Trees and Paper - Part 1: The Economic Perspective

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 04/14/2014

This blog by Phil Riebel, originally appeared on the PI website, April 8, 2014.

As a forest owner I've accumulated a number of books on trees, but the one that I reach for the most is "An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies(1)".  It's a very thorough book on Eastern tree species and discusses the cultural and economic value of trees throughout documented history.  The author, Glen Blouin, has an extensive forestry background and is an award-winning member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.  In my next few blogs I would like to share with you a few sections of Glen's book because they may help put the topic of 'trees and paper' in perspective.

Wood and Paper Industry

Part of the history and reality of the forest is that people have cut down trees and used their wood. From prehistoric times, wood was the sole source of heat for cooking and warmth. Later, our Native people harvested firewood, they knew from experience which trees burned the hottest and longest, and used trees to construct their tipis, lodges, longhouses, canoes, implements, and weapons.

European settlers took it one step further. They not only cleared the forest for fuel, farmland, fencing, barns, houses, villages, and roads, but they began harvesting trees for market, the genesis of a forest industry in North America. Pines were cut for ships' masts and spars, oaks for sailing vessels and barrels, hemlocks and chestnuts for tannin in the leather industry, other hard woods for potash, and pitch pine for charcoal, to name but a few.

Some people adamantly believe that we should not cut down trees for commercial purposes. The fact remains that trees do not live forever. Like people, they are born, live, and die. When sustainably managed, trees are a renewable resource, unlike cement and concrete, steel and aluminum, plastics, and oil and natural gas, all nonrenewable.

Nothing has the warmth of wood. Without harvesting trees, you could not sit comfortably in front of the fire in a log cabin, put your feet up on the coffee table, set aside the newspaper or magazine, and sit back and relax reading this book or any other.

The reality is that, whether we like it or not, we need wood, paper, and panel products, and wood comes only from trees that have been cut down. It is comforting to know that the wood comes from a continent where more trees are planted or naturally regenerated than are harvested. If those who manage the forest resource are prudent, professional, and environmentally sensitive, if those who process it are not wasteful and control their pollution output, and if those of us who consume it are moderate in its use and recycle whatever we can, future generations will continue to reap the same rewards nature has provided us. The economic importance of our forests, in these days when we all seem to be preoccupied with the booming high-tech industry, seems to be lost on some folks.

This economic importance is summarized in the Table below:

In the next blog, I’ll discuss Part 2 – The environmental perspective and what it means to manage the forest in a prudent, professional, and environmentally sensitive manner, including an interview with a forester who has spent most of his working life doing this.


1 Blouin, Glen. 2001. An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies. Boston Mills Press, Erin, ON. 280 p.






Source: This blog by Phil Riebel, originally appeared on the PI website, April 8, 2014.