They’re cool, green and fragrant, ringing with only the sounds of creatures, squeaking tree limbs and wind. They put us smack dab in the middle of nature. In short, forests speak to our souls. Increasingly, we’re also emotionally invested in what they offer the planet — a sanctuary for countless plant and animal species, a carbon dioxide-absorbing filter for the air, a natural atmosphere coolant in a time of global climate change.
Since 1872, Americans have set aside a day each year — National Arbor Day — to plant and care for trees and express our appreciation. In fact, today over 40 countries recognize Arbor Day at different times of year. So it’s no wonder that, for many people, the word “deforestation” sends shivers down the spine.
Yet that word is often misunderstood.
Timber harvesting, for instance, does not necessarily constitute deforestation. Why? In cases where that harvest takes place as part of a sustainable forest management strategy, it doesn’t lead to the permanent loss of forest cover. If new trees are planted or if the forest is allowed to repopulate by natural regeneration — as is required by forest certifications such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standard — the forest survives and thrives under responsible management.
What’s more, sustainable forest management reaches way beyond harvesting; it includes responsible forestry practices that promote clean water, clean air, carbon storage, biodiversity and wildlife habitat conservation, all while providing jobs, improving our quality of life, and providing products we use every day from the books we read to the table where we sit with family and much, much more. Responsible forest management ensures forests remain resilient and renewable while also being productive.“While guarding against loss of forests is extremely important, we need also to guard against the perception that appropriate use of forests, including harvesting to generate forest products, somehow equates to ‘deforestation,’” wrote Paul Trianosky, chief conservation officer of SFI, in a recent blog.
Real deforestation occurs when the land is converted to other uses, resulting in the loss of that forest and the many benefits forests provide.
Credible third-party certification programs such as SFI, which require responsible forest management, are designed to protect and conserve forests. These certification programs are an important element of corporate “zero deforestation” policies and can help meet zero-deforestation goals and other corporate sustainability policy goals.
“It’s very important to ensure that, in our zeal to stop forest loss, policies or metrics don’t inadvertently confound the differing realities of forest harvest versus true deforestation,” wrote Trianosky.
Rates of true deforestation in the United States and Canada are very low. We have more forests in the U.S. today than we did 100 years ago. In Canada, more than 160 million hectares (about 400 hundred million acres) of forested land are certified to at least one internationally recognized forest certification standard. In 2015, less than 0.5 percent of forests certified to SFI standards were harvested in North America, and those harvests were offset by reforestation on every acre.
To honor Arbor Day, by all means organize a forest hike or go out and plant a tree (the Arbor Day Foundation offers tree planting instructions). But also look for certification labeling that indicates the wood and paper products you buy come from responsible forest sources.
Forests give us more than fresh air, clean water, recreation and habitats for flora and fauna. They’re an important — and sustainable — economic force. By making certain they’re managed responsibly, we can ensure they will be there for future generations to cherish, and enjoy.