Pulp Magic

SEPTEMBER 18, 2015

Note to Bloggers: We’re in a Tree Planting Business

If I were to tell Grist’s editors that I knew of a group that planted 3.2 million trees every day in the United States, they’d probably want to give them an award.

That group, of course, are the forestland owners—many of them families on small plots—who provide the raw material for paper and packaging products, considered among the most reusable and recyclable materials in the world.

That’s why it struck me as odd that Grist blogger Katie Herzog claims in her recent post that the purpose of the Paper and Packaging Board’s new consumer advertising campaign is to “convince” Americans “to kill more trees.”

The simple, incontrovertible fact is that American forests are growing, not shrinking, in large part thanks to the paper and packaging industries. We grow twice as much wood as we harvest each year, and forest volume has increased by nearly 50 percent over the last six decades.

Demand for forest products helps ensure landowners are incentivized to steward forestland responsibly, for long-term sustainability. By contrast, when demand for forest products decreases, the risk of deforestation increases, as forestland becomes vulnerable to commercial and residential development. As USDA’s Chief Economist Robert Johansson argued, “forests with little or no economic value are at greater risk for conversion to non-forest … uses.”

It’s true, of course, that we cut trees. And that gives us a special responsibility to value every part of the tree and think constantly about the overall health and sustainability of our forests. But it would be far more accurate to say that the purpose of the Paper and Packaging Board’s new campaign is to convince Americans to use forest products that help us plant more trees.

American forestland owners are no more in the business of “killing” trees than apple juice manufacturers are in the business of killing apples, or textile producers are in the business of killing cotton.

There are plenty of complex, serious issues that are part of the ongoing national discussion of forest stewardship, but this isn’t one of them.