believe that trees are the answer to a lot of questions
about our future." So says Dr. Patrick Moore, the host
of the video Trees Are the Answer. Those words
could speak for virtually every respondent in this portion
of the Listening Study. But the meaning of those words
would be very different for nearly everyone. Therein
lies the dilemma surrounding forest issues and paper.
This section of the Listening Study reports on debates
about forest issues that impact papermaking. Since forest
fiber is the primary ingredient in paper in most parts
of the world, and particularly in North America and
Europe, the management of forests to supply the papermaking
industry is an integral topic for discussion. Does the
paper we use come from trees harvested from sustainably
managed forests? How do we know? Should we continue
cutting trees to make paper? To answer challenging questions
like these, the Listening Study conducted extensive
interviews with experts in the field and surveyed dozens
of books, reports, studies, and websites.
almost all the responses to date have been quite calm
and measured, which surprises us since forest issues
are some of the most hard-fought and rancorous of all
the environmental paper arguments. Nevertheless, the
comments in this report lay out a wide variety of ways
to view similar situations.
We at Conservatree also realized over time, in reading
through the answers, that our original questions were
inadequate. While those were the questions we most often
had heard from paper purchasers and others when we first
wrote them down three years ago, we have learned a lot
more about forest issues since then. It has become obvious
to us that the questions we posed about forest fibers
only get at a portion of the debate and much more remains
to be discussed. So we will follow this summary with
more of the questions about which we would like to hear
people's opinions, in addition to the good start the
current questions present.
logical first place to start when discussing sustainable
forest issues is to define sustainable forest management.
When asked what this term means, respondents provided
wide-ranging answers that contained some conceptual
similarities. For example, the Northern Forest Alliance
referenced sustained yield concepts in their definition,
"meeting the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own
needs." Victoria Mills at Environmental Defense focused
on ecological integrity, defining sustainable forest
management as "protecting all values of the forest -
not just timber production, but also water quality,
wildlife habitat, preservation of natural forest ecosystems
and conservation of biodiversity." The majority of respondents
indicated that forests must be managed to fulfill a
variety of ecological, economic, and social functions
now and into the future. The United National General
Assembly also cautioned that, "Appropriate measures
should be taken to protect forests against harmful effects
of pollution, including air-borne pollution, fires,
pests and diseases, in order to maintain their full
Maureen Smith, author of The U.S. Paper Industry
and Sustainable Production, suggests that, even
with complex definitions, we are still a long way from
truly understanding what sustainability means in forests:
"Although the value of timber as a commodity can be
measured, forests cannot be similarly deconstructed
into simple economic terms despite the best efforts
of diligent resource economists. Increasingly in recent
years, there have been theoretical attempts to quantify
present and future values of forest biodiversity, the
value of (poorly understood) "ecosystem services" such
as climate and watershed regulation, as well as the
amenity (recreational) and even religious and cultural
values of forests. Not surprisingly, such attempts have
failed to do more than suggest the vast dimensions of
agreed that certification is a reliable method of verifying
that a forest has been sustainably managed, although
the type of certification varied. The two most often
mentioned are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification schemes.
SFI was introduced by the American Forest and Paper
Association and is often used by the paper industry
to establish that their forest practices are sustainable.
SFI proponents state that this program provides comprehensive
third-party verification of sustainable wood procurement
practices and promotes reforestation.
auditors who use environmental, social, and economic
criteria to assess sustainability conduct FSC-certification.
Supporters of FSC-certification assert that FSC uses
sufficiently rigorous standards, addresses all ecological,
economic, and social components of sustainability, and
is truly independent of business interests.
We received as many definitions of old growth forests
as there were respondents to this question. Some specified
an age which trees in a forest must attain to be classified
as old growth, while others maintained that this age
would vary depending on the tree species in question.
Lack of human disturbance characterized some respondent's
definitions of old growth and others stated that a host
of ecological and structural features of forests define
the term. Still others replied that there is no agreement
on any one definition and the answer will vary depending
on whom you ask.
seemed to be greater consensus when respondents were
asked if old growth was being cut for paper use. The
majority of contributors believe that old growth is
being cut for this purpose and some even provided a
specific percentage of total harvest that is derived
from old growth trees. Old growth boreal forests in
Canada and Russia were mentioned repeatedly as specific
locations where harvesting is occurring. Other responses
include those from the paper industry commenting specifically
on their organization's policies, emphasizing little
or no use of old growth fiber sources.
Cut Or Not To Cut
respondents agree that some cutting of trees is necessary
to supply human needs for wood products. Many, however,
identify some exceptions and qualifications to this
assertion, emphasizing the need to manage forests sustainably
in order to provide for demand. One respondent advocates
no logging on National Forest lands, suggesting that
they provide more social and economic values when standing.
asked if trees should be cut for papermaking, most respondents
again replied affirmatively. They maintain that compared
to trees, nonwood fibers require greater chemical application,
generate increased runoff, and provide less wildlife
habitat. These respondents advocate that trees are the
most environmentally-friendly fiber source for papermaking,
and should therefore remain the dominant source in paper.
Others emphasize that utilization of nonwood alternatives,
specifically agricultural fibers, might help relieve
pressure on forests and provide benefits to farmers.
Another respondent indicates that nonwood fibers are
best, but if they cannot be used effectively in heavily
forested areas, FSC-certified tree pulp should be used
as a fiber source. (For more information on nonwood
fiber alternatives, refer to the 'Tree Free Paper Issues'
section of the Listening Study.)
asked how a purchaser could verify that a paper is the
end product of a sustainably managed harvest, most respondents
agreed that looking for a label which specifies a particular
certification scheme is the most effective means. Most
respondents indicated a preference for Forest Stewardship
Council (FSC) certification and labeling. They maintain
that products bearing the FSC logo have been tracked
from a certified source using Chain-of-Custody documentation,
the link between consumer preference and responsible,
on the ground performance. The other labeling standard
identified is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
The SFI label is only used on products containing fiber
materials that a qualified independent third party has
certified to be in conformance with the SFI standard.
Most respondents expressed either uncertainty or were
opposed to the use of genetically engineered trees for
papermaking. Representatives from the paper industry
emphasized that more research must be done before any
commercial application begins, but expressed an interest
in this technology due to the growing demand for paper
products. Respondents who oppose genetically engineered
trees expressed their concern with the possibility of
cross-pollination between native forest trees and genetically
engineered trees and with federal regulation of this
type of technology. One respondent replied favorably
to the use of genetically engineered trees for papermaking,
citing greater disease resistance and less need for
majority of respondents indicated that tree plantations
can be a viable alternative to natural forests for pulp
supply. Respondents cite several benefits of plantations,
including reduced harvest pressure on natural forests,
increased yield from less acreage in less time, and
greater economic opportunity. In many cases, these same
respondents also indicate that plantations must be well-managed
and established on degraded lands, rather than natural
concerns of a few respondents preclude their support
of tree plantations supplying pulp for the paper industry.
They maintain that plantations require extensive use
of herbicides, and compared with natural forests, exhibit
decreased soil productivity and species diversity. One
respondent sums up the general tone of responses by
stating, "They (tree plantations) could be in theory,
but I haven't heard of an ecologically-sustainable one
Based on the number of responses we gathered, sustainable
forest management, both in theory and in practice, seems
to be a concept that many people are attempting to define.
The public is increasingly interested in the origin
of the fiber sources that comprise the paper they purchase.
Certification has arisen as a method to verify that
forests, the primary source of tree fibers for paper,
are sustainably managed. It is apparent when reading
the answers to several of the Listening Study questions
that there is disagreement as to which of the many certification
schemes provides the best assurance that forests are
being managed sustainably. Nevertheless, certification
seems to be favored by many in the wood products industry
and will likely gain greater popularity into the future.
If the demand for tree fibers to supply the paper industry
continues to increase, tree plantations may be considered
a reliable source for pulp supply. According to Listening
Study respondents, whether plantations can be an ecologically
acceptable alternative to natural forests and whether
they can be the sole source of tree fiber for the global
papermaking industry is still in question.
It is possible that our reliance on tree fibers for
pulp supply may lessen as we explore alternative fiber
sources such as kenaf, cotton, and hemp. The argument
for tree-free fibers as an environmentally preferable
alternative to tree fibers is contentious and many respondents
seem to indicate that a combination of both might be
the best solution to satisfy our growing demand for
paper. For more information on alternative fibers visit
the 'Tree Free Paper Issues' section of the Paper Listening
Study online at www.paperlisteningstudy.org/tree.html.
It is likely that additional research into genetically
engineered trees will yield more opinions as to whether
this technology is appropriate for papermaking. If alternative
fibers are used as a supplement to certified tree fibers,
the latter coming from natural forests or well-managed
plantations, it is possible that genetically engineered
trees might not be necessary to supply the paper industry.
Regardless, it is certain that additional research into
this technology will continue.