The Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests

Can specifying wood for buildings contribute to forest sustainability?
 
Sponsored by Think Wood
By Roxane Ward and Dave Patterson, RPF
 
1 AIA LU/HSW; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; AANB 1 Hour of Core Learning; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; NLAA 1 Hour of Core Learning; NSAA 1 Hour of Core Learning; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Evaluate the use of wood as a construction material in the context of long-term forest sustainability as well as attributes such as low embodied energy and light carbon footprint.
  2. Discuss forest sustainability measures such as biodiversity, soil and water quality, and harvest versus net growth.
  3. Examine the concept that using wood in buildings provides an incentive to landowners to keep forested lands forested instead of converting them to uses such as urban development.
  4. Compare the carbon benefits of an unmanaged forest versus a managed forest where timber is used for wood buildings.

This course is part of the Wood Structures Academy

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Threats to Forest Sustainability

While North American forests have remained relatively stable for decades, they also face significant threats. Although by no means a comprehensive list, the following three were identified in the National Report on Sustainable Forests–2010 as crucial.

The Loss of Forest Lands and Working Forests

According to the report, “Gross statistics on forest area mask substantial fragmentation and outright losses in forest land at the regional level, particularly in areas adjacent to growing urban areas or where recreational development is prominent. Fragmentation and loss is further compounded by the sale of forest lands to firms and individuals whose primary focus is not active forest management for timber production, forest conservation, or other purposes.” Where profitable, forest management and the revenues it generates can serve as an incentive to landowners to keep lands forested and not convert them to other uses.

Description of image.

Photo: Gary Darby Weyerhaeuser

Young, healthy forests are carbon sinks because they are actively absorbing carbon dioxide as they grow. As forests mature, the rate of carbon uptake slows.

Climate Change

Although forests and wood products have a significant role to play in climate change mitigation, the report says, “We are already seeing altered patterns of forest disturbance associated with changes in temperature, precipitation and insect activity. The resulting changes in the distribution of forest cover and species distribution will play out over the coming decades.” Climate change is already being incorporated into forest management planning with the objective of helping forests to remain resilient in the face of environmental stressors.28

Wildfire and Insect Infestation

Referred to in sustainability language as “changing disturbance patterns,” this category has included a three-fold increase in insect-induced tree mortality in the last decade and a “marked increase” in forest fires, especially on public lands in the West. “This increase is tied to a complex set of natural and human-induced dynamics involving fire suppression, increasing stand densities, aging of certain tree species, and warming temperatures. The result has been a dramatic increase in the area of forest affected by bark-beetle infestations in the pine forests of the interior West and a general increase in forest fuel loadings and fire susceptibility.

The Next 100 Years

The complexities associated with forests and their management do not lend themselves to easy generalization. As this course has shown, North American forests have been stable for decades. Modern forestry involves teams of dedicated professionals who rely on science and their experience of the forest to plan for and protect a wide range of forest values. Forests and wood products have carbon benefits that exceed the benefits of natural forests alone, and strong markets for wood products provide incentives for landowners to keep lands forested. There are also profound threats to future forest sustainability.

However, while the threats may seem insurmountable, a report from Dovetail Partners, “The Next 100 Years of Forests in the U.S.—Growing the Forests We Want and Need,” offers an interesting perspective: “It may help to remember that previous generations were able to [meet their forest management challenges] during an era that included The Great Depression, WWI and WWII, global energy crises, and many other social and economic upheavals. Our history shows that if we want healthy, abundant forests, we can have them. We just need to choose a vision for the future that includes abundant forests and take appropriate action to secure them.”

End Notes

1Sarthre, Roger, and O’Connor, Jennifer. A Synthesis of Research on Wood Products & Greenhouse Gas Impacts. FPInnovations. October 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.canfor.com/docs/why-wood/tr19-complete-pub-web.pdf.
2National Report on Sustainable Forests—2010. U. S. Forest Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. June 2011. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.fs.fed.us/research/sustain/docs/national-reports/2010/2010-sustainability-report.pdf.
3McCleary, Douglas W. American Forests: A History of Resiliency and Recovery. Forest History Society. 1997.
4Alvarez, Mila. The State of America’s Forests. Society of American Foresters and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2007. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. http://www.usaforests.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/soafsmall.pdf .
5Oswalt, Sonja; Smith, Brad; Miles, Patrick; and Pugh, Scott. Forest Resources of the United States, 2017: A Technical Document Supporting the Forest Service 2020 RPA Assessment. U.S. Forest Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. March 2019. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.fs.fed.us/research/publications/gtr/gtr_wo97.pdf. 6“Deforestation in Canada: Key myths and facts.” Natural Resources Canada. 28 Jan. 2019. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/forests-forestry/wildland-fires-insects-disturban/deforestation-canada-key-myths-and-facts/13419.
7Ince, Peter J. Chapter 2: Sustainable Development in the Forest Products Industry. Global sustainable timber supply and demand. 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. http://www.sommerauer.com/sites/default/files/userfiles/1file/fpl_2010_ince001.pdf.
8The State of Canada’s Forests: Annual Report 2018. Natural Resources Canada. 2018. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/pubwarehouse/pdfs/39336.pdf.
9A Guide to World Resources 2000–2001: People and Ecosystems, The Fraying Way of Life. United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, and World Bank and World Resources Institute. September 2000. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. href = "pdf.wri.org/wr2000_summary.pdf.
10“Forests of Opportunity: 2019 Progress Report.” Page 11. Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI). Web. 30 Oct. 2019. http://www.sfiprogram.org/wp-content/uploads/SFI-ProgressReport-2019_Final.pdf.
Publications. Page 2. Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Web. 30 Oct. 2019. https://www.pefc.org/resources/publications?filter_category%5B0%5D=10000127.
100 Million Hectares, 10 Per Cent of Canada, 1 Generation: How WWF Put Conservation on the Map. Page 9. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Canada. November 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2019. . href = "http://ca.fsc.org/preview.100-million-hectares-10-per-cent-of-canada-1-generation.a-1882.pdf
11“Forest Certification as it Contributes to Sustainable Forestry: A Policy Statement Approved by Resolution by the National Association of State Foresters.” National Association of State Foresters (NASF). 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. http://www.stateforesters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/2013-2-NASF-Policy-Statement-Forest-Certification.pdf .
12Lawson, Joe; Laestadius, Lars; and Nogueron, Ruth. Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-Based Products: Version 3. World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Forest Solutions Group. December 2012.
13Certified Forests. naturally:wood. 2019. Web. 30 Oct. 2019. .https://www.naturallywood.com/sustainable-forests/certified-forests
14“300 Years of Sustainable Forestry.” Usasylva, Volume 24. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. http://www.fao.org/3/i3364e/i3364e.pdf.
15The State of Canada’s Forests: Annual Report 2018. Natural Resources Canada. 2018. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/pubwarehouse/pdfs/39336.pdf.
16Atwood, Donald, and Paisley-Jones, Claire. Pesticide Industry Sales and Usage: 2008–2012 Market Estimates. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/pesticides-industry-sales-usage-2016_0.pdf.
17National Report on Sustainable Forests—2010. U. S. Forest Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. June 2011. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.fs.fed.us/research/sustain/docs/national-reports/2010/2010-sustainability-report.pdf.
18Carbon in Wood Products – The Basics. Dovetail Partners. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. http://www.dovetailinc.org/land_use_pdfs/carbon_in_wood_products.pdf.
19Sarthre, R., O’Connor, J. “A Synthesis of Research on Wood Products & Greenhouse Gas Impacts,.” FPInnovations, 2010. https://www.woodworks.org
20Sarthre, Roger, and O’Connor, Jennifer. A Synthesis of Research on Wood Products & Greenhouse Gas Impacts. FPInnovations. October 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.canfor.com/docs/why-wood/tr19-complete-pub-web.pdf.
21Industry Progress Report: Environment, Energy & Safety. American Wood Council. December 2016. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.awc.org/pdf/awc/AWC-IndustryProgressReport-1701.pdf.
22The State of Canada’s Forests: Annual Report 2018. Natural Resources Canada. 2018. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/pubwarehouse/pdfs/39336.pdf .
23Malmsheimer, Robert W. et al. “Managing Forests because Carbon Matters: Integrating Energy, Products, and Land Management Policy.” Journal of Forestry. American Society of Foresters. 2011.
24Miner, Reid. Impact of the global forest industry on atmospheric greenhouse gases. FAO Forestry Paper 159. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2010.
25Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 °C. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2018. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.
26Bowyer, Dr. Jim; Bratkovich, Dr. Steve; and Fernholz, Kathryn. Utilization of Harvested Wood by the North American Forest Products Industry. Dovetail Partners. 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. http://www.dovetailinc.org/report_pdfs/2012/dovetailwoodutilization1012.pdf.
27Stein, Susan M. et all. “Forests on the Edge: Housing Development on America’s Private Forests.” U.S. Forest Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. May 2005. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/fote/fote-6-9-05.pdf.
28“Climate Change.” Government of British Columbia. Web. 7 Oct. 2019. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/climate-change.

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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in December 2019


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