The non-profit Alabama Forestry Association was founded on May 6, 1949, at the Jefferson Davis Hotel in Montgomery by a group composed largely of sawmill owners. Its purpose was and is to centralize and focus the strength of the various elements of the more than $15 billion forest products industry, monitor government regulation of the forestry industry, and advocate for industries and landowners in the state that are directly or indirectly related to forestry. Originally named the Alabama Forest Products Association (AFPA), it became the Alabama Forestry Association on February 2, 1972.
Pulp and paper companies initially were not listed as a membership category by the association. But when paper companies began buying wood chips and biomass to fuel wood-fired boilers to generate electricity for mill operations, the charter was broadened to include all businesses or individuals engaged in any enterprise involving forestry products. In addition to bringing sawmillers and pulp and paper companies together, the amendment brought into the AFA landowners, loggers, wood suppliers, and secondary wood manufacturers such as furniture companies. This inclusive approach has proven very effective and is unique among the forestry associations in America.
AFA is headquartered at 555 Alabama Street in Montgomery in a structure built to showcase the wood available for construction uses in Alabama. All of the wood used in the building was harvested from Alabama except for the shakes on the roof, which are western red cedar, a species that does not grow in Alabama. The operations of the AFA are controlled by a board of directors and an executive committee elected from among the membership, and activities of the association are funded by dues from the members. The AFA staff consists of eight employees, including the executive vice president, who manages the staff under the direction of the board.
The AFA's Government Affairs Department is the organization's lobbying arm and represents its members by monitoring actions of the state legislature and various environment-related agencies. It also works with affiliate organizations, such as the Alabama Pulp & Paper Council and the Alabama Loggers Council, to advocate for the industry. The AFA monitors legislation and regulatory agencies at the state and federal level on tax policies that affect landowners, weather-related disasters, and the business of forestry, and it lobbies on behalf of the industry.
The association formed the hub of the industry's recovery effort following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which destroyed an estimated $610 million worth of standing timber in Alabama. Shortly after Ivan made landfall on September 16, 2004, Gov. Bob Riley created the Alabama Forest Recovery Task Force to oversee the recovery effort. Headed by AFA leader David Helm of International Paper, the task force exceeded all recovery goals except for hardwood sawtimber, which was mostly confined to river bottoms and impossible to get to early in the recovery effort because of high water. Still, some 41 percent of the salvageable timber was recovered. By comparison, the recovery effort following Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina salvaged 14 percent of the downed timber from that storm in 1989. The Alabama effort was viewed as a great success and used as a model by other states hit hardest by the big storms of 2005, including Hurricane Katrina.
The Educational Outreach Department and Communications Department work together to inform the public about forestry issues and educate the public about active, sustainable forest management practices. The AFA regularly communicates with its members via an electronic newsletter, AFA Newsroom, and its quarterly magazine, Alabama Forests. The Educational Outreach Department works directly with Alabama teachers and student groups to provide information and teaching materials about forestry. The AFA also works with allied organizations, including the American Tree Farm System and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, to provide information and hands-on assistance to landowners to help them manage their forestland.
Alabama's forest industry produced an estimated $15.6 billion worth of products in 2005. Of this total, $7.9 billion came from 8.7 million tons of pulp and 7.6 million tons of paper products. Lumber and other wood products brought in $5.2 billion, and $2.5 billion derived from furniture and other secondary wood products. Forestry in Alabama directly employs approximately 59,000 people, with an annual payroll in 2005 of approximately $2.3 billion. An additional estimated 129,000 more Alabamians are indirectly dependent on forestry for their employment. Almost 10 percent of Alabama's work force is directly or indirectly employed by the forest industry. The value of forest products exported in 2005 was $983 million, representing almost 10 percent of all Alabama exports. Canada is Alabama's largest customer for forest products, followed by Japan, Mexico, and the Netherlands. The forest industry has also been the state's largest consistent source of new investment. During the 10-year period ending in 2005, the forest industry invested $5.9 billion in new plants, expansions, and modernizations. Investments during 2005 alone totaled $631 million.
AFA is also involved in community development and fundraising. It provides support for Children's Hospital in Birmingham and Children's and Women's Hospital in Mobile through its Log a Load for Kids charity, established in 1992. As of 2009 the forestry community has raised almost $6 million for the two hospitals to help sick, injured, and abused children. The Log a Load program is jointly sponsored by the Alabama Forestry Association and the Alabama Loggers Council.