With our planet's global population logging somewhere between 3 and 6 billion trees each year — to be turned into lumber, paper, cardboard, charcoal, fuel and a wide variety of other products — it is wise to determine how we can design the sustainable forest.
I am pleased to note that we are in fact well on our way to doing so.
One of the first items to consider is where forests are or may be located. It’s obviously much more advantageous if a forest is near its consumers than if it is remote. After all, that would reduce all of the attendant transportation costs associated with the natural resource. That is why you will find many of the most significant timber and paper processing plants situated within sizable forests that are not too far from major metropolitan areas or major transportation hubs.
Next, it helps to have a large diverse forest, rather than a small monocultural one. Great size enables sequential harvesting of selected areas, allowing sufficient time for regrowth and regeneration prior to the next round of harvesting. A diverse range of tree species — from birch to aspen, pine, maple and spruce— allows for a number of benefits. Each species can make the most of its own particular ecological and locational niche, required nutrients, and growth habits. Each can also harbor forest creatures, and offer resistance to wholesale devastation by weather vagaries or pests. Furthermore, each can contribute its own prized qualities to the eventual wood, paper products and fuels desired by consumers.
One must also carefully manage one’s forest. The majority of the forests of the United States are privately held. Many of them are regularly harvested, providing their owners with incomes better than from competing land uses. The well-managed rapid growth of new trees provides our nation with a rapidly renewable resource and fuel source. We further benefit, for every forest tree that grows sequesters carbon, removing it from the cycle that contributes to global climate change. And, since roughly two-thirds of all paper used in America today will be recycled — a better recycling rate than that of glass, aluminum or plastic — that carbon will remain sequestered for quite some time to come.
Careful forest management includes low-impact logging or harvesting. Often a patch of forest will be ‘thinned’ rather than ‘clear-cut’, meaning that only certain selected trees will be harvested, leaving remaining trees to continue growing. This minimizes erosion, as the remaining trees anchor the topsoil, and it further lessens any adverse impact on the habitats of forest creatures. Newer, gentler harvesting machines, like the feller-buncher, can effectively pluck individual trees, while treading gently on the land. Wide ‘skipper’ tires and harvest roads cushioned with treetop cuttings (which are thence crushed into mulched ground cover) preserve the original terrain and drainage patterns.
Wise forestry also wastes nothing. The stems and leaves and bark that make up much of a tree’s crown will be chipped to create biomass fuel, often powering the forest harvester’s or paper mill’s own equipment. Those sections of upper trunks that are heavily branched — called ‘bolts’ — are typically converted to pulp for paper and paperboard making. Trunk sections below about a foot diameter are sawn into logs for production into middle grade lumber and such uses as pallet making. High quality large diameter logs that come from the base butt of trees are most often directed toward trim wood and furniture making. Tree stumps are most often left to continue stabilizing the soil. In certain species, new tree growth may sprout from the stump or its primary roots.
Our forestry efforts have proven their worth over time. Today, there are more forests across America than there were in the 1950s. Forest growth has exceeded our harvesting for the past 70 years. And we have the majestic beauty of such Edens as Muir Woods, Yosemite, Klamath, Tongass, Gallatin, Olympic, Bitterroot, Pisgah, Tahoe and Medicine Bow for all of us to enjoy. And let’s not forget the squirrels, rabbits, deer, martens, chipmunks, moose, trout, grouse and songbirds with which we share those forests and streams.