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FAQs For Builders & Architects

Does using wood harm the forest?

No, in fact using wood can help keep forests healthy. In the U.S. a mature and healthy forest products market coupled with modern forestry practices and sustainable forest management keep forests and their many environmental and economic benefits intact.  When most people think of deforestation, they often picture the Amazon rainforest and palm oil plantations. This is drastically different than the reality of forestry in the U.S., where private forest owners understand the economic, social, and environmental benefits of ensuring harvested trees are regrown as quickly and healthily as possible.

Sustainable forest management is widely adopted by the forest sector in the U.S., which is one of the reasons the country has enjoyed stable forest cover for much of the last century. This stands in contrast to many parts of the world, where unsustainable practices are more common.

In the US, forest owners prioritize the prevention of forest degradation. This includes measures for long-term sustainable harvest levels, prompt reforestation after harvesting, measures to address forest health and soil health and the conservation of species habitat.

Harvesting occurs on less than 2% of private working forests each year. Replanting and regeneration occur on roughly the same number of acres annually. This cycle provides a mosaic of forest age and size classes across the landscape, which is beneficial for wildlife, water quality, carbon sequestration, and carbon storage. It also ensures a renewable and abundant natural resource for future generations.

Do commercial harvests in the U.S. disturb old growth forests?

No, U.S. private working forest owners do not harvest old growth or other sensitive sites as part of their standard operations. Most of our nation’s old growth forests were harvested for settlement and industrialization long before any of us were alive. Old growth forests still exist, but nearly all are publicly owned. Notably, a 2024 analysis by the U.S. Forest Service concluded that heat, drought, and disease are the primary threats to old growth forests – not timber harvesting.

Private working forests provide 90% of forest products produced in the U.S.. These forests are managed for successive cycles of growth, harvests, and regrowth to yield products. As a result, they include trees of a variety of ages and sizes, from seedlings to mature trees.

In the U.S., assurances are in place to verify that our forests are sustainably managed and climate smart through a mosaic of overlapping and mutually reinforcing local, state, and federal environmental laws and regulations, state-approved forestry best management practices (BMPs), and third-party forest management and wood fiber sourcing certification programs. Learn more about assurances here.

Harvesting and other forest management activities in or near old growth are typically done for wildfire mitigation and forest health to protect the oldest trees. If a harvest occurs in or near old growth, it is likely in response to a wildfire emergency or some other natural disturbance. Nearly all old growth is protected, and harvesting exceptionally large trees (like old growth) is economically and physically impractical. Most modern harvesting equipment, transportation, and mills are only able to process smaller diameter logs.

Are harvested sites replanted?

Working forests are regrown after harvests, either by planting or natural regeneration. Each year in the U.S., forest owners of all types plant more than 1 billion seedlings.

In some forests, natural regeneration rather than planting is the most effective and ecologically sound method for regrowing forests. Natural regeneration techniques are determined before harvest and tailored to specific conditions within a forest landscape.

Sustainable forest management has helped total forest acreage in the U.S. to remain stable since the 1950s. At the same time, the total volume of wood grown in our forests has increased by roughly 60%. A core principle of sustainable forest management is the continuous cycle of growth, harvest, and regrowth to optimize forest productivity and resilience and to keep forests intact. The standard practice is to replant within a year to have a healthy and reestablished forest within five years of a harvest.

Whether planted or naturally regenerated, the key is reestablishing the forest after harvesting.

Is it important to use certified wood for my project? If so, what is the “best” certification?

Sustainable forest management leads to climate-smart outcomes. One way to ensure sustainable forest management is through certifications.

U.S. forest certifications are well-established and considered credible by policy makers and in the marketplace. Unlike other certifications in other regions of the world or for other industries, forest certifications undergo third-party audits and ongoing site-inspections. There are three prominent forest management certification programs in the U.S:

  • The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which was established in 1995, promotes sustainable forest management in North America and responsible forest product sourcing throughout the world. SFI certifies more than 300 million acres of forests, including 63 million acres in the U.S.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been promoting sustainable forest management throughout the world’s forests since its founding in 1993. About 450 million acres of land are FSC-certified worldwide, including 35 million acres in the U.S.
  • American Tree Farm Systems (ATFS) promotes sustainable forest management among family-owned and other small-scale, nonindustrial woodlands. Established in 1941, ATFS is the oldest sustainable woodlands management system in the U.S., with 74,000 family forest owners sustainably managing 20 million acres of certified forestland.

Some privately-owned working forests are sustainably managed and do not have a certification, oftentimes because cost or complexity are barriers for smaller landowners. The mutually reinforcing system of assurances in the U.S. enables smaller forest owners to practice sustainable forest management, even if a specific working forest acre does not hold a forest certification.

How can I estimate the wood carbon footprint of my project?

Use the WoodWorks Carbon Calculator.

Is there scientific evidence that forest management practices lead to beneficial carbon outcomes?

Sustainable forest management can maximize a forest’s natural ability to sequester (capture from the atmosphere) and store carbon. When you include carbon-storing wood products, the potential benefits are even greater.

As trees grow, they convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon and store it in their trunks, roots, branches, and leaves – much of it as wood and fiber that we use to make forest products. This process also releases oxygen, which is good for humans who like to breathe.

Forests do not sequester carbon at a linear rate over their lifetimes. Eventually, forests will grow and sequester carbon more slowly until they become net sources of carbon emissions. Sustainable forest management yields a mosaic of forest conditions, including young forests that grow vigorously, helping to pull carbon out of the atmosphere today. It also focuses on promoting forest health that enable trees to grow to maturity, ultimately producing wood products which continue to store carbon in the built environment through homes, buildings, kitchen tables, hardwood floors, and other long-lived wood products.

As stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”

Private working forests make up 47% of the overall forest acreage of the U.S. These forests provide outsized carbon benefits, accounting for approximately 80% of the total net carbon sequestration and 51% of the carbon stored in all forests.

How can I compare the carbon benefits of wood with alternative materials, and how can these carbon benefits be shared with stakeholders?

Product carbon benefits are calculated through life cycle assessments and reported through Environment Product Declarations (EPDs). However, when comparing two products it is important to ensure they are functionally equivalent, which requires a comparison based on the end-use. For buildings, this is done at the building or the assembly level (e.g., a wall or floor). This Thinkwood piece, How to Calculate the Wood Carbon Footprint of a Building, describes available Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA) tools.

How much of a wood product is carbon?

About 50% of the dry weight of a wood product is carbon.

What are the ecological and sustainability implications of using wood from different types of forests, including old growth?

In the U.S, the majority (90%) of forest products originate from private working forests, which are different from public and non-working forests. Non-working forests typically contain older, larger trees that store more carbon, while working forests predominantly contain actively growing younger trees which effectively sequester carbon from the atmosphere during their rapid growth.

Private working forests contribute significantly to climate mitigation, accounting for approximately 80% of our forests’ annual gross sequestration and approximately 51% of the total carbon storage. This success is due to the management practices of private working forest owners, who replant, regrow, and regenerate an equivalent amount to what they harvest each year, ensuring a perpetual and sustainable cycle.

These working forests are sustainably managed to not only support clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitats but also yield a consistent, renewable supply of wood for various purposes such as lumber, energy, paper, packaging, and numerous everyday consumer items.

U.S. private working forest owners do not harvest old growth or other sensitive sites as part of their standard operations. Nearly all our nation’s old growth forests were harvested for settlement and industrialization long before any of us were alive. Pockets of old growth still exist, but nearly all  old growth is in publicly owned forests.

Harvesting, or cutting, in or near old growth is typically only done in the service of wildfire mitigation to protect the oldest trees. If a harvest occurs near old growth, it is likely a result of a wildfire emergency.  Not only does nearly all old growth hold protected status, harvesting exceptionally large trees is economically and physically impractical. Modern harvesting equipment, transportation, and mills are built to handle only smaller diameter logs.

Do forest management practices address resilience, climate mitigation, watershed factors, wildlife conservation, and the economic health of rural communities?

Yes. Modern forestry practices and sustainable forest management are nearly universally applied in the United States. Sustainable forest management requires long-term care and stewardship to balance and maintain environmental, economic, and social benefits through careful planning decades into the future. Such planning typically incorporates scientifically rigorous standards, systems, policies, and procedures provided through local, state, and federal laws and regulations, best management practices (BMPs) for soil, water quality, and species management, and may also include forest certification standards. The end results are healthy and resilient forest systems that are unmatched in their ability to provide both economic and environmental benefits, including climate benefits at scale.

Is it better or worse to source from Canada or overseas? Are the standards comparable?

Of the top 10 countries producing coniferous sawlog and veneer log (the types of logs from which most wood used in construction are made), seven (United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Czechia, and New Zealand) are considered “low risk” for timber illegality by Preferred by Nature's Timber Risk Assessment tool.

UNITED STATES

U.S. forest management applies some of the highest standards of sustainable forest management in the world, making U.S. forests a responsible choice for material sourcing. Forestry practices in the U.S. are often considered superior due to a combination of factors. The U.S. benefits from a diverse range of forest ecosystems, enabling specialized and adaptive management practices. Sustainable forestry results from a mature and stable market for forest products, a comprehensive regulatory framework that balances environmental, economic, and social interests, and third-party forest management and wood fiber sourcing certification programs. These factors place U.S. forestry at the forefront of combining economic productivity and environmental stewardship. Learn more about assurances.

CANADA

Canada’s lands are mostly “crown” lands owned by the provinces and managed through long-term sustainable management agreements. 80% of production lands in Canada are certified to a sustainable forest management certification, such as The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

OTHER

In many parts of the world, most notably in the tropics, deforestation is still an ongoing challenge.

Are North American Wood Product EPDs a reliable way to understand the sustainability of wood products?

EPDs, or environmental product declarations, provide useful environmental impact information based on life cycle assessment (LCA) data. EPDs are a measure of the LCA of the wood manufacturing process but are not designed to tell a complete story of forest management sustainability.

However, assurances exist to verify that our forests are sustainably managed and climate smart through a mosaic of overlapping and mutually reinforcing local, state, and federal environmental laws and regulations, state-approved forestry best management practices (BMPs), and third-party forest management and wood fiber sourcing certification programs. All are built on a foundation of compliance with laws, regulations, and treaties, meeting standards for forest ecology and integrity, and preserving the long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities.

Certification labels can be a useful tool to ensure sustainable sourcing. There are three prominent forest management certification programs in the U.S:

  • The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which was established in 1995, promotes sustainable forest management in North America and responsible forest product sourcing throughout the world. SFI certifies more than 300 million acres of forests, including 63 million acres in the U.S.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been promoting sustainable forest management throughout the world’s forests since its founding in 1993. About 450 million acres of land are FSC-certified worldwide, including 35 million acres in the U.S.
  • American Tree Farm Systems (ATFS) promotes sustainable forest management among family-owned and other small-scale, nonindustrial woodlands. Established in 1941, ATFS is the oldest sustainable woodlands management system in the U.S., with 74,000 family forest owners sustainably managing 20 million acres of certified forestland.

Learn more about EPDs through WoodWorks and the American Wood Council.

Where can I learn about building with mass timber?

Because of its strength, flexibility, and inherent fire resistance, mass timber offers an alternative to fossil fuel-intensive materials for many applications—including high-rises—and an opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment. Often associated with Type IV buildings, mass timber can be used in any construction type that allows wood structure. The mass timber family of products includes cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT), dowel-laminated timber (DLT), glue-laminated timber (glulam or GLT), and some types of structural composite lumber (SCL).

Find out more about mass timber and get project support at WoodWorks.org.

Climate-Smart Forestry Resources

Find tools for calculating carbon impact, educational downloads, and more.

Confused About Forest Carbon?

This award-winning data visualization helps make concepts like carbon storage and sequestration less… painful. Learn more about the remarkable climate mitigation impacts of working forests.