Published October 1974 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd America's Great Renewable Resource In this day of concrete, metal, and glass construction and the widening use of petroleum-based plastics, it may seem somewhat surprising that the demand for wood is soaring. But that is what is happening in the United States, making the production of timber increasingly important. 0ur country, with only about 6 percent of the world's population, is now consuming about 30 percent of the world's timber production. Housing, the manufacture of wood products, and wood pulp-from which paper, cellophane, rayon, plastics, and explosives are made-are the three main categories of use, each of which takes about a third of the wood the U.S. consumes each year. In each of these categories, the prospects are that the demand for wood will grow from 50 percent to 100 percent in the next two to three decades. The United States, fortunately, is blessed with vast forest lands. Even today, a third of the U.S. is still forested. And, most fortunate of all, timber unlike coal, or oil, or ores-is a renewable resource. To meet the demand for wood and the vast array of end products for which it is basic, American ingenuity is on the move. U.S. timber producers are pushing such new ideas as the genetic improvement of trees to produce faster growth and better quality -in much the same way that corn and other agricultural products have been improved through c o n - trolled breeding. They are experimenting with other new concepts in forestry-such as soil fertilization, control of insect enemies and disease, and the cultivation of trees in row-like patterns to give each tree a better chance to grow and thrive. It is said that eventually it may be possible to bring a Douglas fir, the most commercially valuable tree, to maturity in 40 years instead of the 90 years it now takes in the forests of the western United States. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the center of U.S. timber production is beginning to shift from the West to the Southeast, where the warmth and moisture can bring pines to maturity in 30 years and produce pulpwood in ten or twelve. With new cutting, milling, and manufacturing methods being perfected, our country, at long last, may be moving toward a time when it will make the best possible use of one of its most valuable resources.