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A Papermaker’s Perspective on Sustainable Forestry

There is not a single matter related to papermaking that touches each of us as personally and emotionally as forestry. Simply put, people love trees. Some people envision responsible paper manufacturer as engaging in deforestation but, in fact, our suppliers are harvesting sustainability with a keen vigilance about promoting the regeneration that keeps forests thriving. Forest management not only helps create habitats for animals that call woodlands home, but also ensures clean air, protected soil, better water quality and the promotion of biodiversity.

Explaining the benefits and values of a working forest is often a conversation that pits emotion against science. While many people assume the best thing for a forest is to leave it in its natural state, few understand that variations in age class within a forest helps to promote biodiversity of both plant and animal species.

Management practices cover aspects from harvest planning and tree selection (or exemption) to road building and water protection. Harvesting equipment has evolved to lessen residual damage from felling trees. And depending on the type of environment where bunchers and other vehicles are used, there are lots of wheel options available that are light on the ground while providing just the right amount of soil disturbance to promote regrowth. Roads are constructed with crowns, culverts and ditches to ensure proper drainage. Stabilization and erosion protection are also added to skid trails. Tree tops are also used on the trails which gets turned into mulch ultimately decomposing so the nutrients remain on site.

Of course, paper companies didn’t invent the concept of forest management. As noted by Ross Korpela, our senior wood procurement manager in Cloquet, MN, “Mother Nature has been managing forests forever.” Natural occurrences such as fire, disease, insect infestations and high winds create landscape level events that lead to regeneration of younger forests. But of course these events can also be highly destructive and costly to taxpayers. In fact the USDA budgeted over $2 billion in 2012 for wildland fire management within the Forest Service budget. Korpella adds, “Modern forest techniques mimic the gentler aspects of Mother Nature while providing the fiber to meet society’s needs. That means we are cutting trees in the manner nature intended. The result is, we are creating better forests while also providing economic and environmental benefits to the entire population.”

Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.  Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability.  Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development. This is reposted from The Environmental Quotient with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America.  For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite.  You can also follow @eQLauraThompson on Twitter.

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One thought on “A Papermaker’s Perspective on Sustainable Forestry

  1. Dr. Thompson’s & Mr. Korpela’s perspectives are pragmatic, but I think we need to understand that Mother Nature’s “management” is generally “hands off” – letting natural dynamics play out. Human influence on forests is so pervasive that humans cannot be so hands off. This means humans taking “active” management decision-making to protect X block from all harvesting for any number of reasons, harvesting in X block for wood production, non-timber forest products, fire protection, juman needs, etc. Today’s forest ecosystem dynamics require explicit management decisions by humans, and though the decisions will probably be subjected to more discussion, transparency and at times conflict, than ever before in human history, thoughtful decision-making based on the interplay of all forest values (not just wood) is the challenge of all forest managers today, building on inputs from scientists, indigenous/local people, local communities, etc. The dialectic shouldn’t be about defending wood production, but about implementing it in a fashion that reflects our evolving understanding of forest ecosystems and human dynamics. That will take us places we haven’t been before….

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