Trees and Paper – Part 2: An Overview of Environmental Considerations
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In my last blog, "Trees and Paper – Part 1: The Economic Perspective," I touched on the economic and social value of trees and forests as they pertain to paper production. Below I hope to give you an overview of how forests can be managed in a professional and environmentally sensitive manner.
Step 1 - It all starts with a Forest Management Plan!
Proper forest management means following a good forest management plan. Below is an example of typical requirements that a company follows to manage large parcels of forest land (i.e. over 100,000 acres).
- The management plan covers an 80-year planning horizon and is divided into five-year submission windows which divides the harvest over time.
- One of the key planning tools is a computerized GIS mapping system (Geographical Information System) that stores vast amounts of data on environmental, economic and social elements of the managed forest area. The system is used for predictive modelling and is regularly updated based on aerial recognition and field observations by foresters.
- Many forest areas are excluded from harvesting including protected or conservation areas, deer wintering grounds, buffer zones near watercourses and wetlands, sensitive wildlife habitat.
- By law, large watercourses have a buffer zone of 60-100 meters and all other flowing water, including wetland at least 30 meters.
- Harvesting road areas and road construction are part of the plan. Bridge construction requires approval and is closely monitored to minimize impacts to the aquatic ecosystem. The type of bridge installed depends on the size of the watercourse drainage area.
To the left, forest management plans provide a roadmap and instructions for foresters and contractors when working in the field.
Step 2 - Cruising
- Each block of a management plan is cruised by foresters who complete a field assessment using geo-recorders (data recorders with GPS tagging). The data is then uploaded to the GIS system to determine the real harvest area which is usually smaller in size than what was originally planned, due to environmental and other conditions.
- Recorded data includes tree species, number of trees per hectare, tree age and condition, watercourses, raptor nests, den sites (ex: bobcat, bears, etc.), and many more indicators.
Step 3 - Harvesting
- Different forest areas are treated differently based on tree age and species structure. There can be over 12 different types of harvest treatment specifications, including shelterwood, selection cut, strip cut, commercial thinning and many more.
- Certified loggers are used to conduct harvesting. They are trained in forest certification, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) requirements, and also trained by the company to respect environmental guidelines and regulations which are specified in the company’s ISO 14001 environmental management system.
- In many cases, state-of-the-art “harvesters” with on-board GPS are used to conduct harvesting based on uploaded GIS data from the forest management plan.
- The harvested trees are used for many purposes including lumber for construction, pulp for papermaking, and in some cases, viscose pulp for the textile industry. In many cases 25 percent or less of the harvested trees are used for pulp, and even less goes to printing and writing paper.
- Much of the wood fiber used in pulp production for paper-making is coming from sawmill chips, a by-product of sawmills that manufacture lumber for construction.
To the left, a harvest block five to 10 years after harvesting. We need to think of the forest as a renewable ecosystem that will replenish itself based on proper long-term management techniques.
E Phil Riebel Author's page
Phil has over 28 years of international experience related to sustainability and the forest products industry. He currently leads Two Sides North America, a non-profit that promotes the unique sustainable features of print and paper, as well as their responsible production and use. Two Sides operates globally in five continents with members that span the entire graphic communication value chain. Phil has written extensively on sustainability and environmental topics related to the forest products sector. He received his Bachelor and Master's of Science degrees from McGill University in Montreal. He is a private forest owner and sustainably manages over 200 acres of forestland for both recreational and economic benefits.