael.

Since then, Williams says he has been in Decatur County more times than he can count. He came first with a crew and chain saws to help clear parking lots and roads. They have been working in coordination with the Corps of Engineers, GEMA, DNR, and local officials. He indicated they were now working with Decatur County officials and City Public Works to determine the amount of downed trees and brush still piled along the roadways, as the Corps of Engineers has claimed their part of the cleanup is over.

The department also early on explored salvage options for timber growers, meeting with mill operators to make the path as clear as possible for ways to deal with damaged wood. There is concern now that there is a lot of wood left on the forest floor that will be sources of insects and diseases. An even bigger concern is the fire hazard that exists from the brush and broken trees on the ground floor. Williams said, “The department will be putting dozers in to deal with those, if it ever stops raining.”

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Williams reported a special session of the legislature was called by the governor in November to deal with hurricane damages. Williams said it was important for the government to understand that in Southwest Georgia forestry and agriculture are one in the same, as a lot of timberland is owned by farmers. “We are still waiting to see what comes out of Washington about help from the USDA. The application process is now closed. There is a tax credit program anticipated to roll out in March that includes help for pecan growers, in addition to timber farmers.

Williams has a background in banking, has served in the legislature and has an agricultural degree from UGA. He has had the honor of being named Georgia Tree Farmer of the Year before being named Director of the Ga. Dept. of Forestry.

He explained some of the jobs of the agency, one of which is to help landowners with forest management. He said there are 24 million acres of forestland in Georgia. While in the legislature he helped prepare legislation that included a provision for handling timber theft. “Our job is to protect landowners, especially the elderly from exploitation.”

The Dept. of Forestry has a budget of $50 million a year. He said each Monday morning he unlocks the gates of forestry asking, “What will we do today to earn our share of that $50 million?”