If California’s timber industry falls, will anyone hear it?

Lands owned by state and federal government now contribute little to California’s wood supply (see the graphic below). Private landowners (the green area) now carry nearly all the burden for California’s timber harvesting and its wood demand. (Source: California Forestry Association CA Timber Harvest Statistics 1978-2009.)

As previously noted on this site:

Our California forests have the capacity to produce all the wood we need and export some as well, yet we import 75% of our wood. You can bet the wood we import wasn’t harvested under restrictions as comprehensive as those within California’s Forest Practices Act. Did any of the harvests have a Timber Harvesting Plan that took water and wildlife into consideration?

And just how much wood do we Californians consume? According to a paper published by the University of California at Berkeley, Californians used somewhere around 8.5-9 billion board-feet in 1999. Given that CA’s consumption grew by ~3 to 4 BBF from 1990 to 1999, we may currently consume 11-12 BBF. How much do we harvest in California? According to data from the California Forestry Association, about 1.6 BBF, i.e., about 15 percent of what we use, leaving 85 percent to come from other places.

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Save Trees, Use More Paper

English: Third generation Amazon Kindle

Image via Wikipedia

Earlier this year, Kevin Periera of G4 told Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal, the Amazon Kindle “is the savior to many, many forests in the future.” [Read it here]

As a licensed forester and certified treehugger, I don’t think so.

Trees don’t get cut down when you use electronic stuff, right? Well they may be, forever.

The argument that finding and using alternatives to wood will save trees ignores basic economics. Follow the money. Basic economics teaches the ‘law’ of supply and demand. That is the value of a product is based on its availability and the demand for the product. If people don’t use wood products, more wood is available, and the value (price) of wood falls. The result? More lovely forests? Woodland creatures frolicking contentedly? Not quite. Timber companies sell off their timberland and forests are converted to other uses. Most of the deforestation happening in the world is caused by forests being converted to farming.

The idea that going paperless will save trees is counter-productive. Worse, it may be quite hazardous to our planet’s health. Well, I’m a forester. You’d expect me to say something stupid like that, right? I’m not the only one. There are hidden costs to what is often termed green technology.

Tomorrow, if it’s not grown, it’s mined.

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