Many of you have heard me talk before about how the best way to keep a forest healthy is to encourage cutting some of it down. It sounds counter-intuitive in some ways, but as also discussed in the past, we have a limited amount of dirt in the world, and people will use that dirt for whatever is the most profitable or useful for them. That could be a natural forest or a cornfield, a plantation or a parking lot. By giving natural forests an economic value, we’re encouraging the use of dirt for forests …

… And to look at the value of forests, I would like to recommend this full article, “Timber! Are We Out on a Limb?” for summer reading. It has some great statistics such as the fact that “the forests of the world sequester carbon in vast quantities: an estimated 289 gigatonnes (Gt) in their biomass alone.” That’s a fun one to toss out next time someone asks you about how trees help fight global warming.

It also pulls stats from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization such as:

• There are about 4 billion hectares (ha) (10 billion acres) of forest in the world today.
• About 3 billion ha is primarily for the production of wood and non-wood products.
• Twelve percent of the 4 billion ha are protected in some way.

Wood use in construction is not one of deforestation's key drivers.

Now, “deforestation” is converting forest to another use—no more trees. We don’t like that, right? Well, as the article points out, “wood use in construction is not one of deforestation's key drivers … conversion to agriculture, notably palm oil, cattle, soy, and subsistence farming, accounts for about 80 percent of global deforestation.” Again, it is a choice of what to put on that dirt—what seems to have the most immediate value to the users of that patch of land.

Here’s a fun stat, which I’ll quote in full:

In North America, where 90 percent of wood taken from forests is cut for the timber itself—primarily for construction and, decreasingly, pulp and paper—forest area is holding steady. North American forests are now being managed so that they recover from cuts within a relatively short period, either through replanting (reforestation) or natural regeneration.

Think on that. The United States has a thriving forest economy. We have a strong, well-respected, well-valued wood industry. The species are valued, be it for a decorative hardwood floor or a strong structural softwood support. We have an industry committed to having forests around for decades, even centuries to come. So overall, we see an economic value to filling our dirt with valuable trees. And the stats show that despite a steady harvest rate, our forests are holding their own.

To keep the tropical forests healthy and growing, they need to be more valuable to the users than palm oil plantations.

To keep the tropical forests healthy and growing, they need to be more valuable to the users than palm oil plantations or cattle farms or than using the dirt to plant some vegetables to feed your family that year. And better still, we should be giving value to sustainably managed forests—ideally, look for FSC or PEFC or another certification on your tropical wood. But no matter what, appreciate it, give it good value, encourage people to keep the forest active and well-managed so we have these trees around for years to come.

The article goes on to look at the value and need for more plantations—in part because there just aren’t enough sustainably managed natural forests for the long term. It also compares some of the various certification programs and discusses (as I’ve said before) the need for the final users (particularly green building programs) to embrace more programs that just FSC. But again, the bottom line is that we need to give all trees enough value to have them be the application of choice for our available dirt.

[Editor's Note: For more on why using trees promotes preserving forests, see the article "Trees Are the Answer: Why Using Wood is the Answer to Saving Forests."]

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")