Each new market that emerges for private working forests in the U.S. evokes the same question – can these forests sustain an additional resource demand? This question was asked frequently over the course of the 20th Century, particularly as our country moved from using our forests to build a nation to using our forests to provide a higher quality of life for a burgeoning middle class. A few facts are instructive.
Alliance of Forest Owners – May 29, 2013
May 29, 2013. Each new market that emerges for private working forests in the U.S. evokes the same question can these forests sustain an additional resource demand?
This question was asked frequently over the course of the 20th Century, particularly as our country moved from using our forests to build a nation to using our forests to provide a higher quality of life for a burgeoning middle class.
A few facts are instructive. From 1900 to 2000 the population of the US increased from 76 million to more than 280 million. During this same time median household income increased from $490 to $45,000. This increase in population and wealth caused a corresponding increase in demand for consumer products from our forests. Housing starts increased from 189,000 per year in 1900 to 1.3 million per year in 2000. Pulp production increased from 8 million to more than 200 million tons annually. This expansion was unprecedented in terms of the market demands for goods and services placed on our forests, particularly private forests.
Equally instructive are the positive outcomes of this expansion on the environment, contrary to the naysayers who fought and continue to fight new markets for forest products. Overall forest extent during this period remained relatively constant at 755 million acres, 450 million of which are privately owned. More significantly, the total volume of trees in these forests increased by more than 50 percent during this period. Today these same forests that are managed to meet an ever increasing level of consumer needs from housing to paper products to renewable energy, are still capturing enough net carbon from the atmosphere to offset 14% of our nations industrial carbon emissions each year. They are also managed within a mature framework of federal, state and local laws that work together to make U.S. forests the most productive and sustainable in the world and that provide jobs for 2.8 million Americans.
Do new and emerging markets threaten our forests? No. They help sustain them. That is precisely why we should be skeptical of those who claim that new and growing markets, like a resurgent housing market, renewable energy markets at home and in Europe, or the growing international pulp market will somehow upset the balance of sustainable forestry in our country. To the contrary, if history is our teacher, these markets will give forest owners a powerful reason to keep and manage their forests sustainably for another century and beyond. That is good for both our society and our forests.