A Century-Long Environmental Success Story

It’s been 46 years since the first Earth Day, an event that gave rise to the modern environmental movement. Earth Day was inspired by widespread concern about the ability of the planet to sustain itself under the pressure of the food, material and energy requirements of 3.7 billion human beings.

Today, Earth Day finds a world inhabited by nearly twice as many people all vying for a higher standard of living which, for now, correlates tightly to greater energy demand. With that mind, it is not surprising that since 1970 carbon emissions, like the global population, have doubled. The race to curb and curtail these growing emissions has continued – the most recent effort being the global accord widely known as the Paris Agreement which will be signed by as many as 120 countries.

Scientific consensus makes it clear that as a species we must continue to provide the food, material and energy society requires while also reducing the carbon emissions that result from those efforts. It’s a big challenge and the world’s forests are playing a major role.

Trees are symbolic of man’s relationship with the planet. In fact, the theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Trees for the Earth.” While trees are universally adored and valued for their beauty, the manner in which they are used as a resource can be misunderstood. Harvesting trees is only one side of the story. The replanting and forest regeneration that takes place continuously may be something many people are unaware of.

Sustainable forest management in the U.S. has been perfected over the last 100 years. While the population has quintupled since 1900, forests have remained constant at roughly 750 million acres. This stable resource has provided the materials for growing populations while quietly capturing and storing around 15 percent of all carbon emissions in the country and filtering a quarter of its fresh water.

At the center of this incredible story are strong markets for forest products. These markets create an economic incentive to keep forested acres as forests and deliver a return to the men, women and organizations who own them. More than 90 percent of the trees planted each year are planted by private landowners and forest products companies.

This Earth Day, this day of “Trees for the Earth,” we invite you to spend some time reflecting on this environmental success story. North American forestry is a clear example of a resource that can be sustainably maintained while providing the fiber and fuel resources society requires.