Our nation’s forests play a critical role in regard to water quality Go

Forests act to process precipitation into high quality surface waters. In fact, a recent water profile study* (see below) reports that two thirds of freshwater in the U.S. originates from forests.   Therefore society and industry have a shared interest in maintaining forests and the water resource benefits of forested land.   

But this notion does not preclude us from using trees to deliver on society’s needs for wood and paper products.  On the contrary, developing strong markets for wood products can help keep forested land forested.

Forest management programs can help minimize impacts to surface and groundwater by the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs).  For example, foresters lay out riparian zones, areas abutting waterways and ponds, that are important for soil stability and filtration.  If there is a river or a stream, loggers will create an extensive buffer strip so that there is no cutting in that area.  For water crossings, panels are placed over streams so that the water and banks are not disturbed.  For smaller streams, culverts are inserted to allow water to continually flow without having any dirt or silt enter into it.

In order to further this understanding, The Sustainable Forestry Initiative announced today that they have awarded a grant to the World Resources Institute (WRI) to research how forest certification standards help protect lakes and rivers.

WRI is working  in collaboration with the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, the Willamette Partnership, the American Forest Foundation, and others to advance investment in forests to ensure stable supplies of clean freshwater.

We can treat water with technology – but at what cost to society?   And why would we put more steel in concrete in place when our forests can do the job for us?

In other words:  more well managed forested land = more clean fresh water.


*Reference: Wiegand, P. S. et al., “Water Profiles of the Forest Products Industry and Their Utility in Sustainability Assessment”. TAPPI Journal: July 2011, p. 19-27.

Things are heating up over certification standards related to the USGBC’s LEED standard Go

The US Green Building Council has developed one of the leading standards for design, construction, operations and maintenance of buildings.  Their LEED standard is built upon a point system based on a breadth of criteria for energy and environmental design.  One criteria addresses sourcing wood from certified forests.  In a recent update to their standard, the USGBC has indicated that points for wood would be awarded for wood that is “FSC or better.”  This designation has caused quite a stir amongst many stakeholders.

Sappi has long expressed support for inclusive policies that recognize the world’s leading forest management standards including FSC, SFI and PEFC.  With only 10% of the world’s forests certified to any reputable standard, we need to spend our collective energy to expand certification and protect against deforestation rather than getting in the weeds over some of the details of which standard is best (or in this case “better”).   It is clear that the principals of both SFI and FSC are quite similar and effective for sustainably managing our forests.  To quote from a review by Dovetail Partners:

Significant changes have occurred within the major certification programs in recent years, and, … it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between certification systems in North America.” 

But beyond our official position on inclusive policies, I am shocked that such a leading organization would write what amounts to me as a sloppy reference in a standard.  “FSC or better”?  What does this mean?  I am certainly not the only one pondering this question and supporters of SFI have been writing some insightful guest blog posts in reaction to this recent announcement.

Last week, Dr. Richard W. (Dick) Brinker, Dean Emeritus, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University  shared his position on the SFI’s research commitment. 

And today, Bob Luoto, Owner and Operator of Cross & Crown, a third generation logger shared his perspective on the negative impacts that exclusivity can have on private landowners.

While both of these writers do have an acknowledged affiliation with SFI (they are board members) their comments and insights should not be overlooked.

Landowners who are unable to realize ongoing financial returns from forests have an economic incentive to convert their lands to agriculture or some other use that will yield economic income.
An obvious implication is that an effective way to maintain or increase forest carbon stocks on private lands is to ensure the existence of a strong market for forest products.

Dr. Jim Bowyer, et al

Dovetail Partners, Inc.

Carbon 101: Understanding the Carbon Cycle and the Forest Carbon Debate

Published 5 January 2012

Forests are a dynamic resource that will change whether people like it or not. The idea behind forest management is to purposefully direct that change, using ecological principles, to benefit forest owners and society at large. Benign neglect, or doing nothing, will too often result in negative outcomes. And, corrective actions are much more difficult than regular management.

Bill Cook, Forester, Michigan State University Extension

Read the full article here

Are trees a “crop” like vegetables, grains or cotton? Go

In some ways trees can be considered much like other crops. They can be planted, tended to and harvested in certain seasons. And of course, they grow back. But in other ways, forests are much more complex than crops like corn or cotton. For example, working forests have a high level of biodiversity in terms of age classifications, animal populations, and vegetation species. Food crops tend to be monoculture stands 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 to trees that flourish on their own.

Farmers are drawn to their work for a variety of reasons a rural lifestyle, self employment and the satisfaction of supplying their communities with staples that we all depend on.  Yet tree farmers are not always granted the same respect as others.  Think about it: when was the last time anyone tried to make you feel guilty about eating broccoli?  Imagine the billboards: Save a crop eat a burger!  Not likely a productive campaign. And don’t get me started on pundits promoting the environmental benefits of plastic Christmas trees… 

Don’t confuse deforestation with responsible harvesting Go

Deforestation means converting a forest from timberland to another use.  Urban sprawl, agriculture and grazing lands for cattle are the most common causes of deforestation. 

Unfortunately, many people believe paper companies are routinely contributing to deforestation. It seems some people envision a swath of destruction surrounding paper mills.  This image could not be further from the truth.  In fact, the industry has always had a vested interest in creating dense forests as close to operations as possible.  Transportation contributes significantly to the cost of wood - so the more wood as close as possible to the mills, the better off we are.  And of course, reduced transportation also cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.

So quite contrary to deforestation, Sappi and other members of our industry support sustainable forestry practices; harvesting techniques and forest management practices that support regeneration and help promote biodiversity of plants and animals.  These practices also protect air, soil and water quality. 

To help assure stakeholders that best practices are being followed, we use third party chain of custody certifications from the world’s leading forest management standards (FSC, PEFC, and SFI).  We also work collectively to help promote the values and benefits of certification and we even hold a forest management group certificate.  Under our SFPNA Sustainable Forestry Program, small landowners in Maine can become certified.

In other words, we are doing what we can to help keep forests as forests.

We believe that by supporting the full range of forest certification programs, we are advancing Maine’s forest industry and the interests of our forest landowners in local, national and global competition for market share. We also are protecting our valuable natural resources and traditional outdoor heritage.

Governor Paul LePage

December 8, 2011

Perhaps I should write for the NY Times Go

In Monday’s post, I commented on a lengthy New York Times article written by Justin Gillis.  In this article, the author wrote about his experiences in talking to scientists about the pine beetle infestation in the West as well as his visit to an active research site, the Harvard Forest.  He is not alone on his quest for knowledge.  In fact we share very similar experiences.

In the summer of 2010, I visited British Columbia to see the impact of the pine beetle in that region.  The picture below was taken from a helicopter owned by Canfor (a producer of timber and market pulp that operates in that region).  This was the first time I had ever seen this type of landscape event in person.  As far as the eye could see, dead stands of trees killed by pine beetles.

While I have not visited Harvard Forest in Massachusetts, I did visit a similar site – the Howland Research Forest,  with Bryan Dail in Maine almost three years ago.  Originally established by International Paper in 1986, Howland has served as a vital site in studies on the impact of acid rain and more recently on carbon uptake and loss.

I got to see firsthand some of the research being conducted to better understand the impact of forest management on climate change. Like Gillis I overcame my fear of heights and climbed a CO2 monitoring tower to actually experience atmospheric data being monitored in real time.  One of the most memorable takeaways for me was to see recent trend data, CO2 concentrations in a saw tooth pattern moving slightly up and down reflecting the pattern of daylight.  When the forest sleeps at night (without sunlight) the rate of CO2 absorbtion slows down and the concentration in the atmosphere increases slightly.  As the sun emerges the next day, the forest awakes and the CO2 drops.  Amazing – literally watching forest respiration.

So, the bad news is that these landscape events are occurring.  And the good news is that foresters are actively researching the key issues and have tools at the ready to help combat against these events.  Keeping forests healthy, with diverse age classes, helps to fight against disease, pest infestations and wildfire.  Results from studies at Howland indicates that shelterwood harvesting can enhance carbon sequestration.

Of course, forest management comes at an expense.  In the wood and paper industry, by buying wood from responsibly managed forests we are helping to provide the revenue stream that in turn helps landowners protect the forest.    

Why do I pay a premium for FSC products? Go

Earlier this week, a customer inquired about paying premiums for FSC products.  While I don’t generally like to talk about pricing (I leave that to our sales reps) I will offer a few general observations.

At a very high level, price is driven by supply and demand.  When demand outstrips supply, it drives up price. 

There is a limited supply of FSC fiber and they have done a good job creating market recognition and demand.  SFI has more supply and one might argue, less market recognition.

There is far more SFI fiber in the US than FSC - current data (I checked just a few days ago) are as follows:

FSC = 33,811,313 certified acres in the US

SFI = 58,052,719 certified acres in the US

The numbers are a closer together in Canada, but SFI still leads in certified acreage.

SFI is doing a much better job promoting their program and I keep seeing SFI logos in more places.  (In fact, in yesterday’s mail I spotted SFI logos on my Wisteria catalog and on a birthday card from my mother). Does that mean we will start seeing premiums for SFI?  I hope not.

There is no doubt that market pressures can drive change through the supply chain. But it is important to recognize if we create demand without supply, we can be adding undue cost to products that are responsisbly sourced.

At Sappi, we are working very hard to alleviate pressures on the supply side.  We have been involved in a partnership focused on increasing certified land in Maine. This project won the SFI President’s Award last year and we continue to build on this effort.  We also hold an FSC group forest management certificate and through our SFPNA Sustainable Forestry Program we work with small landowners to certify their land as FSC fiber.

Paper buyers want to be assured that the wood fiber is sourced responsibly.  And the certification programs offer that assurance. So when it comes to writing procurement policies, we strongly recommend that buyers specify products that meet chain of custody standards.  And in order to maintain a balanced cost approach we also recommend inclusive policies that recognize the leading programs rather than a single certification standard.  Because you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for environmentally preferable products.  Truly sustainable solutions lie in the sweetspot between economic and environmental considerations.

Paper or Paving? Go

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" - Joni Mitchell, lyrics from "Big Yellow Taxi"

There are a lot of misconceptions about forest management.  But I think we can all agree that we’d rather have more working forests than parking lots. 

Landowners must deal with expenses for land management, taxes and in some cases certification and auditing.  If they can’t derive income from timber harvesting, they always have an option to sell for development. 

Steven Backs, a wildlife research biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society wrote: “We, as humans, have permanently modified the earth and there is no going back to a completely natural world without dismissing ourselves from this earth.  It’s now our incumbant responsibility as good land stewards to assure a diversity of habitats exist in what remains of our forests… The key is to keep our forests as forests and not let them disappear under a growing sea of asphalt or be converted to some other nonforest land use.” 

To read the full article first published in the RGS Summer 2009 Vol 21, Issue 2 from the Ruffed Grouse Society, Click here

Please share your thoughts on how you see the paper industry in terms of our contributions to supporting working forests.