Last week I was looking at the negatives about plantations. Now let me sing their praises.
I think we'd all agree that we'd rather have plantations then fallow ground. Beyond that, sometimes plantations are really the most effective way to get full value-and to encourage planting and replanting on a regular basis, keeping the world green for decades, even centuries.
Sweden's forests are, in one sense, a very large plantation and have been for nearly 2,000 years. Swedish forests (as well those in Norway and Finland) have been managed better for a longer period of time then perhaps those of any other country or region in the world. No one would consider Nordic pine and spruce as anything other than "green."
Some species work well in plantations because they provide for multiple use throughout their lifetime. I wrote about rubberwood last week. The trees produce useful rubber sap until age 25-30, at which point they are literally "tapped out." They are then cut and provide a valuable timber.
Some trees provide oils or nuts or fruits or more during their lifespans. People have a long history of using apple, pear and olive in furniture, flooring and musical instruments, and now are beginning to explore options in mango, durian and other tropical fruit trees, as well. And I think we all love both maple syrup and maple flooring.
Fast-growing trees can provide a lot of jobs… work tending the nurseries, planting the trees, trimming and maintaining them, and then with a fast cutting rate, supply factories that need a constant input to keep people employed. Without plantations, many factories in Asia and South America would close, increasing unemployment and regional instability.
Plantations can help save high value forests-we don't need to use red oak as a pulpwood, for example. Teak plantations in Indonesia and South America have reduced the pressure on the Burmese forests and provided many with an alternative to buying from a regime they don't want to support.
Using low-grade eucalyptus as the core for engineered flooring maximizes the use of a high-grade walnut or jatoba log. In fact, in China, engineered flooring is produced in increasingly economical and more environmentally sound ways utilizing eucalyptus and poplar plantation cores. New technology allows production to be made out of thinner plies, increasing fiber recovery of the low-grade timber as well as the high-grade wood.
Plantations are sometimes the best way to help the land recover after a disaster, be it natural or man-made. For example, in Vietnam, hillsides are being replanted after war damage from Agent Orange with pine and other species. These plantations will stop erosion and also help develop Vietnam's economy.
In my opinion, we do not want to convert native forests into plantations, but where they already exist or where there is empty ground, plantations are a viable and green opportunity to explore. The point that I want to make is that we do not want to buy or use plantation wood to the exclusion of other material, or we will force people to convert existing forestlands into plantations to satisfy an increased market demand. We need to find that balance, recognizing the value that plantations can offer, but understanding that all forests need to be managed in both a sustainable and economical manner.