September 14-20 is Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) week, time dedicated to increasing our awareness of natural resource conservation and the important role local communities can play in that effort.
Make no mistake: Alabama is blessed by hardworking citizens, geographic advantages and abundant natural resources that rival any state in the nation. And the impact of those resources on our economy can never be underestimated. Travel into any part of Alabama and you can witness firsthand those resources, from lakes to streams, from timber, coal and natural gas, all combined to create a quality of life and economic vitality that is uniquely our own.
More than 23 million Alabama acres are covered by forests, making Alabama the second largest commercial forest in the nation. The Alabama timber industry is the number one manufacturing industry in the state and the number one crop in 34 Alabama counties.
More than 80 percent of our forests are managed by family tree farmers, and the impact on Alabama jobs is immense. Approximately 48,000 workers are directly employed in the timber industry and another 100,000 are indirectly dependent upon this industry. All together, this Alabama industry produced more than $15 billion in products per year. So clearly, the conservation and management of this resource is critical to the future of Alabama's economy.
Likewise, Alabama is covered by thousands of miles of streams and rivers and populated with hundreds of lakes and reservoirs in every part of our state. This valuable resource provides important recreational activities for our families, from fishing and swimming to skiing and boating. At the same time, with the Tri-state Water War, we all are aware of the important economic role that water plays on development. And as a perfect example of how all of our resources are interconnected, that 23 million acres of trees I mentioned plays a vital role in cleaning and filtering our water sources. Of course, all of us must engage in conserving this resource, from limiting our usage to reducing run-off from development.
Finally, the very soil we stand and build upon also plays a critical function in our economy. Just think of the number of farmers and cattle ranchers that exist in our state, and the jobs they also produce. Management of the soil must be done or our land will simply stop producing for us in the future.
Again, none of these components can be served in isolation, each aspect – soil, water, forests – is connected and any approach at environmental management must be cohesive and coordinated. That really is the role played by the RC&D Program. The program is a partnership between the Alabama Soil and Water Conversation Committee, Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Alabama Legislature, Alabama Cooperative Extension System and local people and the agencies of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The program operates on the principle that local control is best, and the structure of the program bears that philosophy out. There are nine RC&D councils in Alabama: the Alabama-Tombigbee Council, the Cawaco Council, the Coosa Valley Council, the Mid-South Council, the Northwest Alabama Council, the Gulf Coast Council, the Alabama Mountains Rivers Valleys Council, the Tombigbee Council, and the Wiregrass Council.
These councils bring together local leadership and community volunteers to focus on the development of human and natural resources in their areas. Local RC&D councils provide ways for people to plan and implement projects that will make their communities a better place to live. They bring together people, needs, concerns, opportunities and solutions.
Council goals include developing adequate public utilities, facilities and services including recreation, housing, roads, water and fire protection, etc., for all towns and rural areas. And just as important, they help develop and use natural resources in a manner that can expand economic and rural development while maximizing the protection and management of forest land, farm land, water and air.