What Responsible Forestry Means for Family Landowners

What does it mean to manage your forest responsibly, especially if you’re a private landowner managing a relatively small acreage? For one thing, it means making sure your land will retain its beauty and integrity for future generations. That legacy is a key goal for many people, especially when their land has been passed down over multiple generations. Responsible forestry means having a long-term plan that protects the ecology of your private forests, generates income and replenishes tree growth on an ongoing basis. 

Over half the working forests in the United States are owned and managed by roughly 10 million families and individuals, contributing to the greater good in the form of clean water, wildlife habitat and stable jobs. International Paper Company spoke to landowner Albert Shaw of Bladen County, North Carolina to illuminate one example of what sustainable practices look like on a smaller scale.

“For me, responsible forestry is being sustainable, which is what I practice on my acreage, Wild Wood Farms,” Shaw says. “Some tactics we use are large stream borders, controlled burns, wildlife food plots and maintaining diversity within my wood lots. I have 19 wood lots on the farm, and by rotating around the acreage, replanting after the harvest and strategically sectioning lots from cutting, I maintain a diverse habitat. Harvesting timber in a responsible manner only improves the environment – young trees actually sequester more carbon than old ones.”

“This land has been in my family for 220 years. I love nature and by practicing responsible forestry, I enhance the land and produce an environmentally friendly product at the same time.”

“Protecting wildlife is also very important to me, and I have worked with organizations to improve bobwhite habitats, and protect the endangered Ramshorn snail. My forest land has three certifications: FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®), SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), and ATFS (American Tree Farm System). Both require that you engage in responsible forestry and there are a lot of benefits that come with them.”

There are many landowners like Shaw around the country, and many more who aspire to manage their lands at a similar level. Figuring out how to get started may sound intimidating, but most states (and many national organizations) offer resources and guidance to get you there. Look for the Small Forest Landowner Office in your state, and check out the Forest Stewardship Council’s Family Forests Program, which offers low cost group certification programs so you can enjoy the economic benefits of responsible land ownership.

Want to Lower Your Carbon Footprint? Use More Wood

Across the world, demand for wood is through the roof. Lumber, biomass and paper products are just a few forest products flying off production lines right now, putting pressure on timberlands and mills to produce a steady flow of this popular resource. On the surface, that might sound like a bad thing. Doesn’t it mean we need to cut down too many trees? Actually, no – as long as forests are sustainably managed. 

Wood is a sustainable and renewable resource, and new breakthroughs in science and technology are allowing us to use it in all kinds of spectacular ways, not the least of which is high rise construction. Manufactured forms of timber like CLT are proving to be as strong and durable as steel and concrete, giving it the potential to dramatically transform what urban architecture looks like.

As The New York Times recently reported, more and more developers are turning to wood, partially for its versatility and partially due to concerns about climate change. Demand for CLT is so high, the number of construction projects using it is projected to double annually to reach more than 24,000 by 2034. CLT makes use of trees that are 12 inches or less in diameter, which happens to align perfectly with recommendations for forest thinning to reduce wildfires. (A recent study found that Eastern White Pine is ideal for use in CLT!)

While steel and cement generate massive shares of greenhouse gases during every phase of their production, wood stores carbon by absorbing it from the atmosphere, offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases. That’s true both in the form of growing forests and even in finished wooden structures and products. In fact, wood products continue to store much of this carbon indefinitely, keeping it out of the atmosphere for the lifetime of the structure. And when the life cycle of a wooden building is complete, its components can be recycled into new objects to keep that carbon locked away.

The American Wood Council explains a little more about carbon storage in working forests:

“When a tree is harvested, some of the carbon stays in the forest and some is removed in the logs. Some carbon is released when the forest soil is disturbed during harvest, and as the roots, branches and leaves left behind begin to decompose. However, once the harvested area is regenerated, the forest once again begins to absorb and store carbon.”

“According to The State of America’s Forests report, less than 2 percent of the standing tree inventory in the U.S. is harvested each year while net tree growth is close to 3 percent. In Canada, less than 1 percent of the managed forest is harvested annually and the law requires regeneration. In both countries, responsible forest management has resulted in more than 50 consecutive years of forest growth that exceeds annual forest removals. As a result of these trends, forests in both countries have sequestered fairly high levels of carbon in recent decades.”

On top of all that, wood is an excellent insulator that can help improve energy efficiency – and people just love it. 

Worried about the potential for fire danger in high rise wood buildings? Read on:


Learn more about how demand for forest products actually helps keep more land forested:


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:


Eastern White Pines Making a Comeback in Iowa

Iowa is bringing pines back. Eastern White Pines, that is. Once a “dominant species” in the state’s Driftless area, a region characterized by steep forested ridges and deep river valleys, Eastern White Pines have grown increasingly rare in recent decades. Now, they’re being targeted for a comeback by a collaborative team of county, state and federal agencies.

As Iowa DNR Forestry Program Specialist Aron Flickinger explains, the trees have suffered from human activity, including fire suppression, allowing other species like maples and ash to grow in their place.

“As we’ve settled the land and removed fire from the landscape, these fire-friendly species have had a hard time competing,” he said. “It needs disturbance and sunlight to start. When there isn’t a harvest or some other disturbance, they can’t begin to grow.”

Most of the Eastern White Pines left in Iowa are concentrated in the White Pine Hollow State Preserve and some areas around it. The local ecotype of the species has grown in the Driftless area for centuries, and it’s well adapted to the conditions. So the state DNR, the USDA, the Iowa Native Plant Society and the Iowa Woodland Owners have joined Whitetails Unlimited to collect sees from the remaining trees and cultivate them. The seeds will also go to the state forestry nursery so seedlings can be made available to agencies and the public.

The process won’t exactly be simple. Believe it or not, the DNR team is using slingshots to overcome their biggest hurdle: the fact that the cones disperse their seeds to the wind before they fall 100 feet to the ground. According to the Iowa Telegraph Herald, that will involve launching a line with a weight on one end over a small cone-bearing branch (as pictured up top in an image by Dubuque County Conservation.)

“Once the weight gets over a branch and the weight gets down, you affix this saw chain to it, and bring it over the branch and run it back and forth,” said the research station’s Jeff Carstens.

Happy National Forest Products Week!

In the United States, our forests hold so much value, tangible and intangible. They’re beacons of biodiversity, brimming with life. They give us oxygen, help clean our water, boost soil health, grow food, store carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming, help regulate temperatures, offer beauty and recreation, and help support the livelihoods of at least 1 million families. They also provide us with renewable and often recyclable essentials like lumber and paper. 

This week, the U.S. celebrates everything forests have to offer with National Forest Products Week. The White House gave this designation to the third week of October (18-24, 2020) to recognize the value of what forests produce and commit to conservation practices that help responsibly manage them all over the country. 

So, in the spirit of National Forest Products Week, we’re revisiting some of our posts about the value of forests, and the importance of caring for them with future generations in mind.

There are more trees in the U.S. than there were 100 years ago

From a report by the North American Forest Commission:

  • After two centuries of decline, the area of US forestland stabilized in about 1920 and has since increased slightly. The forest area of the US is about two-thirds what it was in 1600.
  • The area consumed by wildfire each year has fallen 90 percent; it was between eight and twenty million hectares (20-50 million acres) in the early 1900s and is between one and two million hectares (2-5 million acres) today.
  • Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997 forest growth exceeded harvest by 42 percent and the volume of forest growth was 380 percent greater than it had been in 1920.
  • Nationally, the average standing wood volume per acre in US forests is about one-third greater today than in 1952; in the East, average volume per acre has almost doubled. About three-quarters of the volume increase is in broad leaved or deciduous trees.
  • Populations of many wildlife species have increased dramatically since 1900. But some species, especially some having specialized habitat conditions, remain the cause for concern.
  • Tree planting on all forestland rose dramatically after World War II, reaching record levels in the 1980s. Many private forestlands are now actively managed for tree growing and other values and uses.
  • Recreational use on national forests and other public and private forest lands has increased manyfold .
  • American society in the 20th century has changed from rural and agrarian to urban and industrialized. This has caused a shift in the mix of uses and values the public seeks from its forests (particularly its pubic forests). Increased demands for recreation and protection of biodiversity are driving forest management. This has caused timber harvest from federal lands to decline by more than 60 percent since 1990. In spite of this shift, today’s urbanized nation is also placing record demands on its forests for timber production.

Working forests can help slow the pace of climate change

“ According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sustainably managed forests have the potential to absorb one-tenth of the projected global carbon emissions during the first half of the 21st century. Maintaining the forests needed to combat climate change could help make up for weak global emissions reduction targets.”


Cutting down trees isn’t (always) a bad thing

“The perception that cutting down trees is always bad just isn’t true. In fact, when properly managed, the process of growing and harvesting trees is an important part of a sustainable future for humans, wildlife and the environment. The most important reason for this is very simple: trees are a renewable resource, and provide essential raw material for thousands of products, including wood, paper and even lumber byproducts that can be burned for energy.”


Sustainable forestry is diversifying the economy in rural areas

“Sustainable forestry is helping to create and preserve jobs and diversify economies in rural communities that have been hit hard by the recession, or have a high concentration of poverty. In forested areas all over the nation, tax credits combined with 21st-century methods of harvesting, moving and processing timber are improving the quality of life for local residents.”


Modern forestry techniques help boost carbon storage in forests

“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.”


What makes Eastern White Pine a better choice than plantation-grown pine

“Growing among hardwoods in mixed forests, white pine trees are allowed to reach an age of 80 to 100 years before they’re cut down, making them an important part of these forest ecosystems. In contrast, other types of pine, including radiata, are planted on single-species pine plantations.”


The role of working forests in protecting wildlife

“Forestry companies are increasingly integrating conservation work into their operations, hiring wildlife biologists and other specialists, and working with government and non-profit organizations to protect and increase biodiversity.”


Top image by Maurice Huang, Flickr Creative Commons v 2.0

The Role of Working Forests in Protecting Wildlife

You might think of a “working forest” as a forest where timber is being actively managed and harvested, and that’s usually true. But these days, a lot more goes into forest management than just growing and cutting down trees. Forestry companies are increasingly integrating conservation work into their operations, hiring wildlife biologists and other specialists, and working with government and non-profit organizations to protect and increase biodiversity.

In the United States, maintaining certification from entities like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) requires companies in the forest products industry to meet stringent standards for protecting fish, wildlife, clean air and clean water. Active forest management backed by this kind of third-party certification is a proven conservation tool, and maintaining working relationships between business interests and conservationists is critical for the health of our forests.

The Wildlife Society, an international organization working to create a better future for wildlife and their habitats, has written about the importance of these collaborations, and their success in protecting habitat for birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and other creatures that live in these environments.

“For the past century, forest cover has remained stable in the United States —thanks largely to private landowners. About 180 million hectares — 58% of the nation’s forests — are in private hands (Oswalt, et al. 2014). Income from forest management helps forestall conversion to other uses, allowing landowners to keep the land forested (National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry 2005) while providing conservation benefits. These working forests are vital for the conservation of biological diversity, including at-risk and listed species, including 60% of species listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

Private landowners ranging from huge multi-national companies to individuals are collaborating under an approach called “Conservation Without Conflict,” building trust between the public and private sectors and making a commitment to conservation in working forests. A new partnership established by the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) called the Wildlife Conservation Initiative (WCI) is dedicated to finding innovative science-based solutions that benefit everyone involved.

“There are examples of success from such collaborations. The first example — a 1,505-hectare conservation easement on property managed by Resource Management Service, LLC (RMS) — is a step toward the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service goal of conserving 3.2 million hectares of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) by 2025. This easement will benefit multiple species adapted to open pine forest conditions such as the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi ). As another example, the Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) has recently been delisted due in large part to a public-private collaboration.”

“Conservation Without Conflict and WCI are interrelated, collaborative efforts, much like past efforts that have successfully conserved at-risk and recovered species, including the Louisiana black bear, which was delisted thanks to partner-ships to create forest corridors on private lands connecting critical areas… This success means that we all win — the private forest community, natural resource professionals, the public that uses and enjoys our wildlife resources and, of course, the diverse wildlife communities that call forests home.”

Read the whole Wildlife Society report here (PDF).

Image of the endangered New England Cottontail Rabbit via Wikimedia Commons