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FAQs For Sustainability Leaders

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.

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 find wood products that come from sustainably-managed forests?

Certification is one way to find wood products coming from sustainably-managed forests. 11% of the world’s forests are certified and these forests supply roughly 38% of global roundwood production. However, some privately-owned working forests are sustainably managed and do not have a certification, oftentimes because cost or complexity are barriers for smaller landowners.

However, we still have assurances of sustainable forest management for these uncertified lands. In many supply chains, mills receive a mix of both certified and uncertified wood. Fiber sourcing certifications are mill focused certifications to provide assurances about ALL the wood coming through its supply chain, even the uncertified material.

For example, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) requires a risk analysis to show that fiber is not coming from GMO trees, land converted to a non-forest use, wood from high conservation value forests, wood harvested in violation of traditional or civil rights, or illegal harvest.  The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) fiber sourcing standard requires that wood fiber be sourced from areas that are instituting Best Management Practices (BMPs) for water quality, using trained loggers, protecting forests with exceptional conservation value, and avoiding controversial sources such as areas without effective social and illegal harvesting laws.

This type of certification is described as “responsible” in ASTM D7612, Standard Practice for Categorizing Wood and Wood-based Products according to their fiber sources.

“Products from responsible sources are produced with wood fiber acquired according to an independently certified procurement standard or are from a proprietary forestry standard or from jurisdictions with regulatory or quasi-regulatory programs to implement best management practices.  These standards or programs are typically consensus-based proprietary certification standards or public legislative and regulatory processes.” (ASTM D7612-10)

The American Wood Council shows, by region in the US, how much wood comes from certified, responsible, and uncontroversial sources, in addition to providing a wealth of information related to sustainable forest management in specific regions.

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.

How does climate-smart forestry help the environment?

Climate-smart forestry is a dynamic and adaptable approach within sustainable forest management that optimizes carbon sequestration, storage, resilience, and the various other benefits that forests can provide.

Climate-smart forestry leads to a variety of beneficial outcomes, including:

  • Stable or increased carbon sequestration and storage;
  • Mitigation of severe wildfire risks;
  • Assurance that forests remain intact through continuous cycles of growth, harvest, and regrowth;
  • Displacement of carbon-intensive materials through the production of sustainable, renewable, carbon-beneficial products;
  • Healthy and resilient forests;
  • Alignment of climate benefits with the needs of rural communities; and
  • Forest adaptation to a changing climate.

Climate-smart forestry is a powerful climate solutions tool that ensures the long-term sustainability and health of our forests.

Read more about the outcomes associated with climate-smart forestry.

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.

Does US forestry keep up with international sustainability standards?

Forests vary greatly from region to region because of climate, geography, and ecological factors. Different tree species are adapted to specific climates, soils, and elevations. Because of this variability, a single landscape-wide standard for sustainability does not exist.

However, forestry practices in the U.S. are often considered superior due to a combination of factors. 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 ensure our forests are sustainably managed.

The large scale of private working forest ownership, 47% of all forests, along with strong public interest and engagement in forestry issues, further contributes to a robust and progressive forestry sector, placing U.S. forestry at the forefront of combining economic productivity with environmental stewardship.

Because of the modern and sustainable forestry used by forest owners, the U.S. enjoys some of the most abundant and productive forest resources in the world.

Do the sustainability and climate risks associated with international (tropical) forests apply to North American (temperate) forests?

The US and Canada are considered “low-risk” for timber illegality according to Timber Risk Assessment tool. They also are considered low-risk for deforestation by World Wildlife Foundation’s Wood Risk Tool. In fact, the U.S. and Canada have some of the highest sustainability assurances in the world. In terms of climate risks, however, they are experiencing stressors like the rest of the world, including fire, insects, drought, and extreme weather events.

Who ensures that forestry in the US is done in a responsible, sustainable manner?

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. All are built on a foundation of complying 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.

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.

For suppliers and manufacturers, wood fiber sourcing certification and other due diligence and risk assurance systems control against sourcing from higher-risk suppliers and locations and promote more responsible forestry. Examples are the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard and the FSC Controlled Wood Standard.

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.

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.

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.