COLLEGE STATION — A growing demand for southern timber and an estimated shortfall of 40 million pine seedlings across the South has prompted the Texas Forest Service to bring back pine seedlings to its East Texas nursery.
“The south-wide demand for tree seedlings and the volatility of the seedling supply situation make it essential that we begin again to produce pine seedlings at Indian Mound Nursery,” said Jim Hull, director of the Texas Forest Service.
Last November, the agency announced its decision to mothball pine production and focus only on hardwoods because of the increasing costs to produce quality pine seedlings and the decreasing demand at the 50-year-old nursery.
But today, “everybody is looking to the south for the timber supply,” Hull said, noting the continued restrictions on logging in the Pacific Northwest.
And reforestation efforts, including seedling production, aren’t keeping pace. Prolonged drought conditions and recent wildfires have compounded the problem in many areas, including East Texas.
The Louisiana Office of Forestry, which contracted with the Texas Forest Service to produce 12 million seedlings for the current season, won’t be able to fulfill such a contract next year, and the forest industry also is at near capacity, Hull said.
“I anticipate the 12 million will meet about one-third of the total demand for seedlings by small private landowners just here in Texas,” he said.
Without another immediate source for high quality pine seedlings, the Texas Forest Service decided to resurrect Indian Mound’s pine seedling production – and boost it to 20 million to 25 million seedlings in the 1998 season. In order to accomplish the goals established by the agency’s administrative team – produce quality seedlings, sell at a fair price to landowners, and not lose money in the process – the nursery is going to be completely restructured.
Indian Mound Nursery needs to get “back to the absolute basics,” Hull said. “We’re going to find what grows best and stick to it.”
That means more than just cutting down on the number hardwoods and pine species, and unfortunately it also means trimming the staff.
“To bring the staffing level more in line with every other private and public nursery in the South, we will need to eliminate three of the current nine position,” he said.
Seasonal workers might feel the pinch too.
In order to cut costs, several jobs previously done by seasonal workers – lifting, packing and shipping – will be contracted out. Hull said he will urge contractors to utilize local workers.
In another cost-cutting move, the nursery will shift from a retail operation selling directly to small landowners to a production operation. Sales will be handled only by Texas Forest Service personnel in the field offices.
“I sincerely regret that we have had to reduce the number of employees, but there was no other alternative if we are to have a chance of operational success,” Hull said. “That success is essential to the future timber supply in Texas.”