Deforestation Myths Debunked by Facts

Submitted by: Pamela Watters 10/30/2014

Basic forestry economics, when combined with industry best practices, protect U.S. forests from overharvest.

This article by LeAndra Spicer originally appeared on the Forest2Market website on September 16, 2014.

Despite documented climate change and the need for energy security, vocal opposition to the use of wood biomass for energy is the norm. The benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign energy sources are drowned out by strong voices that express fears of deforestation.

Myth: Forests in the United States are being depleted.

According to the United States Forest Service, approximately 751 million acres across the United States are classified as forest land. Upwards of two-thirds of this land - 514 million acres - is also considered timber land. Over the past 60 years, timber volume increased by about 50 percent as forest growth exceeded timber harvests.

In the future, increased land development and fewer planned transitions from agriculture to forest lands are expected to lead to a slight decrease in forest area. Despite the projected decline, forest inventories are not expected to fall below values observed since the 1980s. (1)

The 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment (2) reported that the United States gains between 600,000 and 1,200,000 acres of forest annually. Deforestation is occurring worldwide, but the United States continues to replace and reclaim acres harvested and lost to forest fires, insects, disease and development. (Conducted every five years, the next Global Forest Resources Assessment will be released in September 2015).

Myth: The use of wood for energy will lead to deforestation.

Conversion of forests to non-forest uses are the greatest threat of deforestation. When no profitable market for timber products exist, forest land is much more likely to be converted to uses with higher economic values, namely development or agricultural purposes.

The individuals and businesses that own the majority of our nation’s forests depend on the returns they get from the products their forests produce to continue to invest in long-term forest management. When existing markets for these products are strong, or when new markets like energy emerge, they provide forest owners with the means to keep their land forested.

Furthermore, the forest products industry supply chain adjusts to market conditions. If supply is depleted in a wood basin, market prices increase to the point that additional increases render finished wood products unprofitable. One needs to look no further than the pulp and paper industry to see this concept in action.

For more than a century, pulp and paper facilities have survived by adjusting plant capacity to match, not exceed, available wood supply. More recently, new market entrants that did not conduct proper due diligence in regards to the supply available in their wood basin have failed. Projects that rely on wood as a raw material do not succeed by depleting their supply area.

Myth: Forest owners clearcut trees to supply biomass markets.

Energy production is one of the lowest value uses of forest biomass. Forestry economics favor the growth of large trees to produce high value products, like lumber for homes or furniture. Landowners simply do not act against their own financial interests by harvesting low value biomass for little to no profit, but instead allow their forests to grow until they can harvest higher value products like sawtimber.

Basic forestry economics, when combined with industry best practices, protect U.S. forests from overharvest.

(1) United States Forest Service. 2013. The Future of America’s Forests and Rangelands.

(2) United Nations. 2010. Global Forest Resources Assessment.


Source: This article by LeAndra Spicer originally appeared on the Forest2Market website on September 16, 2014. Photo credit: Two Sides North America.