As the debate about the carbon benefits of generating electricity in Europe from wood pellets manufactured in the southern United States continues, a new Forest2Market report shows that growth in demand for forest products (e.g., lumber, paper, packaging and wood pellets) has led to greater forest productivity and a significant increase in the amount of forest inventory available for storing carbon.
The report, Historical Perspective on the Relationship between Demand and Forest Productivity in the US South, analyzes U.S. Forest Service data and other scientific research to understand the relationship between changes in demand and supply from 1953 to 2015. Key findings of the report include:
• Rising demand for forest products increased removals from timberlands. As US population and GDP grew in the last half of the twentieth century, Americans built and furnished more and larger homes and consumed more paper and packaging. Annual timber removals nearly doubled by 1996, and were 57 percent higher in 2015 than they were in 1953.
• The forest products industry and landowners responded by increasing the productivity of their forests. To ensure their mills would have a stable, high-quality source of supply, forest products companies invested heavily in research to promote forest productivity by improving forest management practices. The result was a 112 percent increase in total annual timberland growth between 1953 and 2015.
• Increased demand has not depleted forests. The number of timberland acres has remained stable, increasing by about 3 percent. At the same time, total inventory has doubled (+108 percent, from 142.1 to 296.1 billion cubic feet) because growth has outpaced removals.
• Statistical analyses show that increased demand is associated with more acres, better growth and larger inventories. Regression models that use removals to predict these measures of forest productivity are statistically significant and explain 65-90 percent of the variance in acres, inventory and growth.
• Urbanization, not increased demand for forest products, is the biggest threat to forests in the United States. Between 1982 and 2012, development was responsible for almost half (49.2 percent or 17.7 million acres) of all forestland that converted to other uses in the United States. By contrast, only 1.2 percent (0.5 million acres) of land that converted to forests during this period was previously developed.
“Unfortunately, much of the discourse about the forest products industry’s impact on forests and carbon has focused on only one side of the story: harvesting trees,” says the report’s lead analyst and author, Hannah Jefferies. “This ignores one of the most basic tenets of forestry: grow trees. At its core, this report shows that southern landowners do more than just harvest trees. Because those trees have value as a raw material, landowners regrow their trees and take steps to maximize the productivity of their timberlands,” Jefferies added.