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How does building with wood actually help forests?

How does building with wood actually help forests?

by Wood Institute -
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How does building with wood actually help forests?

Learn about the beneficial relationship between wood building products and sustainably managed forests.

Harvesting timber as a sustainability tactic can feel counterintuitive. If forests are the most important carbon sinks we have, why would be intentionally specify more timber in our buildings?

The answer, in short, is that demand for more forest products leads to more forests. “Demand provides revenue and policy incentives to invest in forest planting and management,” said Dr. Edie Sonne Hall, a forestry expert who specializes in forest carbon accounting and life cycle assessment, in a Q&A with Think Wood. “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. And we can see from empirical data that higher demand leads to more supply (growth).”

Research forester Peter Ince presents that data in a chapter of the book Sustainable Development in the Forest Products Industry, where he notes that an economically vibrant industrial forest products sector has been key to forest policies that support sustainable timber supply and demand. For example, while South America and Africa experienced high rates of deforestation from 1990 to 2005, North and Central American forest area has stayed nearly constant despite being the most productive in the world.

“The global data supports rejection of the simple hypothesis that industrial timber harvest and forest product demands are correlated with global deforestation,” Ince writes.

The most recent USDA Forest Service assessment confirms the sustainability of timber supply: Between 2001 and 2011, forested land cover in the U.S. changed a nominal -2.26% despite a 9.7% growth in population during the same period.

Building designers who are serious about taking an integrated approach to building sustainability can explore the ecological impacts of building with wood in The Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests CEU. The course examines several common misconceptions around forest sustainability, including the idea that using more wood means less forest. 

In fact, the course shows that strong markets for wood products help to ensure that the owners of private forestland derive value from their investment rather than converting it to other profitable uses such as housing development. Demand for timber provides an incentive to not only keep lands forested but also manage them sustainably for long-term health. Check out the course to learn how building designers can ensure that specifying wood won’t have a negative impact on our valuable forest resources.

Take the Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests CEU