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How Sustainable Forestry Can Help Consumers and The Planet

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There are many people who, when they first hear the word “forestry” conjure images in their minds of chain saws decimating trees and destroying whole forests. But, when we as consumers purchase products made from sustainably managed forests, we are actually contributing to the health of the planet.

Everyone on earth in some way depends on the biomass from forests to live their lives, and it is the practice of sustainable forest management that will ensure the health of forest resources around the world for generations to come. When value is placed on the timber grown on the land, sustainable management plans are put in place and often regulated by oversight organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Strategic Forestry Initiative (SFI), The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and many other locally established organizations established to assure consumers of the timber’s sustainability credentials.
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Timber, both evergreens and broadleaf trees, are managed around the world as an agricultural crop, albeit slower growing than corn or wheat.

When one sees photographs of rainforests burning around the world, this represents an alternate use of that timberland for agricultural re-use rather than for the valuing of the trees grown on the land.

Responsible and sustainable forestry go hand in hand. Sustainable forest management has a core value, which is achieving balance in the forest ecosystem. This plan assures that the business of timber and the preservation and enhancement of wildlife ecosystem biodiversity are always top of mind. Ideally, forest management should imitate nature in terms of disturbance and regeneration.

It may sound counterintuitive to say this, but using more, not fewer, of the products derived from trees will assure the long-term health of the forest resource around the world. A tree has but one actual job in the biosphere and that is to absorb carbon, while giving humans back precious oxygen. Young trees are aggressive carbon absorbing machines and as they mature, they begin to slow down their absorption and will begin to slowly leach their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Fully half the weight of dry lumber in use is stored carbon, captured forever. It is through sustainable forest management protocols that the cycle of harvest and replanting where necessary is maintained in a balanced way. In some cases, clear cutting and replanting is the best management practice. In the case of broadleaf trees, the best practice is to selectively harvest the mature trees, thus opening the forest canopy to allow sunlight and rain to reach the forest floor, encouraging the growth of the young saplings found there.
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History has shown the human race to have been less than responsible regarding the sustainable management of our forests.

In fairness to our forebearers, they needed timber for every part of their lives and had not yet learned the science of sustainable forestry. Over the past 200 years, we as a society have come to understand the value of making sure that our forest resources are available for many generations to come.

As a consumer, you can do your part to help the health of the planet by using wood products in your built environments and taking comfort in its sustainability by looking for the FSC, SFI and PEFC logos. Remember that the ratio of harvest versus replanting is currently two to one. In well managed forests, every tree harvested is replaced by two. At that rate, even with some natural tree mortality, this ratio represents a model of sustainability for many generations into the future.

Criswell Davis is a leading expert in American hardwoods and is president at Mighty Oaks Consulting. Criswell is currently delivering our CEU training programme - which he also helped to develop - to architects across North America.

Criswell Davis

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