Health News Digest

January 2, 2006

Sustainable Forests:  The Greens Should Love Thispine trees

By  Michael D. Shaw

A cherished myth of many in the environmental movement is that paper companies, along with purposefully destructive public policy, are responsible for the eradication of millions of acres of forestland. Aside from the fact that this assertion is both historically false and politically extreme, it runs counter to the very principles of sound business and self-interest: Large paper companies depend on a renewable supply of trees for their own survival, which furthers conservation and the goals of both shareholders and consumers.

Perhaps our Green friends are living in a time warp, and are tarring all industry with the same brush: Unlike the Industrial Revolution or the 19th century’s rapid appetite—and disregard—for natural resources, today’s Information Economy is one manifestation of a massive effort to promote sustainable forestry, a comprehensive system of guidelines and performance standards that balances the constant growing and harvesting of trees with environmental protection and conservation.

Do you know that there are more acres of forestland in the United States today than there were at the beginning of the 19th century? This achievement is the result of sustainable forestry, an endeavor that enjoys the full support of the nation’s leading paper companies. After all, trees are a vital natural resource that touch people’s lives in countless ways. Wood and paper might be the most well-known examples, but trees are utilized in the manufacture of everything from fabrics to pharmaceuticals to toothpaste to garden hoses.

In short, sustainable forestry consists of management practices that ensure the health and growth of our forests for future generations. The U.S. forest products industry is a major proponent of this undertaking, having launched a program called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the largest effort of its kind in the world—encompassing nearly 94 million acres of forestland throughout North America and over four million acres in Florida alone.

Though many environmental extremists choose to believe otherwise, and despite their frequent attacks against private industry, corporations continue to aggressively promote conservation. Take, for instance, the efforts of International Paper, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of paper, packaging and forest products. International is the nation’s largest private landowner and seedling grower, planting more than 500 million seedlings a year.

As do other members of the American Forest & Paper Association, International regenerates every acre harvested within two years by replanting or in five years by managed natural reforestation. According to the company’s extensive literature about this subject:

“This is accomplished while integrating the needs of wildlife, including endangered species, into day-to-day forestry best practices and through specific resource and habitat conservation initiatives.”

Collaboration is the real key to SFI’s success, a partnership that unites private industry and public interest. And yet, environmental extremists continue to parrot the old canard about greedy corporations and rapacious policies. In truth, paper companies follow an ambitious set of forest principles and detailed guidelines that require them to reforest harvested land promptly, provide for wildlife habitat, improve water quality and ecosystem diversity, and protect forestland of special ecological significance.

As stewards of the environment, these companies routinely set aside vast tracts of wilderness; International Paper even recently completed the first phase of a 257,000-acre Adirondack Park conservation easement, aimed at providing open space protection in perpetuity and expanded recreational opportunities amid working forests.

Recognizing that paper industry processes could have significant impact on the environment, the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), founded in 1915, was an early player in environmental concerns, setting up its Environmental division well before it was “cool” to worry about such matters. Far from being a token group, TAPPI’s Enviro division reflects the true, logical, and fundamentally necessary attitude that all in the forest products industry must have. An agricultural enterprise can hardly be “anti-environmental” for long, can it?

The paper industry is a bona fide friend and partner of the environment. By practicing conservation, and through its various forms of outreach, these companies further the goals of industry and respect for the ecosystem. Sustainable forestry disproves the propaganda of the other side, which prefers convenient myths over hard facts. The fact is, sustainable forestry preserves forestland and promotes economic growth and good public policy.