Friday, April 24, 2009

How to really save a tree


Everywhere I turn, someone is telling me to "save a tree." I hear it from my banker, my insurance company, my computer, at the grocery store and the coffee shop. I hear it from the guy on TV promoting an Internet business, the news anchor reporting on how to save the planet and from movie stars who like to talk about environmental issues.

This whole "Save a Tree" thing smacks of green-washing. They want us to see them as environmentally responsible and feel good about buying their product or idea. They want us to believe they care about forests and if we care too, we should "save a tree" by not using tree products.

But how does one really "save a tree?" Trees are living things with life spans. They sprout, grow, compete, mature, decline and die. To imply that you can "save a tree" by not using wood products is just wrong. It's a sound bite designed to make you feel guilty when trees are harvested for the products you use.

Trees are a great resource that should be used. They're renewable and can be sustainably managed. Healthy, growing trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Wood products hold carbon over long periods of time. They are energy efficient and can be reused and recycled. Trees help fuel our economy with wages, taxes and purchases from businesses and employees. Last year, trees provided 13,500 Idaho jobs and $1.7 billion worth of products, supported hundreds of service businesses and contributed nearly $30 million to our schools.

Moreover, trees are abundant and growing in Idaho. They cover 40 percent of the state, which is more than 21 million acres! Idaho has millions of acres of wilderness and special areas off limits to logging. We also have some of the most productive forestland in the nation. Where it makes sense, we should harvest, use and replant trees.

If you care about the environment and want trees around in the future, you should support harvesting trees, using wood and paper products and replanting trees for the future. You should buy tree products from places like Idaho where laws protect the environment and require reforestation when trees are harvested. You should support the professional people who work in Idaho's forest products businesses. They, too, care about the forest.

Idaho loggers, millworkers, truckers, manufacturers, foresters and forest landowners are part of a sustainable business that keeps forests working and growing. What they do helps ensure that forests remain in places that support wildlife, provide clean air and water, sequester carbon and contribute to Idaho's economy rather than being converted to other uses.

What else can you do? Encourage your kids to look into natural resource careers. We need their bright minds and talents to meet future challenges. Support using Idaho wood products in local buildings and bridges. Learn more about our amazing forests and support forest education and research.

And the next time someone tells you to "save a tree" by not use wood products, be bold and ask them "Why?" Explain that not using forest resources is a lose-lose deal for Idaho. We'll lose the environmental and economic benefits of producing forest products. We'll lose forestland to other uses and reduce our opportunities to enjoy these special places. We'll pay more to fight wildfires in overcrowded forests. We'll miss out on the tremendous opportunities renewable trees hold for the future.

We must make thoughtful choices because not using trees won't save trees. Instead, "save a tree" using trees, replanting trees and keeping working forests working.

Betty J. Munis is director of the Idaho Forest Products Commission

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