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Suppose America stopped harvesting its trees to make lumber, plywood, paper and other wood products. Would this have a good or a bad effect on our environment? Lets consider.

What would we use as a building material for homes and furniture, or paper for books and stationery? Would we substitute steel, aluminum, masonry or plastic products? Buy wood from other countries? Or do without?

If we substituted non-wood building products, the environment would be the clear loser. Those non-wood products are environmentally expensive. The supplies of ores and petroleum for their production are finite; once gone, they are gone forever. Wood, on the other hand, is a renewable resource from an endless succession of trees. Non-wood products require far more energy to manufacture than wood; nine times as much to make a steel stud as a wood stud, for example. That further depletes finite supplies of fossil fuels and coal. Not to mention greater pollution of the air and water, while adding to the potential for global warming through the greenhouse effect.

Wood is also the best insulator of all structural building materials, with millions of tiny air cells trapped within its cellular structure providing a barrier against heat and cold. An inch of wood is 15 times as efficient an insulator as concrete, 400 times as efficient as steel and 1,770 times as efficient as aluminum. So homes built with wood require far less energy to heat and cool, thus conserving fossil fuels and coal.

Another thing: wood is reusable, recyclable and biodegradable. Inorganic materials call for yet additional energy drains to recycle or otherwise dispose of them when use has been terminated.

Okay, but aren't we running out of trees by harvesting so many of them for the needs of a swelling population? No, not at all. Each American does use the equivalent of a 100-foot, 18-inch diameter tree every year for wood and paper products. But 4.5 million tree are planted every day, which works out to 6.5 trees a year for every American.

Another fact: during 1994, more than 420 trees were planted for every baby born in the United States. As a result, more wood is grown each year in the U.S. than is harvested or lost to disease, insects and fire. Growth exceeds harvest by 37%. No surprise, then, that the nation has more trees today than it had 70 years ago. Or that about a third of the entire United States - 731 million acres - is covered with trees. Or even the fact that this amount of forestland is two-thirds of what existed in pre-Columbian America some 500 years ago.

A major reason that trees are so plentiful in America is because people plant and grow them for use as wood products. These trees also provide important environmental benefits, ranging from windbreaks, shade, and soil stabilization to pure aesthetics, wildlife habitat, plus improved air and water quality.

Forests are oxygen factories and greenhouse exchangers. Growing just one pound of wood in a vigorous younger forest removed 1.47 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replaces it with 1.07 pounds of life-sustaining oxygen. Carbon dioxide accounts for about half of the world's greenhouse gases, which trap solar rays. An old forest reverses the process, removing oxygen and emitting carbon dioxide.

As long as America continues to plant and grow new trees for wood products, the environment will be the big winner. So in a very real sense, wood products are the most environmentally responsible building material anyone could ever use.

Copyright© 2001 Southern Forest Products Association