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FAQs For Policymakers

What kind of forestry activities are happening in my congressional district or state?

Use the National Alliance of Forest Owners’ In-Your-State Tool to find state and congressional district metrics on jobs, sales & manufacturing, wildlife conservation, facilities data, and carbon.

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.

How does using wood impact climate change?

Sustainably managed forests and the wood products they provide are powerful tools for mitigating climate change. Many consider forests and forest products the most powerful natural climate solution available. As trees grow, they pull carbon from the atmosphere through the natural process of photosynthesis. This carbon is stored in their leaves, branches, and wood, as well as the forest floor, including the soil. There is no better land use for climate mitigation than a forest, and no better technology for capturing carbon than a forest.

In addition to the benefits provided by our forests, the production of new forest products adds roughly 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year to the 10 billion metric tons of CO2e already stored in existing harvested wood products.

Using wood products in place of more carbon-intensive materials can improve climate outcomes. If steel and concrete were a country, their combined emissions would be the third largest in the world after the U.S. and China. The more wood we use in place of these and other carbon-intensive materials, the better – as long as we’re maintaining our forests.

Learn more about forests and climate change at ForestCarbonDataViz.org.

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. 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.

How does the US government keep track of forest data?

Forest data is primarily tracked through the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and published in decadal reports through the U.S. Forest Service’s RPA Assessment.

What are private landowners doing to address wildlife conservation?

Private working forest owners are stewards of their land and are essential partners in conservation.

By maintaining a mosaic of forest conditions, sustainable forest management keeps common species common and helps support threatened, endangered, and at-risk species. Sustainable forest management provides corridors of high-quality habitat for animals to naturally move through their entire range during each stage of their lifecycle. Many forest owners also provide access to private land that would otherwise be off-limits to conservation and wildlife researchers.

The Wildlife Conservation Initiative (WCI) is an example of voluntary, collaborative conservation efforts between federal agencies, state agencies, and private forest owners.

What are private landowners doing to address severe wildfire?

Increased stressors, such as human development and climate change, have left many forests – especially in the U.S. West – at risk of experiencing severe wildfire. Tree mortality from drought, disease, and insect infestations, especially on federal lands, has unnaturally increased the volume of flammable biomass on each acre.

Sustainable forest management on private working forests through an ongoing cycle of growing, harvesting, and replanting, is a proven tool for mitigating the risk of severe wildfires before they even start. Private forest owners also mitigate wildfire risk by:

  • Proactively reducing fuel load and risk by clearing excess fuels (lower lying vegetation) from the forest floor, conducting controlled burns, and creating firebreaks;
  • Periodically thinning by removing smaller trees;
  • Maintaining forest access;
  • Quickly responding to and actively suppressing fire when it starts;
  • Encouraging collaboration between landowners and other key stakeholders; and
  • Quickly rehabilitating burned areas and replanting trees following wildfire.

Many private forest owners employ firefighting crews and are committed to collaboration, open communication, and resource sharing to fight every fire threatening the land.

In 2023, the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Forest Service to enhance coordination and collaboration for initial attack on wildfires in areas of adjacent ownership. In 2024, NAFO and the Forest Service announced a new partnership to enhance cross-boundary fuel breaks.

As fire seasons become longer and more severe, sustainable forest management and innovative public/private partnerships are more important than ever before.

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.

Learn more at ForestCarbonDataViz.org, which primarily uses data sourced from the EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2021, the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program, and the U.S. Forest Service’s 2020 RPA Assessment.

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.

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

Most (90%) of forest products produced in the U.S. originate from private working forests, which are different from public and non-working forests. Non-working forests often contain older, larger trees that store more carbon, while private working forests include trees of a variety of ages and sizes, from seedlings to mature trees that rapidly sequester carbon through tree 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.

Private 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 over 5,000 everyday consumer items.

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.

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.

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

It’s not a straightforward process to compare the carbon benefits of wood products to alternatives. A few useful resources are WoodWorks’ Carbon Calculator, the ScienceDirect Meta-Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Displacement Factors of Wood Product Substitution, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Forest Products in the Bioeconomy report.

Thankfully, a new USDA-sponsored Forest & Wood Carbon Data Platform is currently in development that will provide transparent, high-integrity carbon data throughout the value chain. This user-friendly platform will serve as a one-stop shop for information on carbon and carbon flows across U.S. forest lands, harvested wood products, and end-use life cycle assessments.

Policymakers and regulators can use the platform to meet existing directives related to natural climate solutions (such as fulfilling MMRV requirements), creating decision support tools needed to inform climate-related management decisions on federal lands, informing the expanded capability of the U.S. Forest Service to provide relevant FIA data and analysis, and enabling USDA to connect forest carbon modeling with soil estimation and forest practices to quantify carbon benefits.

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.

Is there more carbon captured in an old growth forest than a commercially managed forest?

The most recent FIA data from the U.S. Forest Service shows us that non-working forests (like the ones found in national parks) typically contain older, larger trees that store more carbon, yet sequester carbon at a slower rate – and can even become sources of emissions. Working forests, on the other hand, include trees of a variety of ages and sizes, from seedlings to mature trees. which grow and sequester carbon at a much more rapid rate.

Forests do not sequester carbon at a linear rate over their lifetimes. Growth and carbon sequestration slow as forests age 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 and 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 also provide outsized carbon benefits, accounting for approximately 80% of the total net carbon sequestration and 51% of the carbon stored in all forests.

Learn more about forests and carbon capture at ForestCarbonDataViz.org.

Can I trust Forest Service and FIA data as the basis for U.S.-based carbon inventory and monitoring?

Yes, you can confidently use and trust Forest Inventory and Analysis program (FIA) data as the basis for US-based carbon inventory and monitoring. While any data set can be improved, the FIA program is the most advanced and robust forest-data program in the world. It enjoys wide-ranging support from across scientific communities.

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) recognizes the critical importance of high-quality information provided by the USDA Forest Service's FIA Program. SAF supports various measures, including collaboration with partners, improvements in data accessibility, and ongoing efforts to enhance the accuracy and consistency of FIA data. This commitment ensures that FIA data serves as a reliable foundation for long-term strategic planning, forest condition forecasts, sustainability insights, and essential monitoring data.

How can the upcoming Farm Bill promote responsible forestry practices?

Sustainably managed working forests support rural communities while delivering proven climate mitigation benefits that are unmatched by any other sector. In addition to good-paying rural jobs and carbon benefits, working forests provide a wide range of other benefits like clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat.

Public policies should include market and incentive-based approaches that help capture the potential of private working forests to sequester and store more carbon while ensuring sustainable forest management. Policy is strengthened through advances in science, technology, and practices to provide better forest and wood carbon data and information to landowners, forest managers, product end-users, and the public. Maintaining sustainable private working forests at scale to benefit the climate requires investing in the infrastructure necessary to support a strong forest economy.

The following proposals provide a single, integrated set of forest and wood product solutions to advance these benefits:

  1. Recommendation: Modernize the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program to meet growing demands for forest data. The investment should emphasize strategic planning to make data collection more consistent, timely, and technologically advanced, collecting and analyzing soil carbon data, adding forest carbon data to the existing FIA base program, and ensuring consistency between FIA and Resources Planning Act (RPA) data reporting.
  2. Recommendation: Create a web-based forest and wood product carbon data tool. Architects, engineers, building professionals, and stakeholders are demanding increasingly rigorous and credible data on the carbon properties and sustainable sourcing of materials to inform their product choices. Additionally, forest managers need better landscape-wide data on forest inventories and health to show the benefits of their management. By combining FIA and commercial data, such a tool would provide a one-stop shop of forest and wood product carbon data serving a broad range of end users from builders, to consumers, to forest managers. A partnership approach would leverage USDA and private sector expertise and data, ensure protection of proprietary private sector data, tailor platform design to meet user needs, and increase confidence in data credibility.
  3. Recommendation: Establish a wood design education accelerator program. There is a need for specialized knowledge of wood design and construction across U.S. colleges and universities. Currently, most design and construction curricula fall short in delivering sufficient instruction for students to develop proficiency in modern wood building techniques. With the growing use of mass timber and the passage of the International Mass Timber Code, targeted educational instruction, as well as applied research and market development, are needed to train the next generation of architects, engineers, construction managers, and environmental scientists to use a resource that is both abundant and carbon beneficial.
  4. Recommendation: Amplify the Wood Innovation Grant (WIG) program. The program was established in 2015 and expanded through the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-334). The WIG program stimulates public-private partnerships to expand wood products and wood energy markets, including those for mass timber, renewable wood energy, and sustainable forest management. Interest in the WIG program far exceeds funding available to support innovative research and demonstration projects. Suggested program policies include: 1- increasing funding levels, 2- reducing match requirements from 100% ($1 federal: $1 applicant) to 50% ($2 federal: $1 applicant) as was the case prior to 2018, and 3- creating a targeted award that recognizes embodied carbon in building design.
  5. Recommendation: Create a pilot program to integrate American wood products in rural infrastructure and building projects. Many rural communities in the U.S. are experiencing insufficient and neglected infrastructure. Current federal rural development initiatives are not utilizing approaches that prioritize building projects that use American-sourced materials with positive environmental impacts. Congress should create opportunities to promote the utilization of wood and mass timber in USDA Rural Development’s rural infrastructure and building programs. This should include the creation of a pilot program within the U.S. Forest Service, with technical assistance and resource support from the Office of Rural Development, to provide competitive funding opportunities to integrate U.S. produced wood and tall mass timber products into rural infrastructure and building projects. This would help the federal government meet its current commitment of providing and maintaining infrastructure to underserved communities while supporting rural economic growth and promoting carbon-beneficial construction.

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.