Trees and Paper - Part 2: An Overview of Environmental Considerations

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 06/05/2014

An overview of how forests can be managed in a professional and environmentally sensitive manner.

In my last blog, Trees and Paper – Part 1: The Economic Perspective, I touched on the economic and social value of trees and forests as they pertain to paper production.  Below I hope to give you an overview of how forests can be managed in a professional and environmentally sensitive manner. 

Step 1 - It all starts with a Forest Management Plan!

Proper forest management means following a good forest management plan.  Below is an example of typical requirements that a company follows to manage large parcels of forest land (i.e. over 100,000 acres). 

  • The management plan covers an 80 year planning horizon and is divided into 5 year submission windows which divides the harvest over time.
  • One of the key planning tools is a computerized GIS mapping system (Geographical Information System) that stores vast amounts of data on environmental, economic and social elements of the managed forest area.  The system is used for predictive modelling and is regularly updated based on aerial recognition and field observations by foresters.
  • Many forest areas are excluded from harvesting including protected or conservation areas, deer wintering grounds, buffer zones near watercourses and wetlands, sensitive wildlife habitat.
  • By law, large watercourses have a buffer zone of 60-100 meters and all other flowing water, including wetland at least 30 meters.
  • Harvesting road areas and road construction are part of the plan.   Bridge construction requires approval and is closely monitored to minimize impacts to the aquatic ecosystem.  The type of bridge installed depends on the size of the watercourse drainage area.

Forest management plans provide a roadmap and instrucftions for foresters and contractors when working in the field.

Step 2 - Cruising

  • Each block of a management plan is cruised by foresters who complete a field assessment using geo-recorders (data recorders with GPS tagging).  The data is then uploaded to the GIS system to determine the real harvest area which is usually smaller in size than what was originally planned, due to environmental and other conditions.
  • Recorded data includes tree species, number of trees per hectare, tree age and condition, watercourses, raptor nests, den sites (ex: bobcat, bears, etc.), and many more indicators.

Step 3 - Harvesting

  • Different forest areas are treated differently based on tree age and species structure.  There can be over 12 different types of harvest treatment specifications, including shelterwood, selection cut, strip cut, commercial thinning and many more.
  • Certified loggers are used to conduct harvesting.  They are trained in forest certification, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) requirements, and also trained by the company to respect environmental guidelines and regulations which are specified in the company’s ISO 14001 environmental management system.
  • In many cases, state-of-the-art “harvesters” with on-board GPS are used to conduct harvesting based on uploaded GIS data from the forest management plan.
  • The harvested trees are used for many purposes including lumber for construction, pulp for papermaking, and in some cases, viscose pulp for the textile industry.  In many cases 25% or less of the harvested trees are used for pulp, and even less goes to printing and writing paper.
  • Much of the wood fiber used in pulp production for paper-making is coming from sawmill chips, a by-product of sawmills that manufacture lumber for construction.

A harvest block 5-10 years after harvesting.  We need to think of the forest as a renewable ecosystem that will replenish itself based on proper long-term management techniques.

Step 4 - Post Harvesting

  • Harvest blocks are audited by companies and regulators to check for oil, waste, and soil rutting.  Any issues identified are repaired based on local regulations and standards.
  • Over the next few years the sites are surveyed to determine the need for replanting.  In certain areas, natural regeneration may be adequate to re-establish a healthy forest.

Tree planting has provided thousands of North American college students summer employment and income.

Documentation is Key!

  • Many of the operations and rules outlined above are well documented in written policies and procedures which are a key part of any ISO 14001 environmental management system.
  • Harvesting contractors and foresters follow a “Green Book” and posters outlining policies and procedures for emergencies, waste disposal, equipment requirements, training requirements, instructions to follow near watercourse crossings, forest and logging road location and maintenance, buffers required around sensitive habitats.
  • The contractor work order includes detailed instructions to follow in the field.

It helps to know the many guidelines, regulations and standards that govern sustainable forest management in North America.  These are important to keep in mind given that we all benefit tremendously from forest products, whether it is paper, lumber or the multitude of other products that are derived from wood.  

Please remember all the people who make an effort to do the right thing when managing our renewable forestland for the long term.  Think of them next time you find yourself using a woodlands road to enjoy a weekend of fishing, hiking, biking or bird-watching…or think of them next time you see misleading claims of “go paperless - save trees”!

I would like to thank all my forestry colleagues who I have worked with over the past few decades for sharing their wealth of knowledge about forestry and sustainability.

Phil Riebel – President, Two Sides North America, Inc.


Source: This blog originally appeared on on May 29, 2014.