We live in a fragile and imperfect world where every decision made by governments, businesses or individuals affects the delicate balance of our planet. We cannot afford to make decisions without taking all the facts into consideration.
Climate change is the most important issue facing our planet and the people on it. Our forests and the trees in them can, and must, play an integral role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Deforestation is a complex and critical problem, with no easy answers. Printed paper is taking a lot of the blame in the public’s mind for this act. We are told to “Think before you print” in order to save trees and shown pictures of clear-cut forests that break our hearts and anger us.
But when we see a beautiful pasture with grazing cows, a field with new-mown hay or endless acres of corn, we think it is beautiful. The fact is that those beautiful scenes were once forests. Between 1850 and 1910, we lost about a third of our forests – about 190 million acres. When you fly across the Midwest, it’s the most evident. That’s where most of it was converted to agricultural land – when Americans cleared more forest than the total amount cleared in the previous 250 years of settlement. The fact is that when landowners have a financial incentive, they will grow more trees to replace the ones they cut down and even where there currently are no trees.
WHAT REALLY MATTERS – THE BIG PICTURE
Cutting down trees is not sufficient in itself to cause deforestation. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines deforestation as "a non-temporary change of land use from forest to other land use or to the depletion of forest crown cover to less than 10 percent. Clear cuts (even with stump removal), if shortly followed by reforestation for forestry purposes, are not considered deforestation."
What really matters is whether the forest is removed permanently, or reforested with new trees. By depressing the market for paper and wood products, we encourage landowners to “cut and run” – harvest their primary forestland for quick income and then sell the land instead of growing more trees. When this happens, much of the forested land gets converted to other uses, such as development or agriculture.
Plantation forestry (planting only one type of tree specifically as a crop for eventual harvest) is criticized, and although it may not fully compensate all of the biodiversity benefits of a primary forest, it is widely recognized that these trees will sequester carbon and can play a role in helping to address climate change.
WHAT WOULD BE the IDEAL scenario?
The ideal would be if growing trees was so profitable that landowners could not only afford to manage existing forestland with all its biodiversity in a sustainable manner, but they could also convert land that currently has no trees into forests grown specifically for harvesting as timber, much like Christmas tree farmers do. That would reduce the pressure on primary forests and add, rather than subtract, trees from our landscape.
What if we gave landowners a viable reason to plant more trees in places where there are none now? Maybe we need to “Think before we DON’T print.”