Environmental challenges facing the forest products industry

TAPPI has published an article by NCASI staff, “Environmental challenges for the coming decade” (Paper3600 January/February 2012 by Reid Miner et al.). The article evaluates a NCASI assessment of environmental challenges from the year 2000 and offers a new assessment. Following is an excerpt from the article’s section on “Raw Material Availability”.

“In 2000, we felt that the great near term threat to US fiber supplies was Federal regulation of private forestry under the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. In the longer term, we suggested various pressures would result in the industry’s attempting to make more productive use of limited land resources by continuing to intensify forest management practices through application of techniques such as fertilization, chemical weed control, and genetic tree improvement. We predicted these practices would raise new environmental issues connected to intensive forest management which would require continued, and probably increased, attention by environmental professionals.”

“Regulations affecting private forest management have indeed become more complex and restrictive. For example, some forestry activities considered nonpoint sources since the 1970s have been reclassified as point sources subject to permitting requirements, a change expected to have high costs and negligible benefits.”

“The trend toward ‘intensification’ of forest management remains critical to the industry’s future but has been interrupted in the US by a precipitous decline in the demand for saw timber for home construction. Planted forests, pesticides, and biotechnology remain contentious topics of debate in context of forest regulations and certification. If use of woody biomass for energy increases substantially, it may be necessary to apply intensive forestry methods more broadly in the future to meet the needs of new and traditional markets.”

“In 2000, we recognized forest certification as an important aspect of the industry’s overall ‘proof of performance’ efforts. We failed, however, to anticipate the growth in forest certification as a major element in green marketing and corporate responsibility initiatives. This trend will continue, making it necessary for certification programs to accommodate the views and needs of a much broader group of industry stakeholders.”

“A topic that we did not adequately anticipate in our 2000 predictions was ‘water sustainability’. Since 2008 a number of groups have sought to promote increased awareness and management of fresh water resources. Certification schemes and other tools are increasingly common as means for assessing water use and consumption, business risks related to water availability, and to encourage greater disclosure of water management practices.”