Cones are a Corps cash cow

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District harvested 7,500 bushels of pine cones at Fort Stewart in fiscal year 2017, generating about $80,000 in revenue. USACE photo by Rashida Banks.

There’s a saying that money doesn’t grow on trees, but foresters at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Forestry Resources Office at Fort Stewart, Georgia, may beg to differ. They generate thousands of dollars every year from something that grows on trees – pine cones.

Next to timber, pine cones are one of the biggest generators of revenue on the installation, accounting for roughly $80,000 last year according to Resident Forester Josh O’Neal, who is responsible for managing the land, timber harvesting and forestry program at Fort Stewart.

The installation is heavily populated by longleaf pine trees, which is native to the southern United States. These trees are typically sought out by farmers for their pine cone seeds.

“The cones do not look like your typical pine cones used for holiday decorations,” said O’Neal. “Instead they resemble a long green banana. The seeds are used to grow young long leaf pine trees, which are ultimately planted all throughout the Southeast United States and on Fort Stewart.”

Self-sustaining Program
Pine cones are not the only revenue generator. There’s also pine straw, timber, pine stumps, palmetto berries, willow stakes and pine resin.

“When you think of a tree, you just think of wood products, but there’s all these other resources they extract from a tree that can be used in products like cough syrup, bubble gum and medicines,” said O’Neal. “I don’t think people realize that we try to utilize and harvest almost every portion of the tree.”

Combined, O’Neal said these resources generate more than $3.5 million annually at Fort Stewart, which helps support the forestry program.

Corps-wide, the Savannah District has the largest program in terms of staffing and revenue produced. In fiscal year 2017, the entire district program generated $7.2 million, which includes sales from Fort Stewart and the district’s two other field offices at Fort Bragg and J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake, according to Ean Jones, supervisory district forester.

“The most responsible thing in a land manager’s eyes is to make sure the land is productive,” said Jones. “We try to manage our lands in a way that promotes forest health. Having our lands sit idle and allowing Mother Nature to manage it on our behalf, for the most part, is counterproductive to the Army’s needs.”

The district hosts approximately 100 product sales throughout the course of an average year at forts Stewart, Jackson, Gordon, Benning and Bragg, and at civil works projects Thurmond Dam and Lake, and John H. Kerr Reservoir, where forestry products are widely advertised and sold competitively to the highest bidder.

In addition to routine sales, Jones said the district also hosts emergency sales due to pine beetle outbreaks, storm damage, and to remove trees from construction sites that have severe time constraints.

Josh O’Neal, resident forester at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Forestry Resources Office, Fort Stewart, Georgia, inspects bales of pine straw before they are hauled off the installation. USACE photo by Rashida Banks.

“The revenue goes back into sustaining the program,” said O’Neal. “We generate enough money to pay our salaries and improve the land, to build new roads, perform prescribed burns, etc.”

Because the Corps’ primary Real Estate mission at Fort Stewart and other installations and civil works projects is to support military training lands, O’Neal and his team strive to be good stewards of the land.

“When we harvest these products, our goal is not to cut down a bunch of trees to make money,” said O’Neal. “We make money, but it’s just a byproduct of what we do. We are really just managing the forest to meet the Army installation’s training needs and to help facilitate the betterment and restoration of any identified threatened and endangered species population located on the installation.”

Habitat Management
The extensive piney woods acreage at Fort Stewart is also critical habitat for endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, a bird species that is specific to ecosystems where longleaf pines exist.

According to O’Neal, the birds live in cavities inside longleaf pines.

“In addition to enhancing military training lands, most of the timber sales are for the purpose of restoring habitat to support the red-cockaded woodpecker,” said O’Neal.

Many woodpecker species build their nests in dead trees, but red-cockaded woodpeckers are unique because they are the only species that build in live long leaf pine trees.”

“It is unique, because the two can’t survive without each other,” said O’Neal. “That’s why we keep replanting longleaf pines, so that in 50 or 60 years the area will have grown up so the woodpecker can continue to have viable habitat,” he said.

“Without foresters, the forest would decline and endangered species would be extinct, so we are trying to make sure they are around and thriving for generations to come.”

Money may not grow on trees, but when trees are managed to support military installations and endangered species, money is a happy by-product that sustains responsible land stewardship.

~ Rashida Banks, Corporate Communications Office

About US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multimillion dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on
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21 Responses to Cones are a Corps cash cow

  1. Ferris says:

    Pools rose into normal operating range Mon morning, and inflows this month averaged 16K cfs through Feb 14. The lakes “two wild cards” withhold normal releases from these artificial lakes until BOTH pools rise 2′ into the normal operating range.
    The Savannah River at Augusta flows above current levels 80% of the time, and 4,200 cfs keeps the river at drought release rates.
    Let’s see, 200 cfs/ 16K cfs equals sharing an additional 1.25% of the inflows.

  2. Ferris says:

    Yahoo! Hartwell and Thurmond rose over 2′ from Feb 1-10. Rainfall this weekend might push pool elevations above the DL1 trigger by Mon. That would mean normal operation if we were not coming out of a drought. Loving the rain. Tell your meteorologist to keep up the good work!

    • Tom Deus says:

      Nearly everyday this coming week is predicting rain including today. Hope it keeps up. I am seeing the rise around the shoreline already over by Winfield.

  3. Jerry Clontz says:

    It’s good to see the Corps looking at money associated with their efforts. It’s time now for them to look at what it costs real estate holders around the SRB when the lakes drop drastically during droughts. That number is way more impressive than the money quoted in this article. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Corps is willing to look at that cost or incorporate it into judging consequences of their various drought plan options.

    • Mark Welborn says:

      Yes Jerry, in our small cove alone (Seneca Creek), I’m confident there is well over $1,000,000. in property devaluation due to a very bad management plan for upper basin shareholders. All of the priorities applied by the COE are directed at economic and or quality of life objectives for someone. It’s just that ours are the lowest on the list.

      • WBHobbs says:

        That’s a shame…

        • emac1234 says:

          Lots of good rain so far this month, too bad it is going to be balanced out by an increase in outflow to 4000. The Lord giveth and the corps taketh it away

          • emac1234 says:

            Finally making some headway on getting the lakes levels up, and now we are headed to 4200 releases. As I have typed before….we have to draw an inside straight to get water and everyone else gets two wild cards to use at any time.

            • US Army Corps of Engineers says:

              Emac1234: Ferris beat me to the punch, but your analogy only looks at the drought issue from one angle. When you consider that we manage the basin as a system, more rain and drought recovery is good for everyone.
              The minimum releases will go up, but the downstream shareholders have been in the same boat experiencing drought conditions as well since it began in 2016. A rising tide lifts all boats.
              ~ Jeremy Buddemeier

            • emac1234 says:

              I certainly appreciate your reply. However, I must say I have never seen a post from someone downstream complaining about having to mow around their dock. matter of fact I have never heard one complaint from anyone downstream about water. IMO, this is why Ferris defends the current model. He is downstream. Every stakeholder that has a problem is above the dam. Every complaint comes from how you allocate water to recreation and economic development around the lakes. Yes, below the dam has suffered a very minor inconvenience from decreased flow, but nothing compared to the economic issues upstream. When the Corps sells lots, and makes revenue off of the lake property I feel they should be a little more responsive.I have grown tired of people asking me if the lot I have for sale(2 years) is lakefront. I really don’t see how keeping the flow at 3600-4000 until the lake fills would put any burden at all on downstream. Throw us a bone, please. But, you are the experts.

            • US Army Corps of Engineers says:

              Your comment implies that the Corps of Engineers sells lots on the reservoirs. The Corps does not and has never sold lots on the reservoirs.

              The Corps retains ownership of all lands surrounding the three reservoirs on behalf of the American government. Land beyond the needs of the government were not part of the authorization to build the reservoirs and dams. Instead, land beyond our needs remained private property to be sold and bought (and taxed) according to local and state laws.

              Keeping the lower Savannah in artificial drought flows does cause damage to the environment of the lower Savannah River. That is why we have a measured increase in downstream flows as the reservoirs recover from drought.

              We delay the increases of outflows until Hartwell Lake and Thurmond Lake reach 2 feet above any specified drought trigger level. This helps the reservoirs recover and prevents the reservoirs from immediately re-entering the more severe drought level.

              ~Billy Birdwell

            • emac1234 says:


              Really? Please see the 1981 newspaper article discussing the Corp selling land for the development of the New Bordeaux subdivision. Link at the bottom. When the check is written to the US Treasury it is pretty clear who sold the land. I could post the original sales brochure that has the Corps name all over it if you think that may be useful. I believe I still have it.
              Here is a short quote from the article:

              “The Corps is very happy and comfortable with the New Bordeaux sale for the benefit of the tax base of McCormick County and for the increased enjoyment of the Clarks Hill Lake for the public.” said Jim Ellis, chief of the real estate division.
              In my opinion, the Corps sold the land for recreation and to help the economy and tax base of McCormick County. They also allowed us to place docks on the lake. I believe this directly ties the Corps to recreation and an obligation to the landowners of which they had done business with. Had the Corps told people at the auction that they would not be important in lake level management, the auction may not have done very well. I 100% stand by comment about the Corps selling land. You may not have known this, and I can accept that oversight.

              From the Corps FB comments and from posts on this forum, I would think an adjustment may be in order. All the best.

            • Ferris says:

              Ernest Mccallum, seems you think USACE should have performed due diligence for the buyers, but that is your and their responsibility. On The Index-Journal date of Feb 13 1981 for your link, Thurmond recorded a 325.72′ elevation just a few days after recording 322.77 at the temporary bottom of a moderate drought. The graph shows a brief elevation history beginning with The Index-Journal stated project approval in “early July” 1980, and anyone performing due diligence for the brief and long histories should have known that USACE would not be keeping elevations at full pool.

              The Index-Journal describes the idea for selling the property as coming from McCormick County and the Clarks Hill-Russell Authority (a SC state agency) to “stimulate growth” and provide “a good, permanent tax base which we are in dire need of”. The McCormick County Council “thank the Corps for working with them and the authority in obtaining additional land”. USACE preferred to swap this land on the Little River, but “the Secretary of the Army, [] legal counsel disapproved it on the grounds of legal justification”. Objective readers of The Index-Journal article will understand that the US Army did not need the profit from the sale of 120 acres, but sold the land in a cooperative effort to benefit McCormick County and the Clarks Hill-Russell Authority. Many hard and fast rules seem to have occasional obscure exceptions. Not surprising that you quoted a USACE representative regarding the sale benefit rather than appreciation from those who promoted and received the benefit.

              You impugn my motives, yet property records indicate that you purchased your lot near Little River in 2009 for $15K with a current $65K Market Appraisal. Guess you will be crying all the way to the bank when you sell it as “waterfront” to a gullible buyer. I see why you want USACE to keep levels at 330′ since Google Earth images and FEMA Flood Zone Maps suggest your property has no water when levels fall below about 327′. No wonder potential buyers keep asking whether the property is waterfront, they understand. Not surprising that you cannot understand my many posts support the current drought plan releases because natural resource agencies agree those are the minimum acceptable without incurring an additional and unfair portion of drought impacts. These natural resource agencies are the experts.
              The Index-Journal:

            • emac1234 says:

              Interesting conspiracy theory, I wish I was that good! I assure you that I have owned that lot longer than 2009 and that I paid significantly more than 15K. That was probably me dissolving a partnership and the sale price was his remaining part of a note. At full pool this lot has about 8ft of water on the end of the dock. At least the last time I checked. Continued low water levels cause silting as well as tree growth, etc destroying coves and lake banks. We both know that isn’t an important impact the Corps is concerned with.

              I do not impugn your motives. I believe where you stand on an issue is directly related to where you sit. We sit on opposite sides of the dam. Over the past 20 years I have seen a lot of shoreline and small coves became damaged by prolonged low water levels. I would gladly donate donate the profit a lot sale in return for a better drought plan. I love the lake. Clarks Hill is a beautiful lake, and I believe the Corps has done a wonderful job of protecting its beauty by limiting development, especially within the 330 line. However, I believe the changing times and the admitted changing weather patterns require revisiting the drought plan with an increased, or at least a recognition of economics and recreation. You believe that the current system is the “gold standard”. I believe that the date Feb 1st is not set in stone to protect downstream wildlife. The fish were fine with 3600 and now because it is Feb 1st and the lake has risen, they will die if we dont increase flows to 4200! That just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But, I am the guy trying to make a quick buck, so my argument is void :). That is a play out of a political playbook. Low blow.

              When it was stated that the Corps has never sold lots, I knew that was not true. If this development was a one time cooperation or commonplace, I do not claim to know. Economics and recreation within the lake have increased over the years, I believe it is time for the Corps to recognize its impact. All the best on this beautiful Sunday morning.

            • Ferris says:

              Ernest, your statement describes the situation as communal rather than contractual. Namely, those above the dam must want lower releases regardless of the science and those below the dam must want higher releases regardless of the science. However, not everyone thinks your way. As a contractual person, I will challenge inaccurate claims and attempt to answer concerns on this blog. Since almost everyone else on this blog is on the lakes, my challenges and answers are inevitably for them. My challenges do not mean a lack of sympathy for those suffering from low lake levels, including my friends and relatives on USACE lakes Thurmond and Lanier. Seems we have had this conversation before.

              You ironically claim to not impugn my motives while impugning my motives by telling me where I stand on the issue and what I believe in contradiction of my statements. Seems we have had this conversation before too.

              Your reference to a lot implied a vacant lot, not the homestead. In addition, you further described it as a lot USACE had sold. This comes from your post to Jeremy. My comments referenced the lot below.

            • emac1234 says:

              Yep, that is the lot. Dock is hidden by the trees as the photo was taken during a pretty severe drought, imagine that. I think it is a little creepy that you are so interested in my affairs. The lots in this area were all in the 1981 Auction I referenced. I will even attach a photocopy of the brochure. That is lot 75 and it sold for 12K, cost to gvt was listed as $22.80….not too bad a profit for a non profit!!

            • Ferris says:

              Ernest, thanks for the additional information and for continuing to support my statements!

              The Index-Journal made clear that USACE wanted a land swap, not cash, but they also wanted to cooperate with McCormick County and the SC Clarks Hill-Russell Authority.

              Information to Bidders states, “The property is sold “as is” and without recourse against the Government. The Government makes no representation or warranty, express or implied, as to condition, fitness for any use or purpose, or accuracy of the description.” Standard boilerplate implores due diligence.

  4. Tom Deus says:

    Very nice, didn’t know about the pine cones

  5. Ferris says:

    In addition to the red-cockaded woodpecker, the eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, bald eagle, and many others thank you for the longleaf pine forest habitat!

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