The Forests of Gabon

Forest products play a crucial role in many countries and their available resources. In the African nation of Gabon, forest products are pointing the way forward in a country that finds itself winding down its oil production and needing to find alternate sources of investment and resources.

NP readers know that we at Nature’s Packaging support sustainably sourced wood from sustainably managed forests. Wood is a multifaceted medium that is utilized in everything from buildings (mass timber), to furniture, to the wooden pallet and crate.

The government of this small African nation understand that their forests are an opportunity to open new markets and create jobs for its citizens.

Join Nature’s Packaging as we take look how the country is working to balance its need for new revenue and to sustainably manage its abundant forest land.

The Eden of Africa

Known as the “Eden of Africa”, the nation of Gabon is rich with forestland (it covers about 90% of the country) and has one of the largest elephant herds in the world.  For decades though, it has relied on its oil production to fuel the economy. The oil producing sector has shielded the country’s economy from the larger fluctuations in Africa’s overall economic woes at various times in history.

However, as their calculated oil reserves begin to dwindle the government has turned to its forests to make the transition from oil as its main economic driver to a diversity of forest products. The challenge is to balance the need to extract these resources with the preservation of its precious forests and the climate change conditions happening around the world.

To maintain that balance, Gabonese officials have implemented strict rules regarding logging that keeps the majority trees standing and developing into old-growth timber. In fact, those strict rules limit logging to two trees per hectare every 25 years. Additionally, to combat illegal logging they have developed a program to track logs via bar code markings.

In the past, Gabon exported the majority of its raw timber product to other countries for them to finish. That has changed through government legislation that forbid selling the raw materials directly to other countries (France was a big customer). Now, the government is working to create industrial economic zones that provide tax breaks and other incentives to have businesses build factories and facilities that provide finished forest products right on their own. These include:

  • Furniture
  • Plywood products
  • Veneers from exotic tree species

To assess the interior forestland and track toward sustainable management of such a large area, Gabon officials built a satellite research station to track and create a database of the areas most degraded from industrial activity. This has led directly to a decline in illegal logging and deforestation overall. Some of the areas that were degraded previously were then re-purposed to more industrial agriculture services like palm oil.

This conservation and active sustainable management has led to a boom in the elephant population as well. In the 1990’s, the elephant population in Gabon numbered around 60,000. Now the population has grown to over 95,000. It is said that elephants are a sign of a thriving forest and certainly the elephants in Gabon are thriving.

Gabon and Forest Products

Gabon’s booming veneer business has made it the largest producer of exotic veneers in Africa. Their rich resource of exotic woods has made them a much sought after medium for crafting fine furniture and wood materials. And they are actively developing plywood manufacturing sectors through the grant of special economic zones that are located strategically close to resources and populations in need of employment.

The timber industry in Gabon is responsible for more than 30,000 jobs and this number is projected to increase as workers in the oil and gas sectors transition to forest based jobs. That 30,000 already represents about 7% of their total available workforce.

Gabon and Carbon

As the second largest reservoir of carbon sequestered through forestland (the Amazon is the largest), the burgeoning worldwide carbon credit market has created new opportunities for Gabon to utilize the natural carbon sequestration of its forest for profit in the CC market. It has sought and received carbon offset certifications from independent auditors.

Though this has not come without controversy as Gabonese officials chose to re-evaluate their credit calculation method and have since quadrupled their available carbon credits into the tens of millions of dollars. The concern is the market being flooded with these credits and thus driving down prices overall and the veracity of the credits themselves. Government officials have pointed to the initiative as a model for using new markets to fund the conservation of their forestland.

While Gabon’s story around forest products as a resource continues to play out over time. The model that they have provided to other African nations has prompted other to develop the same type of resources where available. However, the challenge becomes whether or not these other nations will adhere to principles of sustainable management of forestland and the need for economic opportunity. Time will tell.

What are the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators?

The forest products industry is truly an ecosystem of industries that are symbiotic to each other by virtue of one common product:

Wood.

As one of our greatest resources, countries of the world have recognized that wood represents our ingenuity in building, shaping, and experimenting to build new structures and technologies.

They have also recognized the value of forests, and that managing those forest sustainably is an important part of climate change and our survival. To that end, one of the most recent tools developed to monitor forest health and conservation are the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators.

In this Nature’s packaging blog post we’ll take a look at the Montreal C and I and learn a little about their origin and what they are utilized for as tools.

The Origin of the Montreal Process

The official title is the Montreal Process Working Group on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests, and they were derived from the Rio Forest Principles which was developed by the United Nations in 1992 as a non-legally binding document that made recommendations on sustainable forestry management and conservation.

These principles and their view of sustainable practices as being vital to forest preservation around the world were some of the first to tackle what countries were experiencing with deforestation and over-logging.

They became the catalyst for the working group that began to codify what sustainable management was, and how it would be monitored through the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators.

In 1995, these criteria and indicators were formally agreed to by these ten countries:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • China
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • The Russian Federation
  • United States
  • Uruguay

It has been determined that these countries account for:

  • 90% of temperate and boreal forest (including tropical) of the world
  • 58% of the planted forests of the world
  • 49% of the world’s forest overall
  • 49% of the production of roundwood in the world
  • 31% of the population.

The Criteria and their Purpose

As mentioned, the criteria were designed as tools to evaluate the important components of sustainable forest management and provide a structure to quantify and qualify the value and conditions of forests worldwide.

Their core premise is to view forests as ecosystems that provide a complex framework of environmental and socio-economic benefits for people around the world. The criteria and their subsequent indicators act as guidelines for monitoring and assessing national trends in forest conditions and management.

There are seven criteria that form the basis of the process:

  • Conservation of biological diversity
  • Maintenance of productive capacity of forest ecosystems
  • Maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality
  • Conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources
  • Maintenance of forest contribution to global carbon cycles
  • Maintenance and enhancement of long-term multiple socioeconomic benefits to meet the needs of societies
  • Legal, institutional, and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management

and each of these criteria have several indicators that measure or describe the criteria, which can include quantitative and/or descriptive practices like forest planning or investment in natural resources by countries.

In the beginning there were actually seven criteria and sixty-seven indicators, but over the years, the process, criteria, and indicators get reviewed to ensure they remain relevant and/or updated to new factors in sustainable forest management. This is important as the Montreal Process and Criteria are not standards or regulations that are binding and must allow for common interpretation.

They were not created to measure whether sustainability has been achieved. They were created to provide a common framework for countries to have effective discussions about how each of the participating country can work together to accomplish the common goals of sustainable forest management.

Hardwood or Softwood: What’s the Difference?

Of the many forest products used by consumers every day, wood in the form of lumber is the most recognizable. The lumber that we use to build homes or make furniture is produced from softwood or hardwood trees.

The differences between the two types of trees seem obvious from their names, but the actual differences are much more compelling. Interestingly, one basic fact is that “hard” wood and “soft” wood is really based on the botanical properties of a tree rather than the objective hardness of the wood.

Both hardwood and softwood are integral to global industry and infrastructure.

What is a Hardwood Tree?

Angiosperm trees produce what we know as hardwood. Angiosperms are flowering trees with enclosed seeds. The enclosure is often a fruit or nut.

They are usually deciduous, dropping their leaves in the autumn, sometimes with a vibrant display of color. Hardwood trees have broad leaves with fine veins.

Angiosperms grow slowly, which makes their wood dense and heavy. They have a tubular cell structure with pores that produce prominent grain patterns. They are found in tropical and temperate forests all over the world.

Common angiosperm hardwood trees include oak, maple, and walnut.

What is a Softwood Tree?

Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees, which, unlike angiosperms, do not flower. Softwood trees are usually conifers like pine, cedar, and spruce. Their seeds are not enclosed and they’re often in the form of a cone.

Because gymnosperm seeds do not have a fruit or nut enclosure, they spread more easily and in a wider area than angiosperms. Softwood trees also grow faster, have a simpler cell structure, and produce sap.

Gymnosperm leaves are needle-shaped and do not drop seasonally. They’re commonly called evergreen trees. Approximately 80% of timber comes from these softwood trees. The most common group of softwood trees, conifers, is also those most valued for its lumber. Conifers grow all over the world but are especially abundant in cooler climates and higher altitudes.

Do Hardwood and Softwood Trees Store Carbon?

Yes. Through the process of photosynthesis, hardwood trees and softwood trees both remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, light, and water transform into sugars including glucose, starch, and cellulose.

This is a form of carbon sequestration, in which carbon is captured from the atmosphere. Trees are natural carbon cleaners. The carbon they store helps offset carbon emissions from other sources.

Carbon is used and stored in every part of a tree, from leaf to root. Starch is found in flowers, fruits, and cones. Glucose aids in respiration, keeping the tree alive. Cellulose, which makes up 40% of wood, supports cell walls. Without cellulose, trees would be unable to stand upright.

An astonishing 50% of the dry mass of a tree is made up of carbon captured from the atmosphere. Harvesting trees and using them for lumber or paper does not release the carbon they’ve stored. Only burning or decay will send it back into the atmosphere.

Though softwood and hardwood trees absorb carbon differently (primarily due to growth rate) they are equally efficient.

What is Made From Hardwood Lumber?

Hardwood lumber is more expensive than softwood because it takes longer for the trees to reach a suitable size for harvest. Hardwood is used for furniture, flooring, cabinets, and musical instruments.

Though hardwood in general is denser and stronger, that is not the case for every species. For example, yew (a softwood) is significantly denser than aspen (a hardwood).

If a project is more decorative than functional, a softer hardwood may be used for its grain pattern rather than a denser softwood that would be more durable.

Hardwood is more difficult to work with than softwood. It is valued by woodworkers for its beauty and strength.

What is Made From Softwood Lumber?

Softwood is the workhorse of the lumber world. It is less expensive and easier to work with and finish. It is used for everything from framing houses to making paper. It’s also used for every single thing hardwood is used for, even instruments.

Softwood is used for Christmas trees, window frames, wood pallets, doors, and plywood. Cedar is used for outdoor decking and siding due to its natural resistance to fungi, insect, rot, and bacteria. Its popularity makes cedar’s price rival that of many slower-growing hardwoods.

Softwood is versatile, renewable, recyclable, and ubiquitous. We’re surrounded by it every day.

Wood is a Renewable and Recyclable Resource

Both hardwood and softwood are incredible, versatile resources. Lumber and other forest products are used in the daily lives of people across the globe.

Wood is one of our most recycled and reused products. Wood furniture is passed down through generations, recycled lumber is used for other projects, and wood pallets are transformed into décor or other items after being reused many times.

Modern logging practices create sustainable, healthy forests. The days of clear-cutting entire old-growth forests are long gone. Today, replanting, selective harvesting, and fire prevention are creating strong, productive forests that benefit both the environment and the economy.

The forest products industry is efficient and dedicated to the health of every aspect of the woodland. From wildlife habitat to soil conservation, forest management strives to keep these amazing resources sustainable for future generations. Private forests currently grow more trees than are harvested.

A harvested tree is used for more than lumber. Every piece of the tree has a use. Small branches, bark, and sawdust can be used as biomass for energy production. This material would otherwise be left to decay, burned on site, or sent to the landfill. In every one of those scenarios, the carbon is released without benefit.

When used as fuel, this material becomes part of the energy grid, reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It is carbon-neutral, releasing no more carbon than had it been left to decay.

The demand for forest products including lumber, paper, wood packaging, and biomass has steadily increased for decades. Rather than harming our forests, responsible woodland management resulted in a 50% increase in trees in the United States since the 1950s.

Responsible management of hardwood trees and softwood trees across the country has made the forest products industry a model of economically beneficial sustainability.

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What are the Different Parts of a Tree?

When you look at a tree, do you usually see it as a singular object? You may notice that one is different from the other, but don’t often stop to wonder why. The forest products industry believes that the more we know about trees, the more responsibly we can manage our forests.

Though they seem very different from flowers and grasses, trees are perennial plants. The trunk is a very long stem that supports branches, leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds.

All trees gather light through their leaves and use that for fuel in a process called photosynthesis.

It is that same trunk that makes trees different from other plants. Containing woody fiber, the trunk is strong and allows trees to grow taller than other plants. The trunk of a tree grows both up and out.

Counting Rings

Cross section of tree trunk showing growth rings

Most of a tree’s trunk is not living. Only the outermost portion, just beneath the bark, is functioning. That living layer is called the cambium and it produces two secondary layers that do all the heavy lifting to sustain the tree.

Cross section of a tree trunk

The outer layer is the phloem, carrying the nutrients from photosynthesis down from the leaves to the rest of the tree. The inner layer, the xylem (also called sapwood), is how water is transported upward from the tree’s roots.

Each year the tree grows new layers. The old phloem becomes bark to protect the outside of the tree. The old xylem becomes part of the inner heartwood that supports the rest of the tree.

The death of old layers and the birth of new ones produce the rings that indicate the age of a tree. Each year, a tree produces two rings, one in the spring and one in the summer, as the trunk grows.

Determining tree age can be done by counting rings from a felled tree or a core sample. It can also be done based on the circumference of a tree, accounting for that species growth rate.

Every species grows at its own rate. Some, like the deciduous Hybrid Poplar, grow quickly (up to eight feet of vertical growth per year). Others, like the deciduous Bur Oak (less than 12 inches per year) or the coniferous Eastern Hemlock (12-24 inches per year) grow much more slowly.

If you’re tree planting, consider how quickly you want a tree to reach its full height. You may choose a quick-growing species for shade or privacy or a slow-growing one that won’t shade your garden too quickly.

Determining the age of a tree by its diameter is best completed by an arborist since diameter growth depends on both species and environmental conditions.

Bits and Pieces

tree branch

In addition to a trunk, every tree has branches and twigs. These hold leaves, flowers, and fruit, allowing the tree to reproduce and gather sunlight to continue growing. New non-trunk tree growth appears at the end of twigs and the tips of roots.

Two basic tree classifications are deciduous trees and coniferous trees.

Deciduous Trees

A deciduous tree sheds its leaves, usually in the autumn. Its leaves often change color as the nights get longer and cooler. In warmer parts of the U.S., deciduous trees may lose their leaves during the dry season.

Deciduous tree leaves are flat and often wide. These trees may produce fruit or flowers that contain seeds.

Deciduous treeMost of us are familiar with many deciduous tree species, including oak, maple, birch, and apple trees. Deciduous trees are hardwood trees and you see their wood used in items like oak furniture, cherry wood kitchen cabinets, and maple flooring.

The most valuable part of a hardwood deciduous tree is its trunk. A tall, straight trunk produces strong, dense boards with beautiful grains.

Coniferous Trees

A coniferous tree is sometimes called an evergreen, as its leaves do not change color and fall in the winter. The leaves of a coniferous tree are its needles. These trees produce cones that contain seeds.

coniferous tree

The wood of a coniferous tree is softer than deciduous wood and makes up the majority of timber harvested each year. Conifers are used for structural lumber and their wood pulp is used to make paper.

Trees and Pallets

tree and a wood pallet

Pallets can be manufactured from either deciduous or coniferous trees. These are usually categorized as softwood or hardwood, with spruce, pine, and fir (SPF) as softwood examples and oak as a common hardwood example.

The pallet industry typically uses industrial grade wood products to manufacture packaging and pallets. All of the forest product industries strive to use as much material from the tree as possible. Beyond that, the wood pallet and container industry have attained a recycling rate of better than 95% of their core product.

A recyclable wood pallet

Trees and timber have been products of this country since its founding. Managed and conserved properly, trees are an incredible resource that still provide new and innovative values to this day.

Volunteering to plant and maintain trees in urban, recreational, and park settings is a great way to enrich the community and meet new friends.

Who knows? You may find a new path in the wood.

A forest path

Wood On The Web: 5 Great Resources for You

The world wide web has delivered easily accessible resources for nearly every industry. What was once available only in classrooms, libraries, or laboratories can now be found with the click of a mouse.

Online forestry and forest products data and information is available for readers to learn about progress in forestry, research, forest products, environmental advocacy, and economic advancement.

At Nature’s Packaging, we strive to bring you interesting and useful resources on the web and here are five great forestry and forest products website resources for you. There’s something here for everyone from the curious consumer to the industry professional.

The Penn State Extension-Wood Products

The Penn State Extension offers a variety of online learning resources, including courses, articles, videos, and webinars. It also features in-person conferences and workshops.

The extension has 11 overarching areas of study, including food safety, business and operations, community development, animals and livestock, and forests and wildlife. It’s in this last section where students and learners of all ages will find a treasure trove of forest products information.

From urban forestry to maple syrup, this site covers a lot of ground. The Wood Products section is filled with information ranging from the basics of lumber to research on insects.

The Penn Extension site has something for everyone interested in wood products. From builders to landowners, students to casual enthusiasts, and newbies to experienced members of the forest products industry.

The site is easy to navigate, with efficient and effective content filters. You can browse by educational format, author or instructor, or date posted. This is a terrific general knowledge site that promotes an understanding of the many layers of the wood products industry.

International Society of Wood Science and Technology

The International Society of Wood Science and Technology is a non-profit, international professional organization. Members have access to conventions, international meetings, scientific missions, publications, and more.

Their website offers teaching units and other educational materials, accreditation information for Wood Science and Technology Programs, and access to recent issues of their publications.

Members have access to the full archives. They offer reduced-price student memberships as well as regular memberships. One of the greatest things about this organization, and its website, is the Short Term Scientific Mission.

Members are eligible to apply for these special research grants. They are used to send individuals into the world to collaborate and research away from their home base.

What’s special about the website is that anyone can see previous projects completed with STSM grants. Articles and videos discuss project goals and outcomes achieved during the visiting researcher’s stay.

Think Wood

Builders, contractors, and architects are the audience for the Think Wood website. This is a beautiful site that will appeal to the design eye of these professionals. Think Wood partners with industry groups to provide education and inspiration around advances in wood products.

The site offers articles, videos, and infographics without cost. They aim to provide the resources their audience needs to benefit from building with wood.

Topics range from forest management and carbon sequestration to meeting building and fire safety codes. They even offer continuing education courses.

While it’s designed for building professionals, this site is very accessible. It has a lot of information about sustainable forestry and proactive steps to reduce the carbon footprints of all sorts of projects. It’s also a great place to learn the basics of mass timber.

Think Wood excels at the visual. The site has incredible pictures of wood projects in all stages of completion. Their project gallery is filled with stunning photos accompanied by a lot of great information.

Inspiration is where Think Wood excels.

ForestProud

ForestProud is all about climate solutions. The Society of American Foresters recently merged with the #forestproud project to create a community that supports and promotes climate action in our forests.

The site is full of articles that link forest management with real-world positive outcomes. They talk about mass timber and urban renewal. They discuss biomass, wildfires, and carbon credits.

All of this information could be overwhelming. But it’s well-organized and helps visitors focus on connecting with forests as a climate solution.

This is a “finger on the pulse” website. It encourages community members to send in selfies wearing their branded t-shirts or with their stickers.

It links visitors to videos about sustainable forests and forest resources. It offers articles to educate. It even gives suggestions for relevant podcasts. This group has a social media presence and knows how to use it to further its cause.

ForestProud is a very accessible website. It’s welcoming and warm. Visitors can browse and learn, or they can choose to interact. It’s a well-conceived initiative to promote forest management and climate action.

National Wooden Pallet and Container Association

The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association is a professional non-profit association that supports the wood packaging industry. Its website is filled with information for both professionals and curious web surfers alike.

As industry advocates, the association offers networking, educational opportunities, and specialized software tools for pallet design. Members can register for events and find the latest industry news.

They also use their website to serve as the voice of the unsung hero of the supply chain: the wood pallet. Both members and non-members can access issues of the organization’s Pallet Central magazine right on the site.

The NWPCA site is designed for industry professionals. But there is a lot of information about sustainability for the general public as well.

Favorite Web Resources

These five websites are an excellent place to start for anyone interested in forestry and forest products. The key is to build a network of websites that adds and advances your knowledge of the industry.

Do you have a favorite wood related website to share? Join us on our LinkedIn page and comment on the websites in the forestry and forest products niche that you like.

 

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