Negative statements about paper and printing are everywhere. You see them on the bottom of emails, websites and billing statements. Just remember, often times these messages are more fiction than fact. Read on to discover seven truths about forests and paper in North America.
All forests are managed, either by Mother Nature or by humans, so the true value comes from having healthy forests.
Taking an active role in management can improve the health and well-being of the forest by mitigating conditions that make the forest more susceptible to damage from fire, insects or disease. Because forests live for a long time, we begin by working with landowners to analyse each specific tract of land, creating a plan based on tree species, age classes, density and the other factors that make it unique.
If the timber is young and prolific, we might use thinning techniques to promote tree growth and biodiversity. If trees are large and mature, a more intensive prescription might be appropriate. This would encourage young growth and new food sources for wildlife. These management plans result in better soil and water quality, protect biodiversity, preserve areas of historic or religious significance and increase recreation opportunities. By balancing the ecological, social and financial benefits, we ensure our own health along with the forests under our watch. It's all explained in the video below.
In some ways, trees can be considered much like other crops. They are established, tended to and when they reach maturity, harvested.
And of course, they grow back, in most cases through natural re-seeding and regeneration. But in other ways, forests are much more complex than crops like corn or cotton. For instance, working forests have a high level of biodiversity in terms of age classifications, animal populations and vegetation species. Food crops tend to be monocultures that do not allow access for recreation. And unless a farmer is using organic farming techniques, there are much higher levels of herbicides and pesticides applied to conventional crops than trees, which usually flourish on their own.
Deforestation means converting a forest from timberland to another use such as agriculture, ranching or urban sprawl.
Many people believe paper companies participate in deforestation, but we stay in business by sustaining forests! We rely on harvesting techniques designed to minimise impacts to forests, such as water, wildlife and soils. By ‘thinning’, for instance, we enable residual trees to get more sunlight so they can grow to their full potential. Or we create a canopy opening to encourage species diversity, which also provides animals with adequate food.
These techniques allow the trees to constantly regenerate, ensuring forests remain healthy and much less susceptible to destructive fires, diseases or insects. But, since harvesting also yields more valuable forests by promoting higher fibre yield or the growth of high-value species, people have questioned our motives. With the advent of forest certification, third-party verification ensures that we apply sustainable management practices that promote the long-term vitality of the forest while boosting local economies.
First, let’s start with the trees we do NOT use. We do not cut down rare and slow-growing species like Giant Sequoia or Coastal Redwood, or harvest trees in national parks like Yellowstone in Montana or Kruger in South Africa.
Instead, we use trees that are enormously abundant in the area in which we harvest. Also, by focusing on thinning the population of pioneer species like Aspen and Birch, which grow rapidly but do not live long, we can promote biodiversity by giving other species a chance to take root.
For instance, in Minnesota where our Cloquet Mill is located, Aspen is the most common tree in the state and is therefore the most harvested tree. In Maine, home to our Somerset Mill, Spruce / Fir and northern hardwoods like Maple and Birch dominate the landscape and are therefore harvested more than other species.
Using a variety of sources not only ensures that no particular species is over-harvested but also plays an important part in paper manufacturing. Paper is incredibly strong for how thin it is, and that’s because of the long fibres from softwood trees like Spruce, Fir and Pine. But softwood fibres have a rugged feel to them, so they are mixed with the short fibres of hardwood trees to give paper that smooth finish perfect for print.
People see a clear-cut and think they are viewing the death of a forest. But that open land, though not pretty, actually signifies a re-birth for the trees.
That is because tree growth is essentially sunlight driven. A heavy harvest actually gives important pioneer species like Aspen and Birch the direct sunlight they need to be their most vigorous and effective.
Furthermore, the direct sunlight on the soil provides the necessary heat to germinate the new seeds that were dropped and buried during harvest. And the trees are not the only benefactors of this harvesting technique. The disturbed site is ideal to grow rich vegetation. And for a number of animal species this growth is an important food source.
Since mature forests have so much biomass, they store more carbon than young forests. But because young trees use carbon to grow, they capture more carbon, which they convert into their trunks, leaves and branches.
“It’s the young trees and forests that are most efficient in taking up carbon”, writes John Helms, Phd, professor emeritus of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley. He adds, “young trees’ uptake of carbon dioxide greatly exceeds the loss due to respiration.”
Furthermore, products made from wood continue to hold on to their carbon until that product decomposes or is incinerated. This means the bookshelves and books in your library are storing carbon and therefore not releasing it into the atmosphere.
Private landowners keep their land forested because, for many of them, trees are a renewable source of income.
By providing a market for wood, the forest products industry gives forest owners an incentive to keep forestland forested, as opposed to converting it to other uses that provide few or no carbon benefits. If we stop using paper the economic advantage of forested land will disappear, forcing landowners to make a living by selling off their holdings to developers who will replace trees with housing development, shopping malls and other commercial uses.