Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 6, Number 4
Oct 1993

Are We Running Out of Trees?

An advocate of hemp for papermaking and other uses, interviewed in the Whole Earth Review (1), says, "As early as 1916, the federal government understood that the trees were running out. . . . [Now] we see the local logging industry fading away because all the easy trees have been taken and there aren't that many left to harvest."

This statement gives the impression that no new trees are being planted. Actually, trees are planted as a crop in this country, and in some other countries, by the industries that use them. This practice is not as general or as widespread as it might be, but it is becoming more general. The land devoted to forests and woodlands in North America grew by a fraction of a percent between 1950 and 1980 (2). In Europe it grew 6.5% in that same period of time. In all other geographical regions of the world, forests shrank. In South Asia, they shrank by 28%.

Sustainable forestry is a policy that is being advocated (and sometimes adopted) by national governments today. An article in the New Scientist this past summer states that "Britain and other European governments in Geneva are demanding that tropical countries harvest timber only from 'sustainably' managed forests by the year 2000. . . . The U.S. will adopt the target" (3).

An author of a recent article on chemical pulping does not consider a pulp shortage to be among the challenges facing producers of chemical pulp in most areas of the world (4). However, he sees agricultural residue and waste paper as well as wood pulp to be part of the available fiber supply, and he does not discuss trends.

On the other hand, there are wood shortages in the Pacific rim, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest (5-7). A January 1993 report by Resource Economics Inc., an American firm, drew attention to the lack of global and Pacific rim plantation forests, to replace natural forests which are being cut down. Some fast-growing pulpwood plantation areas have been established, but many of them have planted the wrong species and are using poor forestry practices, the report said.

The Alaska Pulp Corporation was planning in July to close its Sitka pulp mill in Alaska as of September, because of the difficulty in obtaining economically priced quality timber. Their sawmill and logging operations in Alaska will continue running.

Weyerhaeuser Company's pulp mill in Springfield, Oregon, which is experiencing a shortage of virgin wood fiber, is using old corrugated containers as a fiber source, and is considering using straw for the linerboard it makes. Almost a million tons of waste rye straw is produced yearly in the Willamette Valley, and much of it is burned. To improve air quality, the Agriculture Department is supporting Weyerhaeuser's research on collecting it for use in the mill.

  1. "Tree-Free Paper," by H.L.R. Whole Earth Review, Fall 1993, p. 46-51.
  2. "Land Transformation," by John F. Richards. Chapter 10 in The Earth As Transformed by Human Action: Global and Regional Changes in the Biosphere over the past 300 Years, edited by B.L. Turner II et al. Cambridge University Press, 1990. Table 10-: Global land use, 1700-1980. This 713-page volume has major sections on changes in population and society, land, water, oceans and atmosphere, chemicals and radiation, and the major regions of the world.
  3. D. MacKenzie, "Timber: The Beam in Europe's Eye." New Scientist, vol. 138, no. 1879, 26 June 1993, p. 9. Abstracted in Paper and Board Abstracts, vol. 26, no. 9, 1993, on p. 1150 (Abstract 3451).
  4. Michael Sinner, "Existing Technologies Help Mills Clear Environment/Quality/Production Hurdles." Pulp & Paper, Oct. 1993, p. 17-109.
  5. "Global Perspective on Pacific Rim Wood Supply." Asia Pac. Papermaker, vol. 3 no. 2, Apr. 1993, p. 33-34.
  6. "Sitka to Cease Operations Indefinitely Sept. 30 Due to Timber Sourcing Troubles." Pulp & Paper Week, 15 no. 26, 5-9 July 1993, p. 1-2.
  7. "Weyco to Pulp Straw, OCC." Pulp & Paper, Oct. 1993, p. 23.

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