1. ASTM International (2021). Standards Products: ASTM D7612-21. ASTM D7612-21: Standard Practice for Categorizing Wood and Wood-Based Products.
2. U.S. Forest Service (2014). Forest Inventory Analysis National Program. U.S. Forest Resource Facts and Historical Trends, p. 26. FS Report 1035.
3. World Wildlife Federation (2015). Living Forests Report: Chapter 5. Saving Forests at Risk.
4. Alvarez, M. (2018) U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests.
5. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Tree mortality.
6. Ince, Peter (2010). Sustainable development in the forest products industry. Porto, Portugal: Universidade Fernando Pessoa. chapter 2, pgs. 29-41. Global Sustainable Timber Supply and Demand.
7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2022). Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2020. EPA 430-R-22-003.
8. Calvin, Norman and Kreye, Melissa (2020). Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Extension. How Forests Store Carbon.
9. Fernholz, Kathryn (2021). DoveTail Inc. Forest Certification Update 2021: The Pace of Change, p. 5, table 2. DoveTail Pub 1611160123.
10. Sustainable Brands (2017). Why Do Small, Rural Family Landowners Matter to the Global Supply Chain?
11. Pinchot Institute for Conservation (2007). National Forest Certification Study; An Evaluation of the Applicability of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) Standards on Five National Forests. The National Forest Certification Study | US Forest Service.
12. Northern Research Station (2008) Who owns America”s forests: Forest ownership patterns and family forest highlights from the National Woodland Owner Survey. NRS-INF-06-08. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station.
13. USFS, State of America’s Forests, Who Owns America’s Forests?
14. UTNE Reader (2013). Cut a Tree, Prevent Intense Wildfires.
15. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Tree growth, mortality, harvesting and planting.
16. Forest2Market, Inc. (2018). Changes in the Residual Wood Fiber Market, 2004 to 2018, p. 62. 20181130 Forest2Market Residuals Market Assessment.
17. National Alliance of Forest Owners (2022). Benefits of Working Forests.
18. Forest2Market. (2017) Historical Perspective on the Relationship between Demand and Forest Productivity in the US South.
19. Ince, Peter (2010). Sustainable development in the forest products industry. Porto, Portugal: Universidade Fernando Pessoa. chapter 2, pgs. 29-41. Global Sustainable Timber Supply and Demand.
20. World Wildlife Federation (2015). Living Forests Report: Chapter 5. Saving Forests at Risk.
21. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Certified forests.
22. Sonne Hall, Edie (2022). Think Wood. Blog: 10 Questions with Sustainable Forestry Expert, Dr. Edie Sonne Hall.
23. Fernholz, Kathryn (2021). Dovetail Partners. Forest Certification Update 2021: The Pace of Change.
24. Pinchot Institute for Conservation (2007). National Forest Certification Study; An Evaluation of the Applicability of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) Standards on Five National Forests. The National Forest Certification Study | US Forest Service.
25. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Who owns America’s forests?
26. Sonne Hall, Edie (2022). Think Wood. Blog: 10 Questions with Sustainable Forestry Expert, Dr. Edie Sonne Hall.
27. Gonzalez-Benecke, C., Martin, T., Jokela, E. De La Torre, R. (2011). A flexible hybrid model of life cycle carbon balance of loblolly pine management systems. Forests. 2:749-776.; Sonne Hall, E. 2006. Greenhouse gas emissions from forestry operations: a Life Cycle Assessment. Journal of Environmental Quality. 6(4):1439-1450; Oneil, E. and Puettmann, M. 2017. A Life-Cycle Assessment of Forest Resources of the Pacific Northwest, USA. Forest Products Journal. 67(5/6): 316-330. Oneil, E. 2021. Cradle to Gate Life Cycle Assessment of U.S. Regional Forest Resources- U.S. Southern Pine Forests. CORRIM Report. SE Forest Resources LCA Report.pdf.
28. Gonzalez-Benecke, C., Martin, T., Jokela, E. De La Torre, R. (2011). A flexible hybrid model of life cycle carbon balance of loblolly pine management systems. Forests. 2:749-776.
29. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2020). Forest product statistics.
30. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Tree growth, mortality, harvesting and planting.
31. Sonne Hall, Edie (2020). Three Trees Consulting. Blog: How you can have your carbon cake in the forest and build with it too.
32. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Certified Forests.
33. Butler, Brett and Synder, Stephanie (2017). U.S. Forest Service National Woodland Owner Survey, pgs. 42-43, table 4. National Woodland Owner Survey: family forest ownerships with 1 to 9 acres, 2011-2013.
34. Ganguly, I., Pierobon, F. and Sonne Hall, E. (2020). Global Warming Mitigation Potential of Wood Products from Washington State’s Private Forests. Forests. 11(2). MDPI 1999-4907/11/2/194.
35. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Tree growth, mortality, harvesting and planting.
36. Oregon Forest Industries Council (2022). OR Forest Facts.
37. Washington Forest Protection Association (2022). Sustainable Forestry in WA.
38. Washington Forest Protection Association (2022), Sustainable Forestry in WA.
39. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Certified forests.
40. Idaho Forest Products Commission (2020). Can all timberlands be harvested?
41. Idaho Forest Products Commission (2020). Idaho’s Forests.
42. Idaho Forest Products Commission (2020). How do we Keep Forests Sustainable?
43. Simmons, Eric A. et al. (2020) Journal of Forestry, Volume 118, Issue 3, Pages 233–243. Timber Use, Processing Capacity, and Capability within the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region Timber-Processing Area.
44. Southern Group of State Foresters (2021). SGSF Forest Certification Programs, Status and Recommendations in the South, p. 9. Publication 20r1.
45. U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (2021). The Southern Forest Futures Project: Summary Report, p. 41. General Technical Report-168.
46. U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (2021). The Southern Forest Futures Project: Summary Report, p. 9. General Technical Report-168.
47. U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (2021). The Southern Forest Futures Project: Summary Report, p. 19. General Technical Report-168.
48. Weyerhaeuser Company (2022). Timberlands: Forests in the Southern United States.
49. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Tree growth, mortality, harvesting and planting.
50. Georgia Forestry Association (2022). Facts about GA Forests.
51. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Certified forests.
52. U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture Cooperative Extension (2019). Forest Renewal: Natural Regeneration or Tree Planting? – Climate, Forests and Woodlands.
53. Butlers, Brett et al. (2011). Society of American Foresters. Journal of Forestry. Family Forest Owner Trends in the Northern United States. Family Forest Research Center Report 2016/03/32.
54. The National Wildlife Federation (2022). Facts about the Northern Forest.
55. U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station (2012). Forests of the Northern United States. General Technical Report NRS-90.
56. Alvarez, Mila (2018). U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The State of America’s Forests. Tree growth, mortality, harvesting and planting.
57. U.S. Forest Service (2020). Forests of Maine, 2019. Resource Update FS-236.
58. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2021). Carbon in Wisconsin Forests.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines sustainable forest management as: “The stewardship and use of forests and forestlands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality, and their potential to fulfill, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic, and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”
The forest sector replants over 783 million seedlings per year (CINTRAFOR Research, 2021). According to research by the University of Washington, 23 seedlings are planted per thousand board feet of lumber produced. The rate of replanting varies by region, species, and other factors so there’s not an exact tree for tree figure. It ranges from two to five seedlings per tree harvested.
Timber takes between 25 and 100 years to mature. It varies widely by species and geographic region. For example, a loblolly pine in the U.S. Southeast can be harvested after 25 to 30 years but a ponderosa pine in the West may take 50 to 100 years to mature. 17
First, deforestation is defined as changing from a forest to a non-forest use. Urbanization, not the production of forest products, is the single biggest threats facing U.S. forests today. While landowners harvest timber from their lands, they typically also regenerate that timber and keep forests forested, especially if they can find readily accessible, healthy markets for their timber.18 While it may seem counter-intuitive, forest product demand can actually lead to more forests. Demand for forest products provides revenue to landowners, incentivizing them to invest in their forests through replanting, management, and forest health treatments. Data shows that global regions with the highest levels of industrial timber harvest and forest product output are also regions with the lowest rates of deforestation.19 Empirical data shows that higher demand leads to more supply (growth).
According to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Forest Report 20, the most common pressures causing deforestation and severe forest degradation are: large and small-scale agriculture; unsustainable logging; mining; infrastructure projects; and increased fire incidence and intensity. WWF identified 11 places where the largest concentrations of forest loss or severe degradation are projected to occur between 2010 and 2030, none of which are in the U.S. or Canada.
Clearcutting is a silvicultural (forest management) practice to allow sun loving tree species to have enough sunlight, so they can grow. It’s a healthy practice for certain species, like loblolly pines and Douglas fir, that require a lot of light to grow. With species that don’t need as much sunlight and are slower growing, like mixed hardwood forests in the Northeast, different management techniques are used. Clearcutting is just as sustainable as any other practice as long as forest managers are protecting the soil and re-establishing a forest after harvest, which ensures a continuous supply of trees over the long term. Forestry best management practices protect soil and water resources in and around clearcut sites. All forest management certification standards allow for clear-cuts, but each has different conditions for their use. All forest management certification standards allow for clear-cuts, but each has different
conditions for their use. Learn more about clearcutting here.
Forest owners manage for the long term. They’re planning decades ahead of harvest. Without thoughtful replanting or regeneration of harvested sites, there would be no business for the next generation. Forest management companies often use digital growth models to help them understand how their forests will grow over time and how much they can harvest on an annual basis. It doesn’t make business sense to deplete the forest and then not have anything to harvest in the future.
Architects, engineers, and other design professionals can be assured that timber is harvested sustainably through mechanisms like forest management certification, responsible fiber sourcing standards, and certification of mills, and underpinned by a robust set of state defined best management practices (BMPs) at the forest level.
The four primary land-based certification systems in North America are Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS). SFI is a single-standard North American program, FSC is a global program with regional standards that vary across the regions covered, CSA is the Canadian National Forest Management Standard, and ATFS is geared toward smaller U.S. landowners. While you can debate the nuances, each delivers strong assurances of sustainable forestry practices.
Forest certification programs set standards that address forestland management, wood fiber sourcing operations, or the chain of custody as wood moves from forest to mill to final product. There are three types of forest-related certification. 21
Forest certifications assess a landowner’s forestry practices against a series of clearly defined requirements related to sustainable harvest rates, reforestation, water quality, biodiversity, wildlife, forests of exceptional conservation value, and more. Third-party auditors verify a company’s compliance. The highest level of sustainability assurance is forest management certification. Wood is one of the few building materials that has these voluntary certification programs in place.
There are about 96 million acres of certified forests in the U.S., which is about 19% of total U.S. timberland—well above the global average of 11%.22
The area of certified forest is equivalent to approximately 11% of the global forest area, with the majority of certified area located in North American and Europe.23
U.S. federal timberlands are not certified but this does not mean they are not being sustainably managed. In 2007, the Pinchot Institute conducted a study of five national forests and found their management practices met many of the certification requirements in terms of forest planning, protection of threatened and endangered species and others.24
Some small family forest owners chose to certify their lands and other don’t. Cost, complexity, administrative burden, and the diversity of landowner objectives and values make wide-scale certification difficult for small landowners. These landowners make up 56% of timberland ownership in the U.S. (almost 290 million acres)25. Even though many of these lands are not certified, most are subject to wood fiber sourcing certification at the mills that purchase the landowners’ timber—which means trained loggers and forestry BMP implementation are required on the majority of these lands. For those landowners who choose to certify their forests, the American Tree Farm standard is designed to be implemented by smaller scale forest owners.
Every U.S. state has developed best management practices (BMPs) guidelines for water quality and other environmental concerns such as soil erosion and regeneration, endangered species protection, and more. Some states regulate forest management practices while others provide voluntary guidelines for forest managers to follow. The implementation of water quality BMPs, whether regulatory, quasi-regulatory, or non-regulatory, is monitored across the U.S. and achieves above 90% compliance in all states. This is a requirement of the Clean Water Act to which all forestry operations must comply. This is important because roughly 60% of drinking water is sourced from forests across the nation, with up to 75% in the U.S. West. Learn more about BMPs.
Carbon sequestration is closely linked to a species’ growth rate, among other factors. Since carbon is stored in the wood mass of the tree, the speed at which a tree grows correlates with the rate it is storing carbon. Some trees like the loblolly pine grow quickly and then growth slows. A tree like Douglas fir grows fairly consistently for about 100 years, with growth then slowing. In warmer climates, trees tend to grow faster. There is a wide range based on the geography, type of tree, and how the forest landscape is managed.
Both are valid ways to store carbon but only one creates wood products for buildings—buildings that will store carbon throughout their service lives. After a tree is harvested, a new one is planted to continue the cycle of carbon sequestration. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, “Forestry for a Low Carbon Future,” lists six key strategies for integrating forests and wood products into climate change strategies:
Carbon emissions associated with forestry activities are relatively small and do not exceed the amount of carbon stored in wood and wood products. Total GWP for sawlog production, harvesting, and loading on the truck ready for transport to the mill is 10.1 kg CO2e/m3 or 1.2% of the CO2e that is sequestered in that m3 of sawlog.27 One such study of southeastern U.S. loblolly pine found that emissions from management and harvest activities accounted for only 1.6% of the total carbon stored in the wood products and the managed forest.28
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization defines climate-smart forestry as building on the concepts of sustainable forest management, with a strong focus on climate and ecosystem services. It builds on three mutually reinforcing components (Verkerk et al., 2020):
1) Increasing carbon storage in forests and wood products, in conjunction with the provisioning of other ecosystem services
2) Enhancing forest health and resilience through climate change adaptive forest management
3) Using wood resources sustainably to substitute non-renewable, carbon-intensive materials (pg. 60)
The U.S. produces 19% of the world’s industrial roundwood, making it the largest global producer. Still, it maintains a sustainable level of production and consistently holds about 8% of the world’s forests.29
Global deforestation is a significant threat, but it’s not a threat in the U.S. and should not be conflated with U.S forestry practices. Timberland growing stock volume in the U.S. has increased by 60% since 1953, from 615 billion to 985 billion cubic feet, even though U.S. timberland area increased by only 1%.30
Sustainably produced wood has the lowest carbon footprint of any structural building material. Wood products not only take less energy to manufacture than other more energy-intensive materials; they store carbon long term over their useful lifetime (which varies depending on the end product). When looking at the carbon storage for a given acre of working forestland, if you include long- and short-lived products, and then credit for substituting wood for more emissions-intensive materials—the benefits are often higher with continued harvest than leaving it to grow.31
That is not to say that all forests should be managed to produce timber. Across a landscape, forests should serve different purposes. Some should be managed intensively for wood products and some should be managed as forests with exceptional conservation value.