Save a Forest, Use Wood Products

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Every time you use a forest product, it is as if you are ordering another tree to be planted, and the reforestation cycle begins all over again.


One of the most popular misnomers about America’s forests is that the best way to save them is to stop using wood products. Actually, the opposite is true. Every time you use a forest product, it is as if you are ordering another tree to be planted, and the reforestation cycle begins all over again.

The president and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Kathy Abusow, recently spoke at a TEDx event in Wilmington, Delaware where she spoke on the importance of forest products for environmental conservation. You can view the entire video at

Abusow titled her speech, “Hugging The Forest, Rather Than The Trees – How Responsible Forestry Does More Than Stop Deforestation.” She made the point that instead of just hugging one tree we should take steps to ensure entire forests are well managed for the long run. She explained that more trees are lost each year in North America from fire, disease and storm damage than harvesting for wood products. She added that only 1% of forest land is harvested each year, and that most of that is managed in a sustainable way and replanted or allowed to regenerate.

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Well managed forests provide products and benefits that help society at large. These forests store carbon, clean the air we breathe and the water we drink, and provide habitat for many species as well as material to make products that improve our quality of life.

Abusow stated, “Forests certified to SFI Standards span a quarter billion acres from Canada’s Boreal to the U.S. South, and millions of additional acres are positively influenced by SFI Standards and programs for the responsible procurement of forest products.”

What is deforestation? Is it harvesting a tree to make paper, furniture or some other wood product? No. That is not deforestation. Usually, in North America it leads to reforestation because trees are replanted and land is left free for a forest to regenerate. If forest landowners make money from trees, they are the ones who will actively manage and save forests. Otherwise, they are shipwrecking their own future.

So what is deforestation? In reality it is any land management that cuts down a forest or allows it to be destroyed and turned into anything other than a forest. So, when a contractor cuts down a forest to build a housing development, that is deforestation. When a farmer cuts down a forest to plant crops, that is deforestation. When a local government cuts down a forest to build a school, that is deforestation. One of the biggest causes of deforestation in America is land development.

In some third world countries, one of the biggest causes of deforestation is illegal logging. This occurs when land is cut or burned down by someone other than the owner or the process is done in an illegal way. Most people who do illegal logging don’t replant or actively manage it. And in some areas of the world, particularly South America, forests are cut or burned to transform the land into agricultural fields. This results in long-term deforestation for those areas. That is why stopping illegal logging is so important.

Very little illegal logging occurs in the United States compared to other parts of the world. Abusow explained that if a tree is not valued as a renewal resource, then that land might get converted to something else, and that is deforestation.

Abusow and others in the forestry sector want people to stop feeling guilty about using forest products and to feel pride when they buy sustainable managed products made from wood. This will help encourage active management and reforestation. In this country, we need to rethink what deforestation is and discover the positive contribution that wood products can play.

SFI is a non-profit that plays a central role in strengthening the vital links between sustainable forestry, responsible purchasing and thriving communities. SFI is committed to raising awareness that well managed forests provide products and benefits that help society at large.

If you want to truly improve forest health, active management is necessary and that involves using wood products. Proper management means removing unhealthy trees and managing forest density as well as rooting out diseased and dying trees. It also involves proper management over time, which includes harvesting.

As Abusow said, “We need to hug the whole forest not just one tree.”