The 2008 recession and increased timber company sell-offs were putting a hurt on the future of forestry in South Carolina when Gene Kodama took over as state forester. The Moncks Corner native faced a bevy of hurdles: State Forestry Commission crews were fighting fires with old equipment; funding and staff were being cut; and the timber industry was selling off the holdings that made up a big chunk of the forests covering two-thirds of the state.

But the intimidating factor for the former Westvaco timber company regional manager was that he’d never worked for a state agency before. Still, he set a goal of growing the $17 billion forestry industry to $20 billion by 2015, recession or not. Today “there’s more wood in South Carolina than there’s ever been,” said Kodama, who recently announced he would retire at the end of the year.

Taking over the state agency wasn’t easy. Soon after he started, the Myrtle Beach wildfire broke out in the pocosin — the wetland bog of sandy peat soil and woody shrubs outside the beach town. The fire consumed 30 square miles, while commission firefighting crews and others battled to keep it away from nearby subdivisions. Large wildfires would become an annual nightmare. The blazes, including the 2016 mountain fires near Table Rock that burned more than 10,000 acres, stretched the crews to their limit.

Then there were the financial changes. From 2008 to 2016, timber company holdings dropped from 11 percent to 2 percent of the forestland in South Carolina — more than a million acres changing hands.

But the total forest acres dropped only about 150,000 acres, to about 12.9 million acres, in a rapidly developing state where 90 percent of the woods are privately owned. The fewer acres are producing more wood. Those who know Kodama say the changes have been stabilizing. Kodama “held together the commission during the reduction in force, re-focused it to pay more attention to its value to economic development and jobs, working with legislators, landowners and the timber industry,” said forester and forestry consultant Dan Scheffing of Andrews.

From The Post and Courier: http://www.postandcourier.com/news/south-carolina-state-forester-from-golden-age-of-woodland-management/article_fb04258c-6591-11e7-8826-ebddbddf0b3e.html