Forest Products Can Help Tackle Both Disease and Climate Change

Image via WFPA

The coronavirus pandemic has made a few things abundantly clear. Chief among them is the fact that we need forests – and forest products – more than ever.

The loss of forests around the world is linked to the spread of zoonotic diseases, or illnesses that spread from animals to people. As global temperatures warm, disease vectors like mosquitos and ticks are pushed into new, more human-populated habitats, and milder winders are changing the seasonal patterns of disease transmission. Forests are the key to combating climate change, and ultimately reducing the prevalence of new infectious diseases.

In recognizing that we need forests to help offset carbon emissions and regulate global temperatures, we also need to acknowledge the role working forests play in maintaining healthy forests around the world. Actively managing forests in a healthy, sustainable way doesn’t result in environmental destruction. The opposite is true. 

Sustainably managed forests actually contribute to healthy ecosystems while helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Setting some forests aside solely for recreation and wildlife preserves is an important part of the equation, but commercial forests encourage landowners large and small to keep land forested instead of converting it to development or agricultural use.

Plus, gaining certification from third-party organizations like the Sustainable Forestry Institute requires meeting a stringent set of requirements that include maintaining forest productivity and health while protecting water quality, biological diversity and special sites.

Forests could also supply us with the hygiene products we need to combat pandemics without producing a literal sea of plastic waste. While reusable products can sometimes be more desirable to reduce waste, sometimes single-use products are necessary for safety reasons. Shifting to renewable, affordable paper- and wood-based products instead of non-biodegradable plastics could substantially reduce pollution while meeting these needs.

Learn more about how working forests help preserve the environment and fight climate change:

The Adventures of a Canadian Eastern White Pine Born in 1867

eastern white pine ontario

Now 150 years old and 120 feet high, one Eastern White Pine in what is now Gillies Grove in Ontario stands in a grove of its brethren, representing the tallest white pines in the nation. In a profile on Inside Ottawa Valley, conservation biologist Brenda Van Sleeuwen of the Nature Conservancy of Canada explains just what this tree had to overcome in order to make it this far. Up there, the Eastern White Pine is moving in the opposite direction of those in the United States – south – in response to climate change, which could change this particular tree’s luck but help the species overall survive.

From the piece by Derek Dunn, printed in the Arnprior Chronicle-Guide:

Our white pine’s recent relatives, at the turn of the 19th century, fought for Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. Their long, straight trunks made a fleet of formidable masts to brave the ocean winds on behalf of Admiral Horatio Nelson. Their children, or pine’s parents, enjoyed a more peaceful if less purposeful life. They would travel on the newly invented railway system to furniture stores, largely in eastern cities of the United States. Our pine was too small for the Royal Navy and too large for holiday festivities.

Sound familiar? The Eastern White Pine here in the U.S. had a similar brush with the British Royal Navy, playing a key role in events that led to the Revolutionary War and American Independence from England. Its tall trunks – reaching up to 240 feet – were highly desirable as ship’s masts, and in fact, colonists were so enamored with it, they nearly wiped it out. Thankfully, conservation measures and sustainable forestry have brought back many an evergreen forest full of these towering beauties.

Could the southward movement of the Eastern White Pine from Canada and the northward movement in the United States result in an even higher concentration of the species in Northeastern states like Maine and Vermont? Quite possibly – only time will tell.

Image of an Eastern White Pine in Ontario via Wikimedia Commons

Sophisticated Forestry Techniques Increase Carbon Storage Capacity – And Value – of Forests

eastern white pine maine

A series of sophisticated modern forestry techniques effectively mimic the state of old-growth forest habitats to boost their carbon absorption rates, helping to mitigate climate change and increasing their monetary value. That doesn’t mean these conventional timberlands aren’t still growing and harvesting trees for sale as logs – they’re just growing faster. The techniques harvest timber in a way that mimics natural disturbances of old forests, like wind storms, releasing the crowns of large older trees by cutting less vigorous trees around them.

That gives those older trees lots of sunlight so they grow new wood and leaves faster than usual, and in turn, store more carbon dioxide so it isn’t released into the atmosphere. The ‘structural complexity enhancement’ technique, or SCE, shows dramatically higher levels of carbon storage than conventional ‘single-tree’ and ‘group’ harvest selection techniques – and they increase biodiversity, too.

This approach keeps more carbon on-site, even when accounting for the life cycle of carbon in wood products. The carbon storage factor could prove to be profitable for landowners who not only manage forests to sell logs, but could also earn money in the ‘carbon markets’ that have been sprouting up around the United States and the world.

The study, carried out over two decades on northern hardwood and mixed hardwood-conifer forest plots on the side of Mount Mansfield in northern Vermont, was published in the journal Ecosphere on April 6th, 2017.

“We were very surprised that the growth rate of trees in the structural complexity areas exceeded the areas with conventional treatments,” says University of Vermont forest ecologist Bill Keeton, who co-led the study. “This overturns previous dogma that more heavily thinned areas would have faster growth that would sequester carbon more rapidly than old trees.”

The Fresh Scent of Eastern White Pine Trees Can Help Cool the Climate

pine needles

You may already know that the Eastern White Pine tree plays a crucial role in helping to combat climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, in its trunk. But would you ever have guessed that the very same compounds in the tree that we associate with its fresh green scent can help cool the climate, too? Researchers have made an interesting discovery that puts the invigorating scent of pine in a whole new light.

A study conducted by the University of Washington found that the gas released by coniferous trees, including Pinus strobus, creates particles that promote cloud formation and reflect sunlight, effectively cooling the local region. The particles released by pine trees, which range in size between 1 and 100 nanometers, can be large enough to seed clouds, creating shade and encouraging rainfall.

That’s a huge benefit in an age when impending climate change effects are expected to result in extended periods of drought. The levels of these scented compounds in the air is expected to increase as global temperatures go up, researchers say.

“It’s thought that as the Earth warms there will be more of these vapors emitted, and some fraction of them will be converted to particles which can potentially shade the Earth’s surface,” says Joel Thornton, one of the study authors. “How effective that is at temperature regulation is still very much an open question.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

How Can Timber Help Combat Climate Change? Case Study Confirms Benefits

michael green

The immediate sustainability benefits of timber compared to steel and concrete, the two other widest-used building materials, are pretty obvious. Most people are already aware that wood is the only one of the three that’s renewable, and that it’s able to trap literal tons of carbon from the atmosphere, absorbing it for the duration of its lifetime so it doesn’t accumulate in the atmosphere. When it’s time for it to be replaced, wood can be reused in all sorts of creative ways, including reclamation as floorboards and furniture, before it is finally burned as fuel. And finally, timber requires far less energy in its extraction and recycling processes than steel and concrete. But for a long time, strict limits on the height of wooden buildings has kept timber from meeting its full potential.

That could all change very soon as wooden skyscrapers get green lights around the world, and studies are enacted to confirm even more benefits to using timber as a primary building material. One example is a recent life-cycle analysis on how timber can help combat climate change through the construction of compact wooden cities sourced from well-managed sustainable forests. Forest management in the European Union is leading the way to show it’s possible to produce more forest than what’s being harvested, and an integrated modern operation using today’s advanced timber technology can ensure that the benefits of carbon absorption outweigh any hazards of over-harvesting.


An article by Eduardo Wiegand on ArchDaily goes into the details, explaining how incentivizing the use of timber in construction could catch on and lead to a sustainable architecture revolution of sorts. “It is a fact that dense cities are significantly more sustainable than sprawling cities; therefore one path to more sustainable forms of living might be the planning and regulation of compact wooden cities,” says Wiegand.

“…the challenges of global warming and emissions of CO2 could be solved partially though the densification of cities using timber as the primary material of construction. In order to achieve this, structural systems and timber-based products must continue to develop, and the forestry industry should be prepared to respond to a higher demand for wood in the future, which can be achieved by increasing the productivity and efficiency of the extraction of this renewable resource.”

Read more at ArchDaily.

Pictured: Michael Green Architecture’s entry to the Reinvented Paris Competition and Sou Fujimoto + Laisne Roussel’s proposal for a tall wooden building in Bordeaux

Forest Facts: Sustainably Forestry Benefits in Infographic Form


Sustainable forestry pays off, not just in slowing climate change and restoring ecosystems, but by creating jobs and wealth around the world. 1.3 billion people depend on forests for employment, financial benefits and the wood products they produce, and forested watersheds and wetlands supply a whopping 75% of the world’s accessible freshwater while acting as natural air filters. These two infographics from the World Bank sum up these and other benefits to sustainable, responsible forest management, explaining why it’s so crucial.

forestry infographic 1

For example, did you know that carbon emissions from land clearing outweigh those of the entire global transport sector? Sustainable forestry gives landowners a strong financial incentive to continuously replant their land and practice other techniques that maintain vital tracts of wooded land that might otherwise be sold and cleared for development.

sustainable forestry infographic 2

Standing forests absorb greenhouse gases and also build more resilient landscapes by regulating water flow, improving soil, protecting coastal communities from extreme weather events and providing migratory corridors for plant and animal species. has a rundown on how sustainable forestry can be a crucial part of a billion-dollar carbon removal industry.

Top photo: Wikimedia Commons