U.S. forests are a renewable natural resource that is continuously replenished through sustainable forest management and natural regeneration.
Sustainable forest management is a dynamic and evolving concept which aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental values of all types of forests for the benefit of present and future generations. Sustainable forestry practices integrate management of the entire forest ecosystem, including trees and other plants, wildlife and habitat, soil and water. Sustainable forestry also helps protect forests from wildfire, pests and diseases, and preserves forests that are unique or special. Strong market demand for sustainably sourced paper products provides a powerful financial incentive for landowners to continue to manage their land responsibly and keep it forested instead of converting or selling it for non-forest uses.
U.S. forests are a renewable natural resource and are not shrinking. Net forest area in the United States increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020. This is an area equivalent to approximately 1,200 NFL football fields every day.
U.S. forestland totals around 766 million acres. The total live-tree volume on U.S. forestland exceeds 1 trillion cubic feet. This translates to nearly 9 billion stacked cords of wood.
Each year, U.S. forests grow approximately two times more tree volume than is harvested, with a net average annual increase in growing stock of about 25 billion cubic feet.
While 67% of U.S. forestland is legally available for harvesting, tree cutting and removal occurs on less than 2% of forestland each year. This contrasts to the nearly 3% disturbed annually by natural events like insects, disease, and fire. Of the 2% that is harvested annually, only 38% is used for paper products.
Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forest to other land uses, including urban development (the leading cause in the United States), agriculture, pastures, water reservoirs and mining. The definition of deforestation specifically excludes areas where the trees have been harvested or logged, and where the forest will regenerate naturally or with the aid of sustainable forestry measures.
Areas of the world with the least wood consumption have the greatest levels of deforestation.
Sustainable forestry practices [such as those implemented by the U.S. paper industry] can increase the ability of forests to sequester atmospheric carbon while enhancing other ecosystem services, such as improved soil and water quality. Planting new trees and improving forest health through thinning and prescribed burning are some of the ways to increase forest carbon in the long run. The perpetual cycle of harvesting and regenerating forests can also result in net carbon sequestration in wood products and new forest growth.
More than half (58%) of the forestland in the U.S. is privately owned and managed. Approximately 11 million families, individuals, trusts, and estates, collectively referred to as family forest owners, control 36% of private forestland, more than any other group. About 89% of wood harvested in the U.S. comes from these private forests, which provide most of the wood for domestically produced wood and paper products. The demand for sustainably sourced paper products provides a powerful economic incentive for landowners to keep their land forested and sustainably managed.
Forest certification is a voluntary process whereby an independent third party assesses the quality of forest management and production against a set of requirements (standards) predetermined by a public or private certification organization. Certification standards in the United States include those of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™ (PEFC™), and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Forest certification and associated labelling is a way of informing consumers about the sustainability of the forests from which wood and other forest products were produced.
Third party certification is based on onsite comprehensive assessments performed by an accredited auditing firm. At completion of the assessment, the auditing firms submit a certification report, which includes a recommendation on whether the landowner is ready to become certified. An affirmative recommendation for certification is often accompanied by requests for changes in management practices to better conform to the certification standard. A summary of certification audit findings is made publicly available.
Approximately 11% of the world’s forestland is certified – about 1 billion acres (426 billion hectares). This is net certified area, owing to the fact that some forest land is certified to more than one standard. The majority of certified forest area is in North America and Europe. Canada has by far the most at 413 million acres (167 million hectares), followed by the Russian Federation at 133 million acres (54 million hectares) and the United States at 94 million acres (38 million hectares). These three countries together account for more than 60% of the world’s certified forest area.
American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) member companies produce approximately 87% of U.S. pulp and paper products. In 2020, AF&PA members procured 99.2% of the total wood fiber from forests used for products through a certified fiber sourcing program and sourced 27.1% of wood fiber from third-party certified forestlands.
As a condition of membership, the few member companies of the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) that own forestland conform to credible forest management program standards such as the Sustainable Forestry initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.