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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.

Trees are essential in removing human-caused carbon dioxide emissions from Earth’s atmosphere. Trees and forests hold vast carbon reservoirs, help provide clean air, prevent soil erosion, and shelter homes to reduce energy costs. The faster trees grow, the more carbon they suck up. However, new growth does not capture carbon on the scale of longstanding forests. When trees die or are destroyed by wildfires, they release the carbon they store. So we must go beyond planting seedlings and focus on keeping trees alive long-term.

Tree planting programs are springing up in cities to gain urban forests' environmental and social benefits. Urban trees help cool cities, absorb stormwater, and provide health benefits like capturing air pollution. But the potential for urban trees to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is limited. That’s why good forest management and reforestation are the best approaches to capture carbon.

So unlike the lumberjacks, we must stop cutting down trees, burning, and destroying them, and releasing carbon at higher rates than what new growth can absorb. We must save the forests AND the trees to address the climate crisis head-on.

Sustainable Stillwater MN has a team to grow and steward urban forests and tree canopy in the Greater Stillwater Area on both public and private land. To volunteer for SSMN Tree Huggers, go to

Or send an email to Michelle Gutwein at


Resource Links for September Editorial - Let’s Not Lose the Forests for the Trees

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