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Let’s Not Lose the Forests for the Trees

By Timothy Nolan, Sustainable Stillwater MN

Lumberjack Days are over, and for all the folksy nostalgia they generate in our minds, we should not forget that the 19th Century lumber industry’s success actually decimated forests. The result was a massive transformation of the St. Croix Valley's landscape, that often irrevocably altered its ecosystem. The industry was also involved in treaties that took land from Native Americans. Unfortunately, the cost of all this is still felt today.

History is often doomed to repeat itself. America has started to change industrial-scale tree harvesting to reduce environmental and social impacts. But the decimation continues in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Massive harvesting of rainforests for agricultural and beef production is moving those regions beyond an environmental “tipping point” that is escalating climate change and destroying biodiversity.

Globally, paper consumption is at unsustainable levels and increasing. As a result, the paper industry has substantial climate change impacts. Leadership is emerging to drive change, but voluntary commitments are lagging. Moving faster to implement solutions that avert climate change and the extinction crises is critical. All stakeholders must focus on strategies like better land management, raw material sourcing in forests, cleaner production, and the end of life of paper products, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We as consumers can help through actions like paper recycling, reducing wood waste from construction, and repurposing wood materials to retain carbon over time. Wood and paper certification programs set standards for managing and producing sustainable forests. Buy products certified and labeled by the Forest Stewardship Council -- the best-known international nonprofit promoting responsible management of the world's forest resources.