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Lowman_Rob_TN.gifThe Abundant Forest Alliance (AFA) is a trade group that aims to educate the public about how forestry and forest products fit into the web of sustainability. V1 Magazine editor Matt Ball spoke with Rod Lowman, president of AFA, about the goals and methods of his group as well as the overall health of America’s forests.

Lowman_Rob.gifThe Abundant Forest Alliance (AFA) is a trade group that aims to educate the public about how forestry and forest products fit into the web of sustainability. V1 Magazine editor Matt Ball spoke with Rod Lowman, president of AFA, about the goals and methods of his group as well as the overall health of America’s forests.

V1 Magazine:
Please give me a little bit of background on the Abundant Forest Alliance. Who are your member organizations?

The members of the wood and paper products industry in North America formed the AFA to share information with consumers and customers about the many ways the industry is helping to ensure that with proper care and management there will be abundant forests for future generations. Through sustainable forestry practices, improved recycling and new technologies, the industry is helping to preserve the delicate balance between supplying the wood and paper products people want while giving the forest what it needs to flourish.

We currently have eight companies that represent a broad section of our industry. Everything from timberland owners like Plum Creek, based out of Seattle, which is the largest private landowner in the U.S. with roughly ten million acres in their possession, to companies like International Paper, Weyerhaeuser, and Mead Westvaco, that represent the manufacturing end.

V1 Magazine: How is sustainable forestry defined, and are there ongoing oversight and monitoring efforts?

Lowman: Sustainable forestry is defined through the certification systems that are in place now. I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the term ‘forest certification’. There are several major systems that are in effect in the U.S. and globally. In the U.S., the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is probably the third party certified system that has the most acreage under it. And then globally there’s the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which also is a way of managing or operating a forest to ensure that it is a sustainable and renewable resource.

For our industry, again depending on whether you’re in the timberland end or in the manufacturing end, we exist because we have abundant raw material. In order to keep that abundant raw material, we’ve got to make sure we’re operating in a sustainable fashion. The certification systems help us maintain that sustainable forest.

V1 Magazine:
In the developing world there’s a lot of talk about carbon credits in order to conserve existing forests. The U.N has the REDD initiative, which works toward monetizing existing forest value so that deforestation won’t happen. Is the U.S. forest industry looking to carbon credits as a way that they might make money down the road as well?

A couple of ideas relate to that. First, tying in with certification, you have to keep a key statistic in mind. Only 10% of the global forests are certified, so from that standpoint there is a 90% opportunity to go out and get more forests certified globally. All of our companies talk about certification as a priority, getting additional forestlands certified to make sure they are in fact sustainable.

Once you make progress on certification, we will look at carbon sequestration and what can be done in terms of reforestation of some lands that in some parts of the world have been illegally logged. I think the U.N. today seems to be the current venue to handle carbon credits. I think there’s opportunity there on a global basis, but I don’t think anybody yet has quite the right formula. I know there’s a lot of discussion about it.

V1 Magazine: You recently began a Plant It Forward campaign. What does this outreach program entail?

Lowman: Plant It Forward is one of the many interactive tools and resources available to consumers at . We found in some of our public opinion surveys, and not surprisingly, that everyone wants to know, “What can I do to help make a more sustainable world?”

We started asking individuals, what they do in their household or in their community or in their school or in their business to try to “Plant it Forward” or provide the opportunity for greater sustainability in their lives. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the number of ideas that have come in to us.

We received a lot of response regarding recycling programs that you might have in a school or an office or even in your home. But then a lot of ideas around planting trees in a community, looking at reusing of paperboard packaging or cardboard boxes or paper bags for some other use.

We were just looking for a way to share more broadly the ideas, kind of the best and brightest of the ideas if you will, with a larger community. And so that’s what we’ve been able to do through our Plant It Forward website.

V1 Magazine:
You primarily represent private landowners, do you interface with National Parks and National Forests as well?

Lowman: We interface more directly with the smaller private forest owners. One of the things that a lot of people don’t know is that more than 60% of the U.S. forestland is owned by private individuals, and most of those are fairly small plots of land. We spend quite a bit of time with a group called The American Forest Foundation that represents the small mom and pop family forest owners that are out there.

We don’t interface that much with the National Forest other than some of our company experts have been brought in when there’s been a lot of forest fires or the potential for forest fires. In certain parts of the country they’ll bring in some of our company folks to help them understand better how can they manage that land in order to reduce the threat of devastating forest fires.

V1 Magazine:
The biodiversity of different tree types and the management of insect pests must be a large part of what it means to be sustainable.

Lowman: Absolutely, and that’s getting to be a bigger and bigger challenge. There’s quite a big issue up in Canada with a certain type of pine beetle, so everyone is trying to do what we can to both prevent that from spreading any further as well as trying to contain and prevent it from happening any more broadly than it is now. Managing biodiversity and pests is definitely part of what it means to maintain a sustainable forest.

V1 Magazine:
Right. In the paper products and pulp industry, I imagine they’ve got more than one objective in terms of sustainability. Is recycling and the ability to recycle paper products a big component of the industry?

Recycling is a huge component for our industry. In fact, we’re soon going to announce through our big trade association The American Forest And Paper Association (F&PA), that we’ve met our 55% recovery goal. They’re also going to announce a new five-year goal to continue to push the recycling envelope. Certainly no other material is nearly as recycled as paper is.

In terms of sustainability, the other thing that is specific to the pulp and paper side that a lot of people don’t appreciate is the fact that we use so much waste product as fuel to power our plants. It certainly varies mill-to-mill and plant-to-plant but I think on average we’re somewhere between 30% and 40% of all of our fuel requirements are met just through waste wood products. Ultimately we would use 100% of every tree, but we are already close to 95% of every tree is used now, and we continue to try to get that last little 5%.

V1 Magazine:
Replanting is also a big issue.

Lowman: Absolutely, I mean you can’t talk about sustainability in forestry unless you’re talking about replanting. We replant about 1.7 million trees a day, well over 600 million trees a year. In terms of annual growth, we’re reaching nearly twice as much new growth as is harvested every year. That’s why there are more forests today than there were 20 years ago.

Sustainability is a key element of what we’re trying to communicate both to the public and the policy makers so that they understand, when they are thinking through natural resources and sustainable resources, that there is hardly any resource that’s more sustainable than trees. Trees are needed for homebuilding, for paper, for many more types of product. We can easily go out and replant and reharvest because we’ve staged it such that we know when trees are ready to be harvested to turn into these products.

V1 Magazine: I would imagine water quality plays a large role as well in forest certification.

That’s why I keep coming back to certification. Certification is the key to making sure that our forests are operated soundly, and that all these elements are checked off. People are looking at it, and people are verifying it. That way we know that we’re operating in a sustainable manner.

V1 Magazine:
Is there interface with the paper mills themselves? I know traditionally there had been environmental issues around large mill sites, is there quite a bit of work being done there to make those more environmentally friendly?

Lowman: There has been a strong environmental push over the last 20 or 30 years. AFA as an organization does not get into that aspect of our industry where AF&PA would because they’re more on the manufacturing side. But there has been a lot of progress there and we continue to exceed all of our EPA and state permitting requirements.

A lot of progress has been made there, and a lot of materials and chemicals have changed over the years to make sure that we continue to diminish the impact of processing. And again, under the whole umbrella of sustainability, every company is looking at what they can do with their own processing to make sure that we are reusing materials, products, chemicals, waste products, to be sure that we’re leaving the least footprint on the environment. Every one of our companies is certainly committed to that.

Lowman: Have you looked at the State of the Forest Report? That is a fantastic report that was put out by the Society of America’s Foresters. It gives you a lot of facts and figures on the state of America’s forests. It’s based on the U.S. Forest Service 2005 and 2006 data, the most recent data that they’ve compiled.

What the Society of America’s Foresters did is go through and condense that and edit it and put it into charts and facts and figures. We posted a number of these charts on our website. We found that this report is really the place to go if you want to find out the true facts and figures on how much of our forest land is certified in the US, and under what certification systems. It also shows the real state of how much acreage we have in timberland today.

V1 Magazine:
Is there anything else that you’d like to communicate in terms of your goals and message?

Lowman: Our main message is that we have abundant forests, and through sustainable forestry practices and certification we intend to ensure that there continue to be abundant forest in the US. Our focus is in the US, but we see a lot of what’s happening here as a model for the rest of the world in terms of pursuing certification. We want to reassure consumers and policy makers that trees and wood are the most renewable resource and we intend to keep it that way.

V1 Magazine: Do you think there will be a growing interest in planting more forests?

Lowman: We’re back today to about where we were 100 years ago because a lot of agricultural land is being converted back to timberland. When I say that we have about 750 million acres today, that’s about the same as we had 100 years ago because of that conversion.

Biofuels could be a driver for more planting. Corn as a bio fuel has limited appeal, because making fuel out of food doesn’t seem to be sustainable for the long term. There are certainly other biomasses out there that we could make fuel from and would make more economic sense andThe Abundant Forest Alliance (AFA) is a trade group that aims to educate the public about how forestry and forest products fit into the web of sustainability. V1 Magazine editor Matt Ball spoke with Rod Lowman, president of AFA, about the goals and methods of his group as well as the overall health of America’s forests.

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