Monday, May 23, 2011

Timber and Paper Industries Have Fueled Growth of Southern Forests, Government Study Says

If you think timber operations and paper mills cause deforestation, consider this finding from a new U.S. Forest Service study of Southern forests: “Strong timber markets encourage retaining forests rather than converting them to other land uses.”

“Strong timber markets have encouraged forest landowners to keep their forests and forest cover rather than convert them to other uses. Our forecast suggests that the strongest timber markets lead to the least forest losses,” David Wear, a Forest Service economist, said last week at a press conference announcing the findings of the Southern Forest Futures Project. Wear co-led the team of 40 scientists and analysts that produced the report.

“The South’s timber harvesting expanded faster than the Nation’s from the 1950s to 1990s” because of "a technology-driven shift toward outdoor use of treated southern pine lumber,” growth in paper manufacturing, and restrictions on harvesting from public lands in the West, the report says.

The states of the former Confederacy produce 60% of the nation’s timber harvest, according to the report. If the South were considered a separate country (as a few old fellas still insist), it would be the largest timber producer in the world.

“From the 1960s to the 1990s, the period in which timber harvesting more than doubled, the biomass in southern forests also grew steadily, reflecting high growth rates,” according to the report. The increase in biomass has slowed in recent years as timber harvesting declined slightly.

“Under most futures [scenarios] considered, the carbon fixed in the South’s forests and their soils reaches a maximum between 2020 and 2030 and then declines through 2060. Futures with stronger timber markets yield somewhat more carbon but fail to completely offset the carbon losses dominated by land use changes.”

Those “land-use changes” mostly have to do with the effects of spreading urbanization. Home building causes deforestation not so much from the trees cut to make 2-by-4s as from the trees cleared to make way for new developments.

“Our results indicate that urbanization affects forest area but can be offset by market futures that place higher values on forest uses. This logic extends to any other source of forest values, including payments for nontimber forest products and crucial ecosystem services. Often cited examples are watershed protection, sequestration of atmospheric carbon, and habitat protection.”

There’s also a downside to strong timber markets: “Forest landowners have shown a strong propensity to convert naturally regenerated forests to planted pines after harvesting, especially in the Coastal Plain, an investment response that is strongly linked to the condition of forest product markets.”

Often referred to as tree plantations, land dedicated to planted pines constitutes 19% of Southern forests, a number that will rise to 24% to 36% by 2060, the report predicts. Wood-based bio-energy is more likely to cause the kind of demand leading to additional planted pine than are traditional timber and paper production, it adds.

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Jay Perdue said...

Thanks so much for this post. We've been working with forest products companies for years in an effort to tell this story. Check out our sites: and

Let me know if you ever need stats or other help in spreading the word.

Papyrus said...

This new report is worth reading and deserves discussion by all stakeholders. However, IP and its marketing campaigns cited in the comment above are not a credible source. They have a strong financial interest, hence the slick, big budget marketing. I think we all lose when we frame our three choices as either "development" or "tree-farming like International Paper" or "hug the trees and draw a line around them." Those aren't our only choices. We can support truly responsible forest management and markets for high-value forest products and ecosystem services of forests, without having to buy into IP's vision of industrialized forestry, which includes things like plantations, heavy herbicide/pesticide use and genetically engineered tree species introduction. There's lots of reason someone might use paper, and there's a reasonable conversation about how market pressures impact forestland. We need more honest dialogue about that. But the spin on this by some in the paper industry framing it as savior of southern forests is the same old manipulating numbers, confusing trees with forests, and ignoring facts such as that its practices are cited in the report for extirpating some 300 species from the coastal plain. Let's get real and drop the marketing and spin if we are going to work in collaboration to find solutions and truly keep more land in natural forests in the southern United States