Manufactured wood products are renewable and environmentally friendly

All goods are manufactured with raw materials obtained from the Earth. By far, wood use has the least number of negative aspects and, in fact, actually has a range of positive impacts.

November 8, 2018 - Author: ,

There is no such thing as zero-impact as humans go about their daily activities. From the environmental standpoint, there are both positive and negative impacts, if a person chooses that sort of value sets. Although, arguments can be made about definitions of “environmental”, “positive”, and “negative”. 

We can all do our part to “reduce-reuse-recycle”, all good behaviors, but wood is the only material that is also “renewable”. It grows back after a harvest. Petroleum, natural gas, coal, minerals, gravel, and other raw materials do not.

For the most part, it’s pretty easy to hold wood as the friendliest material available. The processes of extraction, manufacturing, and disposal consume less energy and water than other raw materials, and produce fewer emissions and waste. Many public and private groups have run life cycle analyses that demonstrate this. 

Using wood-based items rather than non-wood items reduces an environmental footprint. 

Logging is in the forefront of bringing the best-choice raw material into the larger market, which is a $20 billion manufacturing sector in Michigan and $25 billion in Wisconsin. Rather than viewing the logging profession dimly, it would be more accurate to recognize the advanced technology and professional skills that are employed. The days of Paul Bunyan belong to the tourists, not the modern industry. 

However, many of us have been convinced that cutting trees is a bad thing. Alternatively, here are ten ideas to think about. Each can lead to discussions in their own right but, generally speaking, there’s a lot of science and experience to support these statements.  Some are counter-intuitive, at first, and others might fly in the face of urban mythology. 

  1. Trees (wood) come mostly from the atmosphere, not from the crust of the Earth or from an ancient geological era. The carbon, for instance, simply moves among the pools of the natural carbon cycle, of which trees are a part.  Fossil carbon causes those pools to overflow. Forests sequester a large percentage of our annual carbon emissions. The caveat is that forests must remain as forests, in particular, as managed forests. 
  2. Harvesting wood can actually serve benefits other than just timber supplies. Many forestowner goals can be enhanced through harvesting timber. In fact, timber harvesting is often the only way to work towards these goals. 
  3. Wildlife habitat?  Timber harvest results in intentional changes of habitat.  Nothing is “destroyed”. There are temporary “winners” and “losers”.  However, the same is true with no harvest. It’s all about forestowner preferences and desired future conditions. And, of course, understanding the resources. 
  4. Trees and forests are not (repeat “not”) responsible for the planet’s fresh oxygen. The oceans claim top-ranking in this function, by far. If oxygen were the only thing forests were good for, we could live without forests. 
  5. Forest management does far more to maintain biodiversity than any other land use practice. Think of what agriculture has done to the prairies.  It’s also the primary cause of deforestation. Even plantation management is far more “natural” than a soybean field. Then also, urban sprawl (and rural splatter) has consumed millions of forest acres. That means both you and me. 
  6. Many forest products store carbon for decades.  This is good. Think of housing or furniture. Even landfills store huge amounts of carbon.  Maybe not the best idea, but that carbon and all the other materials will be there in a hundred years, or longer. Landfills can be mined whenever the technology and needs arise. 
  7. Wood-based energy, especially that involving advanced wood energy systems, is clean, renewable, and sustainable. Additionally, wood-based heating and cooling uses local resources and helps support communities. However, it’s odd that the United States has largely ignored this low-hanging fruit in favor of the technologically more difficult applications of power generation and transportation fuel. 
  8. Logging managed ecosystems does not destroy forests. Even clearcutting in the appropriate forest types serves to regenerate. That’s why foresters cite clearcutting as one example of a “regeneration cut”. The vast majority of our Lake States wood consumption originates in the region, not from a tropical rainforest cleared by the poor in an attempt to survive.  Our forests are managed for sustainability. We could capitalize on that. 
  9. Electronic communication and digital transfer is not necessarily “greener” than using paper and snail mail. And you cannot “save a tree” by making fewer copies in the copy room. These are ploys by companies and agencies to save money, not forests. 
  10. We don’t have to “put up” with the forest industry because it supplies us with critical goods. Rather, the industry provides a wide range of services that include water quality, habitat diversity, healthy forests, restoration possibilities, and many other benefits. Trails, vistas, visual quality, and human safety can be enhanced through timber management.  Forest owners, public and private, are not going to manage forests unless there is a commercial incentive.  It’s one way to help to achieve a better society, economy, and environment. 

“Wood is Good” is a lot more than a catchy slogan used by the forest industry for marketing purposes. It’s deeply ingrained in the ecological, social, and economic sciences. Explaining why wood is good requires more than casual consideration. 

Tags: forestry, msu extension, natural resources


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