New Victory for Southeastern Forests: Protecting 90 Million Acres and counting...

After nearly six years of consultation and negotiation, I am excited to announce a major victory for forests today. Leading timber buyer Georgia Pacific has committed to new key sustainable forestry practices that will help to transform the entire paper industry.  You can find all the details of their new policy HERE, but two key takeaways worth shouting from the rooftops are that 1) They will no longer purchase trees from Endangered Forests and Special Areas and 2) They will no longer purchase trees from new pine plantations established at the expense of natural hardwood forests.

What’s more, they’ve committed to working with scientists and environmental groups, including NRDC and Dogwood Alliance, to mapping critical forest habitat in order to better protect those regions from clearcutting and pine-farm conversion.  

This builds upon NRDC’s ongoing work to protect Southern forests.  Five years ago, we announced a similar commitment by Bowater, a major newsprint manufacturer, to protect critical habitats in the Southeast.  As one of the largest wood and paper products companies operating in the South, GP’s policy goes to the heart of everything it does and affects everything they produce from plywood production to household items. And when these major players in the timber industry stand up and change their procurement practices, their actions reverberate across the industry. 

We’re really pleased to see they’re beginning this process on their home turf, the Southeast.  After all, the mid-Atlantic and South produces more wood and paper than any other place in the world, yet only two percent of the region’s forests are protected.  Today’s actions will help to change that.

As a first step, Georgia Pacific has identified 11 Endangered Forests and Special Areas in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Eco-Region, totaling 600,000 acres --- as well as 90 million acres of natural hardwood forests in the Southern region, which is the same size as the state of Montana. 

The South’s natural forests are home to more plant and animal species than anywhere else in North America, including, grey wolves, bobcats, alligators, the carnivorous Venus flytrap, rare orchids and endangered species such as the Red-cockaded woodpecker.  They also help protect the drinking water for millions of people in a region increasingly suffering from droughts.  

A map of those 11 endangered areas can be found HERE and further details on why each area is so important can be found HERE.  Over the coming years, Georgia Pacific will continue to map other Endangered Forests and Special Areas across North America.

Beyond protecting these endangered areas, GP is taking a stand against the expansion of pine plantations --- essentially massive tree farms that have replaced natural forests.  While you might think a patch of trees is a patch of trees - it‘s not.  These plantations lack biodiversity, providing habitat for only 5 to 10% of the species found in natural hardwood forests.  Like industrial farms, they require a lot of chemicals to help the pine crop grow quickly and to ward off pests.  But these chemicals can find their way into neighboring streams, causing concerns about the human health impacts in nearby communities. At this point, 20% of Southern forests have been converted to pine farms, and there’s a risk it could increase to 60% by 2040. 

But hopefully, GP’s policy will help turn back that tide by promoting more sustainable forestry practices that ensure wood and paper manufacturers remain profitable while maintaining forest diversity and protection. We look forward to watching their efforts expand into other forests and throughout the industry.