How do we live in a world where humans require shelter in many forms AND balance that with what forests require? And, how do we do this differently than before?

When I received the invite the Leadership Summit, I had two, conflicting reactions: 1) I was thrilled to be invited, to be asked to participate in a topic that I believe is critical to how we, as a planet, can balance our needs as humans with the ever-changing planet we inhabit and 2) nervous that we would miss the chance to affect real, lasting change and instead devolve to the same, often ineffective, debates.

Although non-foresters may not be attuned to the nuances, the language of the draft vision statement favors a specific set of ideas (for example “proforestation”) and a specific certification system (FSC) over others. There are long-running debates and deep divisions on these issues among the forestry and environmental communities, with many important stakeholders holding conflicting or opposing views. By picking a specific side on these issues, rather than building bridges or imagining new ways forward, this summit has the potential to mire efforts to find lasting, positive solutions to the complex and interrelated challenges and opportunities posed by climate change and the use of wood as a sustainable building material.

I’ve spent the past few weeks fretting, increasingly worried about where we are headed with this Summit. Are we truly meeting the objectives as they were described to me? Last week, I wrote down my thoughts and I’m offering them up today to start a conversation. I will also go back to the draft vision document that is shared in the Google Drive and add some additional comments/thoughts (I did this earlier but many of my comments were deleted, for some reason).

What is our objective?

To start, I’m going to step back to when I first entered into forestry. I was 18 years old, wide-eyed, and open to possibilities. I studied forestry and resource management at UC Berkeley, one of the nation’s oldest forestry programs, but quite different in the late 90s than even two decades earlier, let alone in the early 1900s. I went to school with students who believed we could change the world, who were taught to listen with open minds and open hearts and to ground our actions with a healthy mix of science, philosophy and art. We always started with the question: what is our objective?

So, what is the objective of this summit? Is it to create a space, a shared vision where the human world, the buildings we need for shelter, school, care, and work, can co-exist in a world where forests are adaptable to the impacts of a changing climate and where, even better, these buildings could help mitigate climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? And, do all of that while making absolute sure that forests are also providing the myriad of other benefits, including just being incredible in their own magical ways. I don’t know about anyone else involved in this summit, but that’s what I want to see. That’s my objective.

Today, I’m a long way from being a student of forestry in California. I work for Weyerhaeuser. We are likely the world’s largest private forest landowner, definitely the largest in North America. We steward tens of millions of acres of forest land in the United States and Canada and make a lot of the wood products that frame-up the buildings in which we eat, sleep and work. I spend my days working with foresters and silvilculturists and wood product engineers and scientists and wildlife biologists and environmental managers and harvest specialists and tree growers and so many more who, for the most part, want the same thing. We went into this field because we love forests, love the smell of a forest glade in the sun, love the look and feel of wood in a building, love the challenge that forestry gives us: it’s never a simple answer, it’s never one solution, it’s never one path. It’s truly a system, a living, dynamic system with an infinite number of inputs and outputs and twists and turns.

I used to have the John Muir quote “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world” stickered on my water bottle when I was a student. I lugged that thing around campus, through the mountains, into the desert and all the way to Seattle to attend graduate school. The sticker eventually faded and the bottle took a hard fall and finally cracked after many years. But the quote still lives within me: one tug, the rest of the world. We have a rippling impact in the world, no matter which string we pull on. That’s the beauty of forestry.

It’s also the challenge. It means we can’t put forestry into a neat little package, sum it all up with one number, one solution. What we can do is make absolutely sure we are clear in what we are trying to achieve and then work our hardest to be honest about what we know, what we don’t know, and what we can continue creating.

Can we switch the conversation away from anger and blame?

Just this week, I learned about the Mobius Model and it was like when a flickering lightbulb suddenly shines bright. It perfectly described where I think we are today and offered a different path forward. In short, we can choose to start by identifying the problem (we’re all good at that, we’ve all been trained to do that) and then assign blame as to why that problem exists and then try to fix the problem. But it means we start with the anger-blame-resentment cycle; the path we seem to be headed.

Alternatively, we can start by asking what is present? What do we already have that is working well? Then, we move to: what is missing from making our work successful? If we could ask for anything, create anything, what would we add to what we already have? See, it’s already positive.

I’ve been watching the on-line dialogue the past few weeks with a heavy heart. It seems like we’re already going negative and have yet to even have the summit. When I joined, I was told this wasn’t about building up a bunch of blocks, that it wasn’t about the age-old and super unproductive fight between certification programs. I was told we were going to help create a shared vision for a new path forward. What I’ve seen instead is that we are back where we were decades ago. Throwing barbs cloaked in “my fact is better than your fact” or throwing roadblocks in the face of questions, shared inquiry. Personally, I haven’t been sleeping, laying awake at night, mourning a lost opportunity, a missed chance to focus on what I believe is truly important: how do we live in a world where humans require shelter in many forms AND balance that with what forests require? And, how do we do this differently than before?

What is present, what is working well?

If I could start us over, these are some of my thoughts about what is present, what we have:

  • There is an incredible zeal, and lots of uncertainty, about how wood products and forests might help us solve some of the impacts of climate change.
  • Forests are being impacted by climate change and we have a growing body of science and experts who are working hard to understand how we can help these forests adapt.
  • In the United States and Canada, we have almost 100 years of scientific data to build from and a mix of public and private investment in that research.
  • This is a unique moment to harness the collective expertise and incredible talent of the design community and the forest community to chart a new path together.
  • There are new technologies that could allow us to understand these systems at even more granular levels than ever before.
  • There are varied levels of environmental and social protections and laws around the world, and some of the best in the world are here in the United States and Canada.
  • We have some past wounds to heal, some trust to rebuild.

What’s present for you?

Now, what’s missing? What’s keeping us from being successful?

I believe it’s just three things:

  • Clarity on the objective.
  • Time and space to explore some of the complex, intertwined topics.
  • Trust.

What’s missing for you?

I could spend hours rebutting, countering some of the claims spreading on the on-line forum. We all know that would be super unproductive and many wouldn’t trust me simply because I represent Weyerhaeuser. That’s too bad. For those in this forum who know me, I’m an open book. I don’t hold my cards close to my chest and I am a terrible poker player. I prefer to lay down all of my cards and play an open hand. I like cooperative board games where we all try to win together.

I like to learn from others. I like my assumptions to be challenged. I devour new information, suck it up like a milkshake. I dive deep into technical information, love to uncover new threads, new connections. I live in the complex, the messy connected threads. I wish we had more opportunities to do that together, to learn together.

Here are a few places where I’d like to learn – and make progress – together:

  • Let’s talk about measuring performance on the ground rather than in theoretical worlds.
  • Let’s learn about the incredible work being done by the full spectrum in this community, not just those with the loudest voices or the quickest fingers at the keyboard.
  • Let’s talk about the demand side and the supply side together, not just one piece of the complex puzzle we live in.
  • Let’s explore how we can leverage new technologies to understand the forest, the supply chain, and the buildings we are trying to build well.
  • Let’s understand what forest certification really means and what it doesn’t mean.
  • Let’s explore how certification is one tool that we can leverage to build better buildings while also caring for forests.
  • Let’s understand why one certification program works for some forest managers and another certification might work for another.
  • Let’s separate causal relationships from correlations.
  • Let’s spend time designing a mill of the future that supports communities of the future.
  • Let’s figure out a way to build the carbon cycle into basic scientific education.
  • Let’s figure out how to build buildings using less energy.
  • Let’s figure out how to create building materials using less energy.
  • Let’s figure out how to grow trees using less energy.
  • Let’s figure out how to harvest trees using less energy.
  • Let’s explore ways to connect all of us humans to the resources we are dependent on, rather than separating us.
  • Let’s build complex, interconnected maps and then help others understand those maps.
  • Let’s create a space that is welcoming for everyone to participate, that invites more into the community.

What would you like to learn together?

I don’t know about you, but I would be absolutely thrilled to participate in a summit that was focused on those things. Let’s create a community of people trying to build as many bridges, as many connections, as big of a door as possible. When I read the current vision statement and follow the conversations on the forum, I see mostly bricks being placed in a huge wall and a narrowing of that door. I see us creating a super solid, tension-filled wall with only the smallest of openings to squeeze between.

Imagine instead what is on the other side of this wall, the chances we are missing. Healthy forests, valued for all of their benefits. Beautiful cities and homes and buildings, made from wood products that are from sustainably managed forests. A reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A world adapting to climate change. A connected, trusting community.

Where do we go from here?

I’ll offer a few suggestions, from my perspective, and would love to hear from and learn from others:

  • Can we identify a few topics where there are divergent and/or confusing levels of understanding and then structure a series of learning roundtables? Not a debate. A true learning opportunity. Can these learnings build off each other? I would point to last spring’s Wood Carbon Seminars and tremendous work the presenters and facilitators put into the seminars, the follow-up questions (these are a gold mine of information) and the outcomes. Yes, it’s a lot of information to digest – remember, it’s not a simple topic we can wrap-up with a neat bow.
  • Could we agree to a set of shared principles or ground rules for how we want to interact and learn from each other? As an example, I’ve been working with a group of amazing people as we form a Women’s Forest Congress and we put together a set of “community agreements” before we hosted a summit last summer. It was super helpful to help set a productive stage for all participants.
  • Could we start with a global view – or at least a national or bi-national – view in our discussions and learnings? I don’t think anyone is looking for a climate solution that is limited to one small geographical area? If we agree to start at the appropriate scale the matches the markets or choices we are thinking about influencing, then we could quickly move out of some of the more local examples (or fights).
  • Could we identify what’s present and what’s missing and then design a series of research projects that addresses the “what’s missing,” building from what’s present? An example of this is what the Forest Economy Program is doing, a partnership between the World Economic Forum, The Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute, and others focused on understanding how to “increase the usage of climate-smart forest products – those that bring climate benefits while meeting social and ecological safeguards.” The group of experts involved in some of the early analysis is diverse and well-rounded and the results are already helping many stakeholders make informed decisions and a shared path forward.
  • Could we do expand on the work being done by GreenBlue and the American Forest Foundation on helping companies “understand and invest in the forests we all rely on” through the Forests in Focus tool and resources? This has been a multi-year effort and could help address some of the questions I am seeing swirling in the on-line forum. How can we build from it? Support it? Improve it?
  • Can we build on the work GreenBlue is developing as part of their a verified responsible sourcing collaborative?
  • Can we build upon the great work done by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development to create the Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products? What else would you like to see in this guide? What more could we add?
  • Could we explore where a good starting point is related to sustainable forest management and global certification levels. Last I saw, we’ve been hovering at somewhere around 10% of the global forests being certified to any third-party certification program. Are we trying to improve forest management throughout the world – or even in a country or a region – making the whole pie larger? Or, are we trying to grab and grasp for bits of the smallest piece of the pie? Personally, I’m ready to move past grasping for crumbs. I want to bring a full pie to the world, to the challenges that face us.
  • Is it time to pause on the summit and go back to the objective? I for one, would like to understand more about the purpose from all included. It’s obvious the interest is high, that we are all hungry for answers, for solutions. I sure am. I can only assume we are all, since we’re here, participating.

I’ll end with a quote from Sylvia Path that I read just last night: “I can never be all the people I want and all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life.” I invite you to join me in exploring fearlessly in all of the shades, the tones and the variations that forests provide.

Hey Ara, thanks so much for this thoughtful and heartfelt post. There is so much here that it makes it challenging to respond in writing, but a few off-the-cuff reactions:

– Personally, I don’t sense the level of negativity and getting stuck on old arguments in the forum that you do; but I definitely hope that as much as possible, where there is disagreement, we can agree to disagree instead of arguing. Already it’s clear to me from the written exchanges as well as the WG dialog so far that there is A LOT of common ground

– I think that most of your bulleted items above lend themselves to potential Solutions. Let’s formalize these and work on them together! The Collective Action working group needs to get going on this. Some of your suggestions fit in the purview of other working groups – and my guess is that many of them are already being addressed. Cross-group communication is a challenge the organizers are struggling with, but we are hoping that draft Solutions will emerge early enough that they can be shared with other WGs for comment prior to the Summit. Also, about half the time at the Summit itself will be dedicated to working on Solutions together.

– I think it would be naive to imagine that we can transcend or resolve the decades-old conflicts between environmental groups and industry in this Summit, but I think we can make progress by identifying and building off of common ground and shared objectives. For the Collective Action group, I think we can perhaps best get at this by working on the Vision statement together – which we probably need to start doing pretty soon.

– There is no way we can pause and revamp this Summit, but nor is there a reason that a future event and/or process growing out of this meeting couldn’t be designed in a way that addresses your concerns and embodies more of your vision. This is a way station, not an end point. Already, The Forest Dialog is planning a series of dialogs focused on mass timber and forests where “[s]takeholders will come together to build collective understanding of the major conflicting viewpoints, discuss challenges, and explore opportunities to scaling climate-positive forest products. Relevant actors will discuss the climate impacts of forest products and build agreement around the scope and nature of a climate-positive forest economy and how it can be achieved.” WWF is also involved in this dialog, and I expect that many other Summit participants will be as well. There is a commitment to share information and resources with the goal of creating synergies. Also, you mention the Forest Economy Program. Several of the key individuals/organizations involved in managing this Program, as well as a number of its funders, are participating in the Summit. Again the goal is sharing and cross-fertilization so we can hopefully make progress at speed and at scale.

– I love this: “Healthy forests, valued for all of their benefits. Beautiful cities and homes and buildings, made from wood products that are from sustainably managed forests. A reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A world adapting to climate change. A connected, trusting community.” Let’s go after it!

P.S. not to emphasize the contrasting viewpoints, but I don’t think we can ignore them either. Compare, for example, the largely anti-wood/forestry views expressed in this article and this sign-on letter that are held by many “non-centrist” ENGOs and forest activists with the views reflected in the CEO principles and bizillions of webinars, publications, etc. that are pro-wood/forestry – in many cases with few qualifications or “guardrails”. Both sides cite (competing) science that supports their positions. It will not be easy to bridge this gap since in some cases we will probably be looking at a binary choice – this or that – but we can and should try!

Great letter, Ara!

One additional aspect I would offer up for the vision for this collaboration is a commitment to continuous improvement, in all regions and jurisdictions. I think it is important that we don’t get bogged down in “whataboutisms” or settling for the status quo, anywhere.

In my experiences with industry and non-industry forestland managers, as well as with conscientious wood buyers, there is almost universally an intensely-felt commitment to learning to do better and doing right by the land.

This personal motivation and commitment by those who know and manage lands is often diluted or obscured when those who administer, finance, or lobby for the business side get more concerned with perceived risks. I think this is a necessary and unavoidable tension with competitive businesses, but shouldn’t be allowed to cross over into anti-competitive obfuscation that entrenches systems that prevent high-performing land owners, managers, and forest product firms from distinguishing themselves in the market. Perhaps easier said than done.

My main takeaway is the we need the forest sector to accept and adapt to the transparency that modern earth observation and supply chain traceability systems permit to help markets for forest products identify and reward suppliers who are responding well to the values held by their consumers.

Industry-wide and region-wide average reporting across diverse suppliers is no longer a sufficient response to the market demand for climate-smart forest products. Just as other materials sectors have begun to compete internally for market share among green buyers by improving their sustainability outcomes and reporting indicators buyers care about (such as embodied carbon), forest product suppliers can and should step out from behind blanket lobbying and marketing by commodity commissions and be encouraged to say “Sure, wood is good. But our wood is better. Here’s why…”

Several firms already offer extensive sustainability reporting on a regular basis. I think we would be well-positioned to a spotlight illustrative examples of excellence in reporting, in achieving sustainability impacts beyond common practice, and in impact assessment methods.

Instead of focusing on building a hurried and elusive consensus picking horses, I personally feel like our time as a collaborative group will be better spent elevating the basic need and good practice approaches for judging horse races.

David

David Diaz | Director of Forestry Technology & Analytics | Ecotrust

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T: (503) 467.0821 | Pronouns: he/him/his

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Coming back to this thread. Thanks, Jason, for the replies. I still seem to be getting mixed messages about the vision statement. I read here - and you shared in our meeting today - that we can work together on a new one (focused on solutions) but then I also read that the steering committee will accept comments (ideally collective, not from individuals) and then decide what to do with the vision statement after the event. Perhaps I am too stuck in the semantics, but those seem like very different paths forward.

I will rest this circular discussion and come to where I think we are today: working on the prompts and preparing for what “collective action” can do to benefit forests, mitigate climate change and ensure wood products don’t cause harm (and ideally bring benefits). These are my words - and I know not the exact words laid out in the vision or the Summit materials.

David - thank you for this reply. I, too, believe we are all wanting to do better, improve and never settle for just what is in front of us today. I don’t see that at odds, at all, with what the participants of the Summit have been asked to do. That’s why I am here. Not from a risk management standpoint, but from a continued improvement standpoint.

I fully agree with the many, many improvements we (the forest community, big, small, public, private, conservation, industrial, and so much more) should be - and are - making to improve transparency, supply chain information, protecting forests, research, monitoring…and the list can go on and on.

I’m here to work toward identifying where those improvements need to be made and figuring out - together - how we can do that.

Hello, everyone - I think I have finally made it into the forum. I thought it might be useful to share the following link to our forest utilization slides: https://nafoalliance.org/markets-animation/. This shows the same information as the slide deck while providing a link you can more easily use.

Jason, to answer your previous question, we are turning these slides into a video that you can add to the knowledge hub. We recommend including the forthcoming video in our read ahead materials (replacing the slide deck that is there now) as it provides a lot of level-setting information in a very short and digestible format.

Dave

Thanks, Dave. I just updated the link in the Enhancing Collective Action WG: Recommended Pre-Read/Pre-Watch Resources for the Summit.

Thanks Dave, this was excellent!

That’s great, Dave!

agree, that will be very useful

Hello, everyone – I hope you don’t start considering me to be the “late Friday afternoon guy,” but I have been giving some thought to how we might broaden the aperture of the group a bit with some more level-setting information that looks at our nation as whole:
• As laid out in the forest utilization slides I have already shared, our forests can be divided into publicly and privately owned and working forests (those managed for forest products, like building products), and non-working forests (those that are not managed for products)
• Of all the forests in our country, 47% are private working forests. Those are the kinds of forests NAFO represents (btw, our members have no holdings in Alaska)
• Each year forests in the United States sequester enough net carbon to offset 15% of our annual industrial emissions. That amounts to over 1.5 gigatons of CO2e (that’s a lot of carbon).
• Although private working forests comprise 47% of our nation’s forests, they account for 73% of this net annual sequestration, or over 1.1 gigatons – enough to nearly offset the carbon emissions from the entire transportation sector.
• To put this into perspective, each year private working forests sequester nearly 20 times more net carbon than the entire National Forest System managed by the US Forest Service. They sequester 7.5 times more carbon than national forests on a per-acre basis.
• Since 1958 the US population has grown by 84%. That is a lot of people who need a lot of things, including over 5,000 different kinds of forest-based products.
• During this period the total forest acreage in our country has remained relatively constant, and the total volume of wood in our forests has increased by 58%. Most of that came from private working forests.
• Today we grow 43% more wood on private working forests than we harvest each year.
• And remember that we harvest about 2% of the private working forest land base annually and replant that many acres each year. We plant over 1 billion trees a year (a conservative estimate).
• Bottom line – private working forests must be doing something right. That’s a good starting place for our ongoing discussion.

@Dave, thanks for sharing this information, but I am wondering how much of the growth in carbon stocks on private lands is on non-industrial vs. industrial timberlands? There are lots of family forest landowners who take a very light touch – and many of these forests have been growing back in areas that were previously cleared for farming.

For example, in slide 12 of this presentation, Ecotrust’s David Diaz shows growth in carbon stocks on non-industry private lands in western Washington but not on industry lands, where they stayed flat. Note also that most of the growth was on federal public lands where there has been relatively little logging since the NW Forest Plan was put in place.

This presentation is one of the videos on the Knowledge Hub.

I also wonder how much of the % gains in carbon stocking on private vs. National Forests are due to the fact that carbon stocks on the latter are relatively stable – and high – because of less logging, while stocks are growing on private lands from levels that started lower because the forests were younger on average.

With statistics as with everything else, it seems like the devil is always in the details.

The bottom line for me is that however well or poorly private lands in the U.S. are being managed, we should be aiming higher given the gravity of the climate crisis and the need to remove as much carbon (and avoid as many new emissions) as possible. This is also why we need forest restoration – and also to protect the high carbon stocks in primary forests while allowing stocks to grow quickly through proforestation in some secondary forests to which protections should also be extended.

I believe we can do this while continuing to produce sufficient quantities of wood and fiber to meet society’s needs, and unless I’m mistaken, I think there is existing and forthcoming research that supports this view.

Except for the last point, which would be challenged in some circles, these views are shared across a significant swath of the environmental community – including the forest activists most opposed to the promotion of mass timber as a climate solution – not to mention some eminent scientists – and are elaborated in several videos and papers on the Knowledge Hub, including my own. For us, they are integral to the current draft of the Vision and crucial components of any future versions.

Participants in these conversations might find this website helpful: The State of America’s Forests https://usaforests.org/

There is a lot of information to explore. Including an entire section on tree growth, planting, harvesting and mortality. You can look at private land, public land, different regions of the country: https://usforests.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=ec04704969514f20b1eb63280275c34c

There is so much data! You could spend hours exploring the information. For example in 2016, the mortality rate for growing stock was higher on public timberland (1.24 percent) than on private timberland (0.86 percent). The highest mortality rate (1.28 percent) was in softwood species on public timberland, mostly in the West.

Or the annual net growth (defined as growth minus mortality) on U.S. timberland reached 25 billion cubic feet in 2016, almost twice the annual net growth in 1952.

And the volume harvested from the nation’s timberland in 2016 represented 1.3 percent of the total timber volume available for harvesting. Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina harvested the highest percentage of growing stock, 3 percent.

The volume of timber harvested on U.S. timberland has fallen by 8 percent since 1976 and by 17 percent since 2006. The change is due both to a decrease in removals and to the reclassification of some timberlands into other forest categories (reserved, protected) or land uses (development). Southern hardwoods experienced the highest decline, 35 percent, since 2006.

Like I said. Lots of data. And not just on timber harvesting You can explore certification: https://usforests.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=dfe7da49c651424eb39a14c61c4d5f7f

There’s information on invasives, water, wildlife, recreation, on and on.

If it’s raining this weekend where you are, explore the website. If it’s sunny, maybe a walk in the woods?

Happy spring,
Michael

Good information, Michael – thank you. The State of America’s Forests is a good resource.

Your answer to Jason’s question was helpful. Between the knowledge hub and other incoming information, we have probably reached a state of cognitive overload. Bottom line when you are parsing information regarding private working forests vs. other types of forests is that how private working forests are managed is highly contextual, and it varies across individual based on a variety of factors, including location, forest type, scale, ownership objectives, level of sophistication, available resources, and dozens of other things.

So, to put a bit of a simpler frame on things and to (hopefully) distill a key question for our discussion, here is a way to look at private working forests:

  • Private working forests produce 90% of the wood fiber for mills. Mills do not source significantly from federal land in the U.S., because it is too difficult and too uncertain. They also don’t source from non-working forests, whether public or private.

  • The percentage of wood and fiber for mills coming from private working forests compared to other forests is more likely to increase rather than decrease over time.

  • Harvests on private working forests occur on approximately 2% of the land base annually, and these acres are reforested. Softwood (conifer) trees grow fast on private working forests, because they are managed to receive ample access to water, sunlight and soil nutrients, which also makes them healthier and more resistant to insects, disease and severe wildfire.

  • The annual carbon balance on private working forests remains stable or increasing in every region. Annually private working forests grow 43% more wood than is harvested and account for 73% of the net carbon sequestration in our nation’s forests. In a world seeking carbon negative solutions, they are already carbon negative.

  • Given that our path to wood in the built environment depends on private working forests, and a central premise in the preamble of the vision statement is that “it is critical that we move as fast and far as possible to reduce embodied carbon, creating buildings whose net carbon footprint is neutral or even negative,” then it seems reasonable that one of the most important questions we can answer is “how can we best engage private working forests to produce both the wood and carbon benefits we seek in the built environment?

I am confident that the following simple principles will effectively engage private working forests in finding solutions in the built environment:

I agree that this:

one of the most important questions we can answer is “ how can we best engage private working forests to produce both the wood and carbon benefits we seek in the built environment?

…is extremely important, Dave. In the CEO principles and the FACA recommendations, the emphasis is on engaging through incentives. It definitely seems like the right incentives are something that many of us could support, but I also wonder if there isn’t a role for regulation? Unless the incentives are powerful, we may not get improvements at speed and at scale.

There’s also the question of what it is exactly that we are incentivizing - are improvements in forest management on private lands needed to make forests/wood climate smart or climate smarter, and if so, what is their nature? The information you provided could be interpreted to mean that the answer is, “not really - look at how well things are going already” – or it could mean, “things are going in the right direction, but we should do everything we can to drive continued improvement.” It comes down to whether our definition of climate smart forestry is about affirming the status quo or challenging ourselves to strive well beyond Business As Usual – and if so – towards what?

That’s what the Vision is supposed to be about.

I’d invite people to check out this Jerry Franklin video that just went up on the Knowledge Hub:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meI6hWfAR3Y

It underlines why it’s so important to be clear on the definitions of the terms we use. The term “sustainable forestry” is constantly bandied about, but in some contexts it refers to what Jerry calls production forestry, which focuses on sustaining and maximizing timber production and profits, while in others — including, of course, those I run in — it is about sustaining ecosystems and environmental benefits as well as wood yield. It’s about the “wholeness” that Franklin refers to (in an agricultural context, think permaculture vs. industrial monoculture agriculture).

A major challenge for our CWAG is to see if we can agree on a definition of climate-smart forestry (or climate-smarter forestry or climate-friendlier forestry or whatever we call it) because this is one of the cornerstones on which the Vision will be built, which in turn will determine what is possible in terms of collective action.

Great conversation as always on the message board and thanks for sharing the video Jason. I agree with Jerry on many points, and seeing that he filmed this video in a protected park, I agree we should continue to protect the ecological importance of that park. I obviously disagree with his assessment of SFI.

Moving the conversation along, forest management decisions need to take into consideration a suite of objectives. All forest certification standards (SFI, FSC, ATFS and PEFC) optimize multiple values. I believe we can manage our forested landscapes for all the reasons Jerry articulates, maintain forests as a carbon sink, and ensure we have innovative products like mass timber in the future. As Jad points out in this video forests and forest products capture almost 15% of our carbon emissions each year. This is why I’m excited for the possibilities to do more, and learn from everyone in this group.

The topic of climate change is critical to SFI, which is why SFI’s new Forest Management Standard has a new Climate Smart Forestry Objective. The objective is focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and requires SFI-certified organizations to identify and address climate change risks to forests and forest operations and develop adaptation objectives and strategies. The new objective also requires SFI-certified organizations to identify and address opportunities to mitigate effects of climate change associated with their forest operations. You can read more about the new enhancements here.

Carbon and climate change have also been key themes in SFI’s Conservation Impact work. SFI’s Conservation Impact portfolio of grants/projects reflect the belief that sustainably managed forests contribute positively to climate outcomes in a variety of ways, ranging from maximizing carbon capture in healthy forests, to optimizing multiple benefits of forest products, to ensuring resiliency of ecological systems under changing climate scenarios. A few of the projects are highlighted on this site - https://www.forests.org/climate/ and include topics focused on:

  • Quantifying the amount of carbon stored and captured by SFI certified forests per year
  • Investigating the carbon sequestration in boreal upland forests and wetlands
  • Understanding how forests certified to SFI aid in fire restoration, sequestering carbon and contributing clean water downstream

SFI believes in partnerships, research, and focused solutions to these issues. We also believe there are multiple paths to get us there.

Thanks for the constructive discussion,
Jason Metnick

Thanks for your thoughts Jason Metnick.

I did watch all of the Franklin video and my first thought was “Wow, wonder when and where he went to school?”, then it when it was all over I remembered that I always am baffled whenever I hear Jerry speak because we have such a different background and approaches to many things. But then we are very different, including in where we have spent our time learning and practicing forestry.

Forestry is a profession just like architecture, law and medicine. We all have to work with clients and clients all have different approaches to what they want their “woods” to be like. Our job is to listen to their desires, help them understand their choices, and develop a plan for them to get to the desired state of the “woods” given all of the things that we have been trained in and what we learn along the way. No two forests are really exactly alike either based on their history, location, climate, soils, pests, etc. That means that what we do in one forest stand may not or should not work in another.

The Private Working Forests that Dave Tenny describes are doing really well compared to a lot of forests. I also think that the forests that are currently certified are doing extremely well and are all being managed to do the many things that Jason Metnick points out. That includes FSC and Tree Farm here in the Southern USA.

I have been an Industrial forester and I was not an evil, money grubbing destroyer of the environment when I was practicing forestry for a paper industry. For the last 20 + years, I have worked with private landowners and believe most of those landowners have very high expectations and high standards for their forests. In the SE, that means that over the last 25 years as we saw changes from industry ownership to private ownership our rotations have grown longer and owner interest in recreation and wildlife are more important than “production forestry” as Jason G and Jerry F. call it. Also almost all of these forests are “restoration forests” so we have been doing that for all of my career.

Bottom line for me, Jason G, is that I feel you are painting everyone with one very drab color but there is a rainbow on the landscape that you are not recognizing and acknowledging. Can the forests of the North American do better, of course they can and that means continually improving what we do which is what certification is all about in my opinion. You asked for incentives to make forests better, let’s first fully fund the incentives that already exist but have not been fully funded in many years, like farm bill funds, cost-share funding for more that just planting and for more than 5 landowners in a county. Let’s get multiple foresters working in extension and for the state to ensure that every landowner has access to a forest plan. Let’s develop more programs between public and private forests like the Indian Creek Restoration Project where real change happened on the ground and where carbon in trees probably decreased but overall ecosystem integrity grew. This required harvesting and prescribed burning but the results have been terrific. Those forests are not huge carbon sinks now but if I could put thinned wood from that project in my building I would be very happy.

In my state, we are not seeing forest landowners causing problems. Instead, supporting these landowners with markets for their wood will be one of the incentives they would like. That is why we started our institute and why I do what I do today. Building with wood allows them to continue to pay their taxes and take care of their forests. Believe me forest management is not cheap.

By the way in our state only 25% of the 12.9 million acres are planted, Much of that was done originally with incentives and continues today because we have better yields with improved breeding of pine trees or because there are incentives to plant longleaf pine and shortleaf pine to restore those systems. The rest of the forests have naturally regenerated (old fields) or we have a significant amount of bottomland hardwood that have regenerated naturally. In a few months and if you are all vaccinated I would love to take you on a tour of our forests. The Clemson Experimental Forest (17,000 acres) is SFI certified.

Two quick responses, Pat:

  1. I agree that it’s a rainbow / spectrum, and not black & white / binary. I think I’ve made that point a number of times already, but obviously it bears repeating. Also, I don’t believe the spectrum goes from “evil/greedy” to “good/altruistic,” or whatever the opposite would be. I think we’ve done some pretty terrible things to our forests in the past, including fairly recently with the liquidation of too much old growth in the western states (I’m old enough to have been around for the timber wars) – but I do believe that forestry has come a long way and that forest landowners and managers are mostly good and caring people (same goes for enviros BTW). So the question may be, can the good people on this forum, with our different perspectives and life experiences, work together to continue to improve our collective relationship to forests? We have to see if we can agree on where we want to go, or I’m not sure it will be possible to do much more or different than what’s happening already.

  2. I’ll take you up on the tour offer! Love to get out in the woods and learn.

Hello, everyone - because I am still unsure which of these chat rooms to use to share information for our working group, I will put my recommendations on the charge questions here and add them to our shared document and other chat rooms. I won’t be able to join our call tomorrow, because I have an irreconcilable conflict, so I hope these are helpful. Dave

  1. What are the challenges impeding progress in your thematic area? (i.e. Procurement, Forest Management & Incentives, Measuring Progress, Collective Action)

The greatest single challenge impeding progress in our area is that in an earnest quest for an ideal solution, we are making things too complicated. The perfect is becoming the enemy of the good. If we want to help the climate, let’s simplify our approach and focus on the most important things first.

  1. What key issues / insights were clarified?

Here are three things we know:

  1. We depend on private working forests to provide as much as 90% of the wood in the built environment.

  2. Private working forests are already carbon negative or, in other words, they are managed so that carbon stocks are stable or increasing, and forest products markets have a lot to do with that.

  3. We want forests that provide carbon benefits to also be managed sustainably. Certifications programs are not perfect, but they are credible standards for sustainability.

  4. What are the existing or proposed Solutions you’re seeking input on?

Here are three simple suggested solutions to help us move forward with confidence:

  1. Use wood from private working forests that are carbon negative or, in other words, in regions where carbon stocks are stable or increasing.
  2. Don’t try to force private working forests that are already carbon negative to become even more carbon negative as a condition of use in the built environment. If we want more carbon in working forests, use market incentives outside of the built environment to achieve that.
  3. Use all existing certification programs to demonstrate sustainability in private working forests and wood utilization.

I’m sure our smart colleagues who know LCAs will identify a few simple recommendations to continuously improve our use of whole building LCAs. I suggest we identify the 2-3 most important recommendations and focus on those.

  1. What is your feedback on the draft Vision statement, i.e. what resonates? Needs adjustment? Significant disagreements?

Simplify the vision statement significantly so that it is truly strategic and not tactical. Incorporate the simple things above that we know and that we should focus on to make real progress.