What is forestry?

Forestry is the art and science of managing forests to produce various products and benefits, including timber, wildlife habitat, clean water, biodiversity and recreation.

Why do we need to manage our forests?

Our forests provide homes for wildlife, clean water, places for recreation, and more than 5,000 products we all use every day including lumber, furniture and paper. As our population grows, so does the demand for all of these products. Unmanaged forests are often unhealthy and unproductive because of overcrowding, disease, insects, and competition for light and nutrients. With proper management, we can maintain healthy forests that provide all the many benefits we enjoy both now and in the future.

Why do we cut trees?

While there are as many reasons for harvesting trees as there are forest landowners, in general, trees are harvested for products, to improve environmental health and to provide wildlife habitat. Removing some of the trees in a stand, a process called thinning, provides the remaining trees more room to grow and reduces competition for nutrients, sunlight and water. This reduction in competition results in healthier trees. The young saplings that grow in areas where trees have been harvested play a critical role in keeping our air and water clean. Younger, actively growing trees absorb more carbon dioxide and produce more oxygen than overly mature trees. They also have rapidly growing root systems that prevent soil erosion by holding the soil in place and absorb more nutrients and minerals from the soil and water than older trees do. In addition to improving the health of the environment, harvesting trees can also improve habitat for many wildlife species including deer, rodents, birds of prey, turkeys, songbirds, bats, rabbits and foxes. Removing all or some of the trees in an area increases the amount of sunlight that reaches the forest floor and promotes the growth of grasses, shrubs, herbs, berries and other plants that provide both food and shelter for these animals.

Trees also are harvested to make more than 5,000 products we all use every day. These products range from paper used in books, magazines and newspapers, lumber used to build houses, furniture and cabinetry, to a wide range of other products including toothpaste, ice cream, hair spray, chewing gum, molded plastics, cellophane, soap, shampoo and lotion.

Are we running out of trees?

No. Nationwide, we have 70 percent as much forestland as when Columbus landed despite the huge population growth and development that has occurred since then. Each year, Americans plant more than 2.3 billion seedlings, which is more than nine trees for every man, woman and child in the U.S. In addition, millions of new seedlings regenerate naturally. In North Carolina, more than 60 million trees are planted each year on harvested lands, and millions more seedlings regenerate naturally. The forest industry is the nation’s and state’s leading tree planter followed by private landowners.

Is wildlife habitat destroyed when we cut trees?

Because there is no one perfect habitat, wildlife benefits most by having a variety of habitats across the landscape. Through forest management activities such as thinning, harvesting and prescribed burning, we can simulate natural patterns of disturbance and change in a forest, and provide the variety of habitats that wildlife species need. While harvesting trees may temporarily remove habitat for some species, it creates new habitat for others.

Are North Carolina’s hardwood forests being replaced with pine?

No. Hardwoods dominate the state’s forest and account for 55 percent of the timberland in the state. Softwoods, mostly pine, make up about one-third of the timberland, and mixed stands of hardwood and pine account for about 17 percent.

Does paper recycling save trees?

Not really, although the reasons are complicated. First of all, the giant, old growth trees most people think of when they talk about "saving trees" are not harvested to make paper. In fact, most old growth forests have been set aside and preserved. When large trees are harvested, they are usually used to make lumber for building homes and furniture. Trees used to make paper are typically smaller trees or trees not of sufficient quality for other products. So recycling more paper won’t reduce the number of big trees that are harvested. The only way to do that would be to build fewer houses and less furniture or to use less environmentally-friendly building materials such as metal and concrete. Also, a reduction in the need to harvest trees for papermaking does not necessarily mean those trees won’t be harvested for some other use.

A major benefit of paper recycling is that it reduces the amount of landfill space needed to dispose of paper products. In the United States, each person uses approximately 675 pounds of paper a year for books, newspapers, magazines, corrugated boxes and other products. About 43 million tons of this paper is recovered for recycling, saving 90 million cubic yards of landfill space each year. But not all paper can be recycled into new paper products because of contaminants such as food and plastic that cannot be removed during processing. There also is a limit to the number of times paper products can be recycled. Each time paper is reprocessed, the wood fibers break down into smaller pieces. Eventually, the fibers are so small that they can’t be used again. At this point, trees must be cut to produce new or virgin wood fiber that can either be added to recycled fiber or used by itself to make new paper.

What is the difference between national parks and national forests?

By law, national forests are working forests, set aside by congress in the late 1800s to provide the nation with a continual source of wood products. These national forests have a multiple-use mandate, which means they also provide wildlife habitat and are used for fishing, camping and other forms of recreation. By contrast, national parks were established to preserve natural features and areas of historical interest or exceptional beauty, and are not managed for timber or other resource production. Although many of our parks have paved roads and organized recreation areas, they are intended to approximate natural conditions. That means, for example, that when there’s a fire on a national park, the forest is left to regrow naturally, no matter how devastating the fire is or how long it takes for the forest to regenerate.

How important are forests to North Carolina’s economy?

Approximately 58 percent (17.6 million acres of timberland plus 600,000 acres of wilderness) of North Carolina’s total land mass is forested. This vast forest land is the foundation of the state’s second-largest manufacturing industry, the forest products industry, which employs more than 120,000 people and has an annual payroll of $3.8 billion.

In addition, North Carolina’s forests are important to the state’s recreation and tourism industry. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway are America’s most popular national park and scenic parkway, respectively, and generate millions of dollars in tourism for the state each year.

Are there environmental advantages to using wood products?

Yes. Trees are a renewable resource while most alternative materials come from nonrenewable resources, such as the petrochemicals used in making plastics and the ores used to make aluminum, iron and other metals. Wood is also the most energy-efficient building material available today. When you compare the total energy costs of different kinds of building materials -- including the cost to acquire the raw material, transport it, process it into a useful product and then actually use it -- wood far outshines its competitors. Steel wall studs require almost nine times more energy to produce than do wood studs. A brick veneer wall requires 22 times more energy than wood siding, while aluminum siding requires four times more energy. And a concrete floor requires 21 times more energy to produce than does an equivalent wood floor. In addition, forest products are recyclable and biodegradable.