The Southeastern United States is home to many things, including a unique heritage and culture, sweet iced tea, and very serious college football. Recently it has also become home to a new type of controversy involving trees rather than pigskin. A type of wood mill called a chip mill has made its presence felt in this region, emerging in over 100 locations since the mid-1980s. These chip mills have elicited a great deal of attention. States such as North Carolina, Virginia, and Missouri have called for studies of their impacts. Federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service have conducted Environmental Impact Statements on them, and have found that they produce significant negative impacts on the environment. They have elicited environmental activism rarely seen in the southeast. Forest industry groups have defended them. They are the center of controversy, yet so many aspects of their operation are unknown, it is sometimes difficult to draw even rudimentary conclusions about their positive or negative qualities.
This paper cannot hope to address all of the unanswered questions concerning these mills. However, it does attempt to address public policy questions that arise from their growing proliferation. The first section, chapters 2 and 3, discusses what chip mills are, why they have provoked such controversy, and how they challenge policy decision-making. Chapter 4 elaborates on the unique situation that they present due to the prevalence of privately-owned forestland found in the southeast. Chapter 5 attempts to answer the question, 'Why do chip mills locate where they do?'. The answer to this question is a very complicated one, involving information difficult to grasp. Therefore, the chapter instead focuses on one aspect of that overarching question, and that is, 'What is it that distinguishes counties with chip mills from those without?'. The state of South Carolina is used for this case study. There are two general theories as to why chip mills locate. One theory holds that they are attracted simply by the availability of wood, mainly because of development that creates a market for all types of wood and wood by-products. Another theory states that chip mills locate where there is an availability of wood and a correspondingly low level by political awareness of local residents. This low level of political action makes it unlikely that there will be opposition to the mill placement. The comparison of South Carolina counties illustrates some interesting results that seem to lend support to both divergent hypotheses of the reasons chip mills locate. The concluding chapter offers some recommendations as to how it may be possible to protect the ecological status of the southeast's forests, while still maintaining supply to meet demand.