Sustainability Forestry

“The global demand for wood has increased every year since 1950 and continues to increase along with population. Most of the places in the world where wood is being grown is in plantations. There’s really only one place where trees are grown in a native ecosystem and that’s here in the Pacific North West.”

“This is the most environmentally sustainable place on earth to grow wood.”

-Dr. Thomas Maness, Dean of the College of Forestry,
Oregon State University

Buildings made of materials grown by the power of the sun are healthy, natural and renewable — requiring far less energy than man-made building materials.  Sustainably managed forests and wood products play an important role in protecting our climate. Science tells us that excessive amounts of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. The use of fossil fuels is the main source of excess greenhouse gases.



Healthy, growing trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store carbon in all of the parts of the tree, primarily in the trunk as wood. Young, healthy, vigorously growing trees sequester carbon at a higher rate than older trees, which absorb less carbon as they mature. As long as the forest is in a healthy state, both young and old forests provide significant benefits to the climate. The forests of the Pacific Coast provide 39% of all carbon storage in the U.S. and have the highest average carbon storage per acre in the United States.[1]

Washington’s forests and harvested wood products absorb and store 28% of the state’s total emissions.[2]

sustainManaged forests provide some additional climate benefits. In a managed forest, trees are harvested and then replanted. This cycle maintains over time a constant or increasing level of carbon on the landscape and extends the benefit by storing carbon in lumber, furniture and wood products. Substitution of wood for non-renewable resources can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example, when wood is substituted for emission‐intensive materials such as aluminum, steel, or concrete in buildings. Nearly 100 million trees are replanted in Oregon and Washington forests each year, each one by hand.

Sustainable Forest Management

“In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”

- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 4th Assessment

There is nearly 60% more wood in our forests than there was 60 years ago,[3] and carbon stocks on United States timberlands on average are growing at more than twice the rate of harvests. In a recent report, the United States Forest Service found that from 2006 to 2011, the growth to removal ratio across United States timberland increased from 1.7 to 2.1. In Washington that ratio is 2.2. In Oregon the growth to removal ratio is 1.96.[4]

Washington Forestland Ownership Overview

Washington’s forests cover one-half of our land area, mostly west of the Cascade Mountain Range. The rest of the state has vast stretches of agricultural lands, sage desert, and many mountain peaks that reach above the timberline. Also, cities and towns across the state now thrive where forests once grew.

In each forest region, you’ll find a unique variety of trees species, plants, and animals. Foresters study the local conditions and tailor their forestry programs to sustain and protect the native species in each forest region.

About two-thirds of Washington’s forestland is publicly owned, while the remaining one-third is privately owned. This diversity allows Washington’s forests to fulfill many economic, social, and environmental needs. Washington’s forest land ownership has evolved over the years.

In our national forests, parks, and wildlife refuges, forests continue to flourish as they have for centuries. In our working forests, trees are grown, harvested, and replanted in a continuing cycle to provide us with forest products we use every day. Drag your mouse over the pie chart for details.

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Why Working Forests Are Our Greatest Natural Resource

sustain2Over half of the state is forested–about 23 million acres of forestland. More than half of the acreage (53%) is restricted from timber harvesting. It is on this land that private, working forests form the foundation of the timber industry.  It’s an industry that supports more than 107,000 workers and generates more than $4.5 billion in wages annually. In a sustainably managed forest, harvested trees are reforested. On average, three seedlings are planted for each tree harvested.

Working forests are also a source of clean water and healthy habitat for fish and wildlife. They create important jobs in rural communities. These forests also store carbon in their trees, and in the wood products that come from trees—reducing the amount of harmful emissions in our earth’s atmosphere. Working forests also supply renewable biomass used to create green energy.

Private forest landowners maintain this valuable natural resource through sustainable forest practices. Working forests yield environmentally friendly products and alternative energy resources. These, in turn, create green jobs that are important to our state’s economy and environment.

Working Forest Lands: Managed for Sustainability

Of the 23 million acres of forested land in Washington State, roughly two-thirds of these forests are managed by the government; about one-third is privately owned. Yet, in an average year, private forestlands supply more than 70% of the timber that is harvested to produce wood products.

According to the Department of Natural Resources only about 2% of commercial forestland is being harvested at any given time. In other words, for every 100 acres of working forests in Washington State, 98 acres are dedicated to growing a new forest every year. When trees are harvested, the cycle begins again with an average of three seedlings are planted for each tree.  More than 50 million trees are replanted each year in Washington’s forests.  The result: generation after generation of renewable, sustainable wood and wood products.


2013 Timber Harvest:

Private                 71%

State & County    18%

Tribal                    8%

Federal                 3%




Working Forest Lands: Economic Impact

map-FWith proper incentives our private forests can continue to offer their many benefits: providing a sustainable natural resource, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, enabling clean water and soil protection, creating wildlife habitat and serving as the source of responsible green products.

Equally important, these healthy working forests will continue to provide an economic base for rural communities, while substantially contributing to Washington state’s economy by supporting more than 107,000 workers. Clearly it’s in the public’s best interest to support sustainably managed, green working forests.

“For forest ownership and stewardship to remain viable it must remain economically rewarding as well for landowners. By generating rural wealth, we can make it possible again for landowners to sustain our forests and our working landscapes.”

- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

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Sustainable Forestry Certification

The United States’ forestry regulations boast the highest environmental standards in the world. Unfortunately, many of the forests around the world lack North America’s strong governance. While many landowners find value for their customers in third-party certification programs, less than 2% of forest area in African, Asian, and tropical American forests are certified, where the threat of deforestation is the greatest.

- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Ch. 11 Pg. 868

Most (84%) of the world’s certified forests are located in North America and Europe. While a variety of forest certification programs are recognized in the marketplace, they all seek to assure the consumer that the wood and paper products we use come from responsibly managed sustainable forests.

- International Tropical Timber Organization: Forest Certification Trends Pg. 25

Woody Biomass and Green Energy

“Enabling clean, renewable heat and power generation from forest biomass not only creates jobs and economic activity in our timber-dependent communities, it supports our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase treatment of our forested lands for health and fire reduction,”

Gov. Jay Inslee, Aug 27, 2014

The 21st century world economy is searching for alternatives to fossil fuels for both environmental purposes and for energy independence. Forests help provide an answer through the conversion of woody biomass to green energy. Woody biomass—including wood chips, sawdust, bark, shavings and tree trimmings—is a renewable source of energy harvested from sustainably managed forests.

Bioenergy could emerge as a new market for wood and could aid in the restoration of forests killed by drought, insects, and fire. See the National Climate Assessment report on the potential of bioenergy.

Today, woody biomass is the #2 source of renewable energy in the country after hydroelectric power. According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the majority of biomass energy is produced from wood and wood wastes.[5]  In the United States, wood energy accounts for (about) 25 percent of renewable energy consump­tion, second only to hydropower and more prominent than wind and solar energy.[6]











Source: This chart is derived from the US Energy Information Administration.

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The Crisis of Forest Health

Unnaturally overcrowded and unhealthy forests often suffer from insect and disease outbreaks, making them more susceptible to catastrophic, destructive crown fires. Wildfire contributes .5% of Washington state’s total carbon emissions annually.[7] Every 21,000 acres that burn, is equivalent to the emissions from a million cars on the road, for a year.

In addition, these unnaturally hot fires can burn at such a high temperature that soil turns into clay. Active forest management can restore unhealthy forests, and minimize the damage of wildfires, returning the natural forested conditions. When the natural fire cycle occurs, the emissions are going to be very minor by comparison to a forest that is so overcrowded with trees and undergrowth that it burns catastrophically.

26% of wood growth in Washington and 30% in Oregon is lost annually due to mortality, or trees dying because of insects, diseases and fire. These are unfortunate statistics that result from untended, unhealthy forests.[8]

A Zombie Tree Chart

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Avoiding Catastrophic Wildfire

Experts agree that forest health is a pressing issue and if unresolved will continue to result in catastrophic forest fires, unleash dangerous carbon emissions, and exact an economic toll.  In 1999, the Government Accounting Office recommended that a strategy was needed to remove surplus fuel loads on federal forests. Two-thirds of the U.S. forest health problem is on federal forests.[9]


“We must dramatically accelerate the scale and pace of forest stewardship here on both public and private lands. On our national forests, we must restore more acres more rapidly if we are to prevent catastrophic fires, insect outbreaks, and other threats, particularly as climate change makes those threats more potent.”

-Vilsack, Tom. National Forest Policy address. Seward Park. Seattle, 14 Aug. 2009.

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[1] USDA Forest Service GTR WO-59: Carbon Storage and Accumulation in United States Forest Ecosystems pgs. 4-6

[2] Washington Department of Ecology. 2007. Greenhouse Gas Inventory & Reference Case Projections, 1990-2020. Center for Climate Strategies, pgs. ES-5 and I-3.

[3] USDA Forest Resources of the United States, 2012 GTR WO-91, Table 20, Oct. 2014 A Technical Document Supporting the Forest Service Update of the 2010 RPA Assessment.

[4] USDA Forest Resources of the United States, 2012 GTR WO-91, Table 36, Oct. 2014 A Technical Document Supporting the Forest Service 2015 Update of the RPA Assessment.

[5] Temperate Forest Foundation. Biomass for Energy & Forest Fuel Reduction. Eco-Link, 13:3.

[6] Aguilar, F. Wood energy in developed economies: An overlooked renewable. Resources for the Future, pg. 188.

[7] Washington Department of Ecology. 2007. Greenhouse Gas Inventory & Reference Case Projections, 1990-2020. Center for Climate Strategies, pg. I-6.

[8] USDA Forest Resources of the United States, 2012 GTR WO-91, Table 36, Oct. 2014 A Technical Document Supporting the Forest Service 2015 Update of the RPA Assessment.

[9] Rummer, B. et. Al. 2003.A Strategic Assessment of Forest Biomass and Fuel Reduction Treatments in Western States. USDA Forest Service, Research and Development and the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition.