Trends in North Carolina's
Timber Resource

This fact sheet traces the trends in North Carolina's timber resources from 1938 through 1990. Changes and trends in the timberland acreage, volume of merchantable timber, and growth and removal of merchantable timber are presented.

Timberland Acreage

North Carolina had 18.1 million acres of commercial timberland in 1938, covering 58 percent of all the state's land area (Figure 1). Commercial timberland is any forestland capable of growing merchantable crops of timber that has not been set aside for parks or wilderness. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the acreage reached a high of more than 20.13 million acres. Total acreage has decreased to the present level of 18.71 million acres, or 60 percent of all North Carolina lands.

Figure 1. Proportion of North Carolina in timberland.

Only small changes have occurred in timberland acreage in each geographic region of North Carolina (Figure 2). Timberland in the mountain region has remained relatively constant at a 4-million-acre level since 1956. The piedmont region reached a peak acreage of 6 million in the mid-60s and early 70s and has declined to 5.75 million acres over the last decade. Approximately half of North Carolina's timberland is located in the coastal plain region, where the timberland area has fluctuated between 9 and 10 million acres between 1938 and 1990.

Figure 2. Area of timberland by geographic region.

A steady decrease in the acreage of softwood types has occurred since 1938, while hardwood and oak-pine acreages have increased during this period (Figure 3). Softwood forests are made up predominately of pines or other evergreens such as cedar, hemlock, spruce, or fir and contain less than 50 percent hardwood species. Hardwood forests are composed predominately of broadleaf, deciduous trees such as oak, hickory, poplar, or gums and contain less than 25 percent softwoods. The oak-pine forests are a mixture of at least 50 percent hardwoods and 25 to 50 percent pine species.

Figure 3. Area of timberland by forest type.

Volume of Growing Stock

The volume of growing stock is defined as the amount of solid wood in live trees 5 inches and larger in diameter at breast height (4.5 feet) from a 1-foot-high stump height to a 4-inch top diameter. The total volume of growing stock has increased steadily in North Carolina from 18.96 billion cubic feet in 1938 to 32.74 billion cubic feet in 1990, an increase of 73 percent, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Volume of hardwood, softwood, and total growing stock.

The softwood volume increased 35 percent between 1938 and 1990 to a total of 12.53 billion cubic feet. During this same period the hardwood volume increased 109 percent to a total of 20.21 billion cubic feet. In 1990 hardwood timber types made up 61.7 percent of our total merchantable timber volume.

Net Annual Growth and Removals

Net annual growth is defined as the yearly increase in volume of growing stock minus the loss from mortality and decay. Removals are defined as the volume of growing stock harvested for commercial use, removed during land clearing, or set aside in reserved timberland such as parks. Annual removals have averaged 2.7 percent and average growth 3.6 percent of the total timber volume since 1938 (Figure 5). The fact that growth has exceeded removals accounts for the increase in the total volume of growing stock during the period between 1938 and 1990.

Figure 5. Average net annual growth and removals for North Carolina.

The average net annual growth of softwoods in North Carolina has ranged from a low of 386 million cubic feet per year in the 1937-to-1938 reporting period to a high of 590 million cubic feet in the 1984-to-1989 period. Removals have ranged from 370 million cubic feet in the 1938-to-1955 period to a high of 512 million cubic feet in the 1984-to-1989 period (Figure 6). The average net annual growth and removals of softwood have varied between 1937 and 1989. However, the additions to the total stock of softwood growing stock were relatively constant over this period.

Figure 6. Average net annual growth and removals for softwoods.

The net average growth of hardwoods in North Carolina has ranged from a low of 234 million cubic feet per year in the 1937-to-1938 period to a high of 627 million cubic feet per year in the 1974-to-1983 period (Figure 7). Removals have ranged from 156 million cubic feet per year in the 1938-to-1955 period to 428 million cubic feet per year in the 1984-to-1989 period. Although the net average annual growth of hardwoods has exceeded removals throughout the period, the additions to the total stock or inventory have been variable.

Figure 7. Average net annual growth and removals for hardwoods.

In most regions, the average net annual growth has exceeded removals during each reporting period (Figures 8, 9, and 10). The only exceptions have occurred in the piedmont region, where average removals exceeded growth during the 1937-to-1938 and 1956-to-1963 reporting periods. Significant excess growth and inflow into total inventory in the piedmont region began to occur after 1964.

Figure 8. Average net annual growth and removals for coastal plain.

Figure 9. Average net annual growth and removals for the piedmont.

Figure 10. Average net annual growth and removals for the mountains.


The present total acreage of commercial timberland is greater than in 1938. However, timberland area has gradually declined over the past 20 years.

The data presented in this fact sheet indicate that significant gains in the inventory of growing stock have occurred in all geographic regions of North Carolina. Although steady increases have occurred over the past 50 years, wise forest management and the protection of the state's forests from insects, disease, and wildfire will be needed to meet an increasing level of timber use and losses in timberland acreage.

Prepared by:

David R. Brown, Utilization Forester, North Carolina Division of Forest Resources
Earl L. Deal, Department Extension Leader, Wood and Paper Science
Larry G. Jahn, Extension Wood and Paper Science Specialist
Raymond M. Shieffield, Resorce Analyst, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service
Rick A. Hamilton, Extension Forest Resource Specialist

For more information or any questions, please contact Larry Jahn,


Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.



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