Special to the Journal
Of Georgia’s 37 million acres of land area, over two-thirds are covered by forest land, 56 percent of which is owned by private, non-industrial landowners. Due to the dedication of these landowners to sustainability, the net growth of the state’s forests has consistently exceeded net removal and the volume of timber is greater now than it was in the 1930s.
Each year, the Georgia Tree Farm Program, an affiliate of the American Tree Farm System, honors one exceptional landowner who is a certified tree farmer. At the Georgia Forestry Association’s Annual Conference on July 21, Joe Butler, Jr., fifth generation family owner and manager of Forest Lodge Farms LLC, was recognized as the 2013 Tree Farmer of the Year for his endless commitment to forest stewardship, wildlife management and public education.
“As you visit Forest Lodge Farms, you quickly understand that although timber production is the primary management goal, Joe’s passion goes beyond the dollars and cents of timber harvesting,” Georgia Tree Farm Chairman Tommy Joines said. “The farm serves as a prime example of sustainable forestry through its pristine condition and is a testament to Joe’s dedication to forest stewardship.”
Forest Lodge Farms is 1514 acre Tree Farm located in Camilla, GA. The farm is operated as a family owned LLC by Joe Butler Jr., and brothers Cliff and David Butler. The property has been in the Butler family since 1871 and has officially been a Certified Tree Farm since 1983; however, older records show Tree Farm signs posted in the 1950’s.
The entire property has been under a permanent Conservation Easement since 2007 under the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Forest Legacy Program. Joe Butler Sr. wanted to ensure the property would be managed as a working forest in perpetuity. Permitted uses under the easement include timber & wildlife management, educational uses, tours, and aesthetic management. Development of any sort, conversion of timber land to agriculture, and the introduction of any invasive plant or animal species is prohibited.
Along with managing the farm, Butler is an active member of several organizations including GFA, the Longleaf Alliance, Forest Landowner Association, Southwest Georgia Prescribed Fire Council, The Orianne Society, Quail Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association, and The Gopher Tortoise Council (which he is a life-time member).