By JACK WEATHERLY
Anderson-Tully Co. produced hardwood lumber for about 129 years at the port city of Vicksburg.
It was sold last month to the Vicksburg Forest Products, which is spending millions to convert the plant to turning out primarily southern yellow pine lumber from tree plantations in the surrounding area.
Why the conversion?
Are bottomland hardwood stands – the source of the mill’s timber for more than a century – becoming exhausted?
The answer to the first question is that Anderson-Tully’s 300,000 acres of hardwood along the Mississippi between Memphis and Natchez were not part of the deal, details of which have not been made public.
Efforts to determine whether there was any interest in the acreage on the part of the buyer were unsuccessful. Likewise, a message left with the seller on that matter was not answered.
The answer to the second question is partly answered by looking at Anderson-Tully’s forestland as part of the Forestland Group LLC’s holdings, which includes 2.8 million acres of hardwood trees in 23 states and four foreign countries. The Forestland Group says it controls the largest portfolio of U.S. hardwoods, and is the fourth-largest landowner in the country.
By the early 1880s, “hardwood species had been virtually eliminated from New England forests, making the Mississippi Delta a prime destination of some of the nation’s entrepreneurial lumbermen,” said Donald E. Davis in his book, “Southern United States: An Environmental History.”
Until the mid-20th century, there was every reason to believe that after Europeans arrived in the 17th century and started cutting forests with abandon and continued for the next 250 years the supply could eventually be depleted.
The Mississippi Delta in the mid-19th century “contained great stands of of uncut cypress, as much as 50,000 acres in Tunica County alone,” Davis said.
By 1879, there were 36 sawmills in the Delta, including eight in Bolivar County.
“Cypress logs were . . . floated down the Yazoo River, giving rise to [a] considerable industry in Vicksburg,” including the Anderson-Tully Co., Davis wrote.
Founded in 1889 as a vegetable crate manufacturer in Benton Harbor, Mich., Anderson-Tully sniffed the southerly wind and moved its operations to Vicksburg, a location for a perfect shipping hub, incorporating railroad and river traffic. Plus, the fertile river soil and long growing season worked to provide the right environment for hardwoods.
Upstream, by 1905 “Memphis was the undisputed hardwood manufacturing center in the United States,” allowing the city to dub itself the “Hardwood Capital of the World,” a moniker that survived into the middle of the 20th century, according to Davis.
“Memphis hardwood manufacturers advertised no fewer than twenty-one varieties of hardwood among their wood products, including such ‘exotic’ varieties as dogwood, persimmon, ironwood, tupelo and mulberry,” Davis wrote.
Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley deforestation peaked in the 1960s and 1970s “as global market demand escalated,” according to Emile S.Gardiner and James M. Oliver in their book, “Restoration Bottomland Forests in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley.”
By then, primeval forests in the United States had been reduced to about 26 percent of their original acreage, the authors wrote.
Aside from providing lumber for postbellum reconstruction, clearing of the land served a second, and, to this day, a key economic factor in Mississippi and elsewhere along the Mississippi River.
First cotton, then soybeans, now Mississippi’s No. 1 row crop in terms of value, contributed largely to the clearing of bottomlands.
In the late 20th century and early 21st century, the Amazon River Basin in Brazil, felt the soybean’s global power. Large swaths of the rainforest were initially cut to make way for beef cattle, whose pasturelands subsequently became fields for the more-profitale crop, forcing further deforestation to provide pastureland for cattle, according to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
In Brazil, curbs have been put in place to slow the further decimation of the rainforest and global warming.
Since the peak of deforestation in the United States, the private and public sectors have worked together to sustain hardwood forests.
The Forestland Group prides itself in growing and harvesting “sustainable hardwood.”
Meantime, the timber industry in Mississippi and across the
South, is dominated by pine plantations, which are planted and harvested much like row crops, but on a much longer cycle.
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