October 8, 2014

Forest Plantations Can Produce Wood While Still Conserving

UCS report outlines sustainable practices for meeting rising demand for pulp and paper products without clearing forests

SALT LAKE CITY (October 8, 2014) – A report released today at the Society of American Foresters Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah by the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative describes how tropical forests can be conserved while still producing enough wood to meet global consumers’ needs now and in the future.

“Many elements of our daily lives are produced from wood. This includes morning newspapers, writing paper, packaging, tissues, furniture and construction materials, said Doug Boucher, Director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “Making all these products requires a lot of wood. So much wood, in fact, that current demand for wood is equivalent to filling 1.3 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

Boucher notes that despite the rise in recycling and use of electronics, global demand for wood is projected to continue increasing over the next half-century. While fuelwood consumption is expected to decline and solid wood uses should grow somewhat, the big boom will be the demand for pulp and paper products, which the report finds will more than double by 2060. The critical question for the sustainability of future forests is whether this demand will be met by clearing natural forests or by far more productive planted ones – and if the latter, what kind of land they’re planted on.

Increasing demand for wood products is a driver of tropical deforestation, which is responsible for about 10 percent of all climate emissions. According to the science group, reducing deforestation and forest degradation is imperative for reducing the effects of climate change.

The report, “Planting for the Future: How Demand for Wood Products Could Be Friendly to Tropical Forests,” combines economic modeling with ecological data and theory to evaluate the impact of increased demand on tropical forests and to show how innovative management practices, reinforced by effective policy and consumer awareness, can meet projected wood demand while also conserving forests.

The report examines four major management approaches that show the impact of increased demand on tropical forests. Popular wood products originate from many different types of forests, each of which have the potential to threaten ecosystems. Unsustainable industrial plantations can cause deforestation while also depleting soil and water resources. Poorly managed logging of natural forests can also damage forests. Even when logging is more selective, and most trees are left standing, collateral damage from the logging process can harm numerous trees for every one cut down. Between 2000 and 2005 alone, 20 percent of tropical forests were undergoing degradation.

Managing restored and reforested land for logging is another way to offset potential deforestation and degradation. Wood producers can further help improve sustainability by increasing the use of timber-tracking technology, which would allow consumers to verify the origins of the different types of wood.

“We, as consumers, also play a role in preventing deforestation. By pressuring companies and demanding that the wood in their products is sustainably harvested, we can make sure that the forests of the future are planted today.”

Each type of wood product can be linked to one of the four management practices evaluated in this report. By understanding the expected future demand for each of these products, policymakers and forest managers can better reduce the risk of deforestation and forest degradation while increasing the supply of wood.

For example, to meet the demand for pulp and paper, fast wood plantations are likely to play a larger role in the future wood market. Therefore it is particularly important that these plantations be managed sustainably. The use of multispecies plantations has also been shown in some studies to induce better soil quality, grow trees more quickly and produce higher timber yields.

“We already know that good management practices – when enforced – can minimize the damage. The problem is that these practices are not widely implemented in tropical forests. They need to be greatly expanded if we’re going to make a dent in deforestation and forest degradation,” said Boucher.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.