EDITORIAL: Green Mississippi

By NEMS Daily Journal

College and university campuses nationwide remain the central focus of Earth Day observances – an environmental observance that celebrates its 40th anniversary April 22.
The larger emphasis in Earth Day embraces practices beyond individual action, and it’s not just about environmental preservation with no recurring economic benefit.
A recent major article in The Washington Post described the progress and remaining perils in rebuilding the forest lands of the eastern U.S. – the first forests decimated by the bad practices of the colonies and the young American nation from the mid-1600s to the beginning of the 20th century.
Massive reforestation is one of the signal advances in resource management during the past century, and it has both environmental and economic benefits.
Mississippi, like almost all states whose canopy of trees was virtually ubiquitous at the time of European settlement, has regrown its forests, carefully documenting with scientific practice and management, a renewable resource that is reliably profitable.
Since 1948, in a time of population growth and economic expansion, Mississippi has increased its forest cover and forest land percentage. In 2006, Mississippi had 19.54 million acres of forests, compared to 16.51 million in 1948. More than 65 percent of our state’s surface is covered in trees, most of which are environmentally positive.
Northeast Mississippi’s counties, in the main, fall into the category of 50-75 percent forestation, with Tippah and Benton counties at 75 percent. Only Lee and Union counties are in the 25 percent category, measured by the Mississippi Forestry Commission and the Mississippi Forestry Association.
In the most practical environmental terms, reforestation can reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by as much as 20 percent in the U.S., a NASA research project concluded, in addition to its function as a filter for water, air and soil.
In economic terms, forests are the base resource for at least $1 billion generated in Mississippi’s economy every year (14 consecutive years in 2006) and employing about 18,000 people directly and about 100,000 others in related wood-products industries and businesses selling forest-based products.
Mississippi’s forestry history included periods when land stripped of trees dominated landscapes, and erosion was uncontrolled, but those trends have been reversed.
The importance of forests starts with one tree: According to the U.S. Forest Service, a tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, and recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion over a 50-year life span.