Contrary to Popular Thinking, Going Paperless Does Not “Save” Trees

Northwest Management articles

-Taken from Two Sides North America, February 8, 2016

Two Sides North America ( released a new study outlining key facts on why paperless initiatives do not save trees. Findings point to mounting evidence that loss of markets for paper and other wood products, a large portion of which are produced from wood harvested on privately-owned land, increases the risk of forest loss. The study was conducted by Dovetail Partners, an environmental think-tank specializing in forestry research and analysis.

Private forest ownership and stable paper markets create a synergy that has long yielded tens of thousands of jobs, rural income, and strong incentives for continued investment in forests for the near and long term. However, if efforts to reduce wood markets succeed over an extended period, the result would likely be loss of forest lands rather than the reverse.

Absent a market for wood from pulp and paper manufacturers, significant numbers of landowners will turn to different markets or perhaps reduce investments in tree planting. Should markets for wood simply dry up, then there is a very real likelihood of land conversion to other uses such as urban development or agriculture.

The risk of forest loss in the absence of wood markets is reflected in trends for the world as a whole which show that regions with the highest levels of industrial timber harvest and forest products output also tend to be the regions with the lowest rates of deforestation. The reality is that the greatest incentive for continued investment and retention of our nation’s forests is a stable market for paper and other wood products.

Some Key Facts from the Study

  • The reality is that the greatest incentive for continued investment and retention of our nation’s forests is a stable market for paper and other wood products.
  • Annual removals of wood in the U.S. as a whole are less than half of annual net growth. In other words, each year forests of the United States grow more than twice as much wood as is harvested or otherwise removed.
  • [In the U.S. South] Forest landowners have embraced the emergence of a growing bioenergy industry that produces fuel pellets from wood. The new industry is producing fuel pellets largely to serve an export market that is seeking lower carbon production of energy supplies. The new bioenergy industry is currently consuming a quantity of wood equivalent to about 16% of that going into pulp and paper production, up from 0% in 2008.
  • The experience in the southern U.S. is not unique. For instance, in Northern New Brunswick, Canada there has been a major decline in paper production and use of pulpwood for papermaking due to the closure of three large mills over the past decade. However, harvesting rates on Crown Land have remained the same or increased due to several factors:
    • Sawmills are accepting lower diameter logs which would have typically gone into pulp.
    • Trees are now going into other markets such as sulfite pulp for textiles.  Most of this pulp is shipped to India.  Two of the mills in Northern NB are now under partial or full ownership by Indian companies.
    • Pulpwood sized logs are being used to manufacture oriented strandboard (OSB) and pellets for energy, with an increase in volumes forecasted for the pellet market.
  • In Minnesota, the closure of several paper and oriented strandboard mills has led to divestiture of large blocks of forest land long held by Potlatch Corporation. Several thousand acres of that land were recently cleared of trees and converted to intensive agriculture, including potato production.


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