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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.

Today I Learned

The 7 Essential Criteria of Sustainable Forest Management-Part 1

The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators were created in 1992 during the Earth Summit. They addressed the sustainable management of forests to conserve the overall range of critical functions and characteristics like carbon cycles, forest health, water and soil protection, biodiversity, and forest productivity.

In February 1995, the member countries, including the United States, Australia, Argentina, Canada, China, Japan, and others, adopted these set of criteria for use by the working groups assigned to gauge their practicality and value.

The criteria dubbed-“The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management”, were developed to focus on the challenge of assessing tangible progress towards forest conditions and sustainability.

The indicators are measurable components relating to a part of (or) the entire natural system, which can give insights into the condition of the forest ecosystem.

In today’s Nature’s Packaging post, we describe these essential criteria and explain their importance in sustainable forest management.

Criterion 1: Conservation of Biological Diversity

Biological diversity refers to the variety of life supported by Earth. It comprises distinct levels, including ecosystems, genes, species, and various creatures. The interactions of these levels make the earth habitable. However, in the wake of the climate change threats, the entire concept of biodiversity is under threat, which is why the first criterion focuses on the conservation of biological diversity.

Both harvest prepared and natural forests play a significant part in biodiversity. They are part of ecosystems where different life forms interact with the environment and allow the system to respond to changes, recover from disturbances, and ensure the sustainability of ecological processes.

Human activities tend to adversely affect biodiversity by altering habitats, extinction of species, reducing indigenous populations, and introducing invasive species. Conserving biological diversity allows the forest ecosystems to function properly and provide broader environmental and economic value (forest products).

In this criterion, there are a total of nine indicators. The first three are concerned with the diversity of the ecosystem, describing the type, amount, and organization of forests which provide insights into the ability of forests to support organisms and ecological processes. The other six indicators are concerned with the number and biological diversity of plants and animals supported in these habitats, focusing on the species and genes.

Criterion 2: Maintenance of Productive Capacity of Forest Ecosystems

Populations worldwide rely on forests directly for a multitude of forest-based products. The sustainability of these products is directly linked to the forests’ productive capacity, and if the requirements exceed the limit of that capacity, the ecosystem is depleted or damaged.

Thus, populations must ensure the sustainability of forests by determining acceptable levels of extraction of all the forest-based products that will not collapse the ecosystem. This must also account for the type of forest-based products in demand and how that demand changes due to social, technological, and economic trends advancements. Variations in a forests’ productive capacity can be a signal to modify those trends or other factors affecting the ecosystems.

The second criterion thus focuses on maintaining the productive capacities of forests. It has five indicators, where the first four indicators track conventional measures relating to the trends and status of the forests that support wood supplies. The last indicator focuses on the trends of non-wood products extracted from these forests.

Criterion 3: Maintenance of Ecosystem Health and Vitality

The expansion of a forests health and vitality is dependent on the functioning of the ecosystem’s processes and components. Any natural ecosystem, to maintain its functions and active processes, must have the ability to recover from external disturbances. While most disturbances and stress are natural, some extreme occurrences overwhelm the ecosystem, undermining its ability to function effectively.

As a result, there can be severe ecological and economic consequences, including environmental degradation and elimination of forests benefits to the society. Forest ecosystem health and vitality maintenance efforts can help minimize and mitigate these risks.

The criterion for maintenance of ecosystem health and vitality has three indicators. The indicators focus on the area and percentage of forests affected by circumstances beyond historic variations, lands affected by specific levels of air pollutants, and lands with significantly reduced biological components due to changes in critical ecological processes.

Criterion 4: Conservation and Maintenance of Soil and Water Resources

Soil and water are the core components of a functioning and productive forest ecosystem. These forest components are essential in the regulation of groundwater. Further, the health of underground water systems is directly impacted by topography, soil, and water interactions. The interdependence of soil and water and forest ecosystems makes their conservation an essential aspect of forest management.

The interactions involved can significantly affect habitats and poor management can result in the loss of riparian buffering capability, degradation of aquatic habitats, and soil compaction. Water flow changes can result in flooding risks which threaten the lives of humans and other organisms.

It is the fourth criterion and has five indicators. The first four indicators focus on soil and water resources protection and management practices. In contrast, the last indicator is the size of water bodies with the noteworthy changes in physical, chemical, and biological properties.

 

Join Nature’s Packaging next week as we finish up with the remaining criteria in our next blog post, “The 7 Essential Criteria for Sustainable Forest Management – Part 2”

Wood On the Web: Dovetail Partners

This month, Nature’s Packaging has found another great web-based resource for you that demonstrates the versatility in the forest industry and the opportunities it creates for employment, sustainability initiatives, economic knowledge, and government policy.

Our focus this month is on Dovetail Partners website (www.dovetailinc.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to collaboration, problem-solving, and job creation in industries related to forest resources and wood-based products.

The Dovetail Partners Mission

Dovetail Partners are all about collaboration. Their model is to work with individuals and organizations to create new and interesting ideas, systems, models, and programs that address the decisions and impacts regarding governmental and corporate policies, use of land, and consumption choices. They also work to build programs that encourage job creation and affect job quality in resource-based industries like forest management and forest products.

Dovetail Services

Dovetail provides a range of services to organizations that really help with everything from ideation of topics to project management to data collection:

  • Idea Development – develop ideas to reach desired outcomes.
  • Project Management – team, skills, and knowledge to keep projects on track.
  • Data Collection – seek the science available to address an issue and leverage expertise and network to fill the gaps.
  • Analysis – analysis of data and information to help present a clear picture of the outcome.
  • Report Development – organizing the ideas, data, and analysis into a document that effectively communicates the desired outcomes.
  • Outreach – deliver products meant to inspire, encouraging thoughtful work into the future.

Dovetail Projects

Dovetail Partners have completed a wide variety of reports across many different sectors of industry. All of these reports are available for download at their website https://www.dovetailinc.org/portfolio.php.

Some of the most relevant to the forest products industries include:

Global Forest Resources and Timber Trade

The report is an analysis of forest resources at global level, from both supply and demand perspectives (raw material supply, trade, processing/production, consumption). The report is global in scope but focuses on the United States primarily due to audience. It includes great breakdowns of the tropical and boreal timber markets with easy-to-understand graphics and data. It ends with market trends and how political policy worldwide is impacting trade and the markets.

An Introduction to the Circular Economy

This report defines the circular economy according to the UNECE definition (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). It is a system of production and consumption, which minimizes waste, optimizes the resources used with minimal pollution, regenerates natural capital, creates opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship, and reshapes production and consumption from a life cycle and recycling perspective. The report gives examples of how it is being applied in the natural and forest resource industries sector and the opportunities created by its application.

Carbon Storage, Credit Markets, and Forests

This Dovetail report is centered on the carbon credits generated by operations in the forest resources industries, the markets that have been created and new ones developing, and how the market generally operates from source to asset. While the framework is global in nature, the report focuses on the United States in particular. It also does a great job of delineating the voluntary and regulatory markets and how they differ in scope and development.

Why Wood Pallets and Containers

Here at Nature’s Packaging, our goal is to keep you informed about the forces that will have a political and economic impact on our industry. These are subjects and topics that are being discussed, explored, and implemented by whole industries and large organizations that are customers of the wooden pallet and container industry. We must remain informed with credible, relevant data and information that allows us to remain “at the table” and even expand our capabilities to align with these initiatives. The Life Cycle Assessment is a great start, but we must do more or we will be replaced by better marketing.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forest management aims to ensure that there is a continuous supply of timber and non-timber forest products. Sustainability also means preserving the processes and structures that create, support, and sustain forests by integrating conservation and development goals. To accomplish these goals, sustainable forest management combines principles from forestry, agriculture, environmental protection, economics, ecology, and sociology.

The Role of Sustainable Forest Management

The role of sustainable forest management is to ensure that forests continue to provide the ecosystem processes that society depends upon. Forests are important for a wide variety of reasons: they prevent soil erosion, regulate water resources, purify the air, and protect biodiversity (by providing wildlife habitat).

Moreover, they have an enormous capacity for carbon storage. Currently, about 350 billion tons of carbon are stored in the world’s forests, which is about 65% of the global total. As an alternative to deforestation, sustainable forest management allows for harvesting timber while maintaining its ecological, economic, and social functions.

Forest Management

The term “forest management” refers to a range of activities required to care for the forest from conception to harvest. These activities include planning the harvesting schedule, silviculture, and road building. Forest management requires up-to-date information about the forest’s standing stock of timber and non-timber products such as herbs, resins, fibers, and its connectivity with other forests to ensure a continuous flow of products into the marketplace. To maintain these connections, a clear understanding of the forest needs to be developed; this requires an analysis of how the forest functions.

Sustainability Indicators

Indicators are used to measure changes in forests and determine whether they are being managed sustainably. Changes can be measured by collecting data on indicators such as carbon storage or biodiversity over time. These indicators are vital for measuring progress toward sustainability goals. The key sustainable forest management indicator is the change in biomass or carbon storage over time.

Researchers measure carbon storage using above-ground biomass combined with estimates of deadwood densities at different ages. This approach allows them to calculate the amount of total stored carbon in a forest, which varies with tree size and age class distribution within a forest.

Sometimes, a change in carbon storage is also viewed as an indicator of governmental policies because ‘how’ a society uses its forests impacts the total amount of carbon stored. For example, if deforestation increases while reforestation and afforestation decrease this may indicate that it will not be easy for countries to achieve their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Forests play an integral role in mitigating global warming by sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon and increasing biodiversity, protecting watersheds and reducing erosion. Because forests account for about 46% of all terrestrial photosynthesis they remove significant amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Trees use CO2 from the atmosphere in photosynthesis, converting it into wood and leaves. When the trees die, decomposition returns this carbon to the atmosphere where it is available for re-uptake by plants during subsequent growth. Reducing forest cover and biodiversity will result in lower levels of stored carbon.

Carbon Sequestration Capacity

Forests can sequester more than 1 million metric tons of carbon per square kilometer (km2) over long periods (100 years or more), with the amount varying depending on factors such as climate, soil conditions, and tree diversity. The Taiga, for example, stores the most carbon per unit area. However, tropical rain forests may contain more carbon overall because they tend to exhibit more biodiversity and density than forests in other parts of the world.

The primary aim of sustainable forest management is to increase biomass through active management rather than natural processes such as fire or disease. Depending on the type of land-use management, a country can achieve either negative net emissions from its forestry sector by slashing tree numbers and allowing forests to mature until harvesting starts some years later, or positive net emissions by increasing levels of biomass through practices like reforestation. In fact, afforestation has become one of the most successful tools in reducing net emission levels globally.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, a country accounts for carbon sequestered from its forests within its national greenhouse gas emissions account. This calculation is based on data submitted by each country to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Carbon Emissions Reductions

As well as storing carbon, forests also reduce greenhouse gas concentration by acting as a sink for atmospheric CO2 emissions. The most effective way to reduce net emissions from the forestry sector is to ensure that trees are planted faster than they are being cut down, at least until this balance is achieved. Increased tree planting will result in accompanying social and environmental benefits like maintaining biodiversity and increasing water quality.

Growth of Forests on Former Croplands

Planting forests on cropland is one way to combat climate change. Estimates indicate that if 10% of the world’s arable land were converted back into forests. This would be equivalent to removing half of all cars from roads or closing down 300 coal-fired power stations.

Similarly, successful governmental policies can be adopted around the world to help combat climate change afforestation, such as offering tax breaks to organizations that plant trees or providing subsidies for renewable energy.

Challenges in Sustainable Forest Management

  • Human activities impair the ability of forests to sequester carbon by either causing deforestation or altering the species makeup of existing forests. For example, if native species are replaced with non-native ones while replanting efforts are in place, then there will not be as many environmental benefits because the new plants do not support wildlife. These negative impacts can only be avoided through better education and stricter governmental policies.
  • Effective management of forests requires an understanding of the area’s history, as well as current policies that affect forest use. For example, if a country has under-reported past deforestation amounts and reforestation efforts are not successful, then carbon levels will not decrease and greenhouse gas levels will increase. Countries should be diligent in reporting accurate information on deforestation rates so that proper corrective action can be taken.
  • The success of sustainable forestry is largely dependent on the overall goals of both environmental protection and human economic entitlement. This approach to forest management can only work if all parties are committed to protecting the environment while also ensuring their economic interests are met.

Sustainable forest management employs the use of sustainable forest management indicators, such as monitoring biodiversity or measuring changes in carbon storage. Sustainable forest management is not only a set of techniques that can be applied to forests but also an ideology that encompasses all aspects of political, social, and economic life.

Tree farm

Did You Know – What is Silviculture?

Women In Wood

TIL – The Women In Wood Group

In the field or in the office, women are a positive force in forestry

Women are an integral part of the forest and forest products eco-system. Their impact in every area, from science to recreation, to corporate and government, has propelled the forest and wood industries to new places and perspectives.

In this post we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, Nature’s Packaging has reached out to the Women In Wood Network to learn more about their history, why they came together and what the future holds for women in wood.  

Please explain what Women In Wood is and how the group came about.

Women in Wood (WIW) is a network for women who work in, with and for the woods. It brings together passionate women from around the world to share their love for forests. Through a private Facebook group, Twitter, Instagram, our website, blog, newsletter, and LinkedIn group, it helps women find mentors, seek career advice, and meet other passionate women in the forest sector.

We met because, at the time – more than 10 years ago – we were often among the only young women at forestry events and conferences. We joke that we were united by never having to wait in line for the bathroom.

For years, we talked about starting a “rebuttal to the old boys club” and decided to make it official in 2016 by creating a private Facebook group for women we knew in the forest sector.

Although we both have had excellent and encouraging male colleagues, we recognized that there was definitely room for more women around the table. At that time, we added the 20 or so women we knew, and it just started growing.

The group now has 2,200 women from all over the world. It turned out that there was a gap to be filled, and women really appreciated having a safe space to go to for support and comradery.

*Please note-the Facebook group is reserved for women only, but the rest of their social media is open to all.

Can you elaborate on the 3 objectives listed on the Women In Wood website and how they guide the group and members in networking and collaborating with each other?

Our objectives are:

1. Build a community of women who work with, in and for the woods. This happens mostly in the private Facebook group. Not a day goes by without several posts from women sharing job opportunities, asking for advice or encouraging one another. We have also had many events – both in person, and more recently, virtual – for men and women to network and share stories.

2. Encourage women to pursue careers in the forest, wood and related sectors. Our blog and social media have featured many inspiring Women in Wood over the years – from the first female forester in Ontario to students about to the enter the field. Many students in the group report that seeing the success of and getting insight from women already in the sector has encouraged them. We even had an event sound technician’s young daughter who listened in at a panel event follow up with one of the panelists about how to pursue a career in forestry!

3. Help Women in Wood succeed in their career goals by collaborating for success, sharing information, improving skills, and navigating the workplace. This also happens through lots of sharing within the group, and we have had some skill-building webinars recently, delivered to WIW by other WIW. It’s really something to see a WIW pose a question, for example, about how or if to negotiate a salary, and see more than 50 other women respond with their experience and advice. That’s the power of a network!

What are some of the recent events that Women In Wood have created or participated in that bring women in the industry together?

During COVID, we’ve had several virtual get-togethers, and a few learning webinars – preparing for interviews, for example. We’ve also been having WIW Chats on our Insta channel, giving insight into the roles and pathways of various WIW. We are grateful to have had many opportunities to speak to groups and at events about the evolution of WIW. The conversations that follow are always rewarding.

What are the different ways that women are creating leadership roles for themselves in forest industries today?

We’re seeing more and more women in leadership in the forest sector, but there’s definitely still progress to be made. One of the most powerful ways to inspire women is to have other women who are in leadership share their stories and advice on how to work up to leadership positions. When you see women leading, it inspires you.

What is the role of a mentor in the Women In Wood network?

We don’t have a formal mentorship program, but mentor/mentee relationships have developed organically through the relationships built in the group. There’s a good mix of women new to the sector, middle-career, late career and retirees. It can mean so much to just have someone to chat with who may have had a similar experience as you, but is on the other end and can offer you what they learned.

What is the most common path today for women to enter the forest industry workforce? How has that changed over the last several years?

Lately, many forestry and related programs (degree and technical) are reporting impressive numbers, with great representation from women. This is quite a shift from even 15 years ago.

The key will be ensuring these women successfully navigate getting their first jobs and finding employers who will continue to support them early in their careers. A challenge many WIW report is “falling behind” their male counterparts when they take time off to have a family or not being given the same training or growth opportunities.

We are seeing many more women as foresters, technicians and other woodland roles, but still limited representation in mills, trucking and logging. There also seems to be a lot of variance geographically, and some companies have made major strides to encourage and successfully recruit women in the mill environment.

Where did the idea of the Women In Wood logo origination from?

We wanted a logo that was fun but powerful. We really left it to our graphic designer to come up with what would represent WIW, but hoped to have an image that would empower women and rally women together.

We think we have achieved that, as our logo is not only high in demand (our t-shirt sales speak for themselves!) but also well recognized. We can’t tell you how many times we have gone to events (pre-covid) and see women wearing the shirt with pride. It does exactly what we had hoped for – bring women together.

*Answers written by Lacey Rose and Jessica Kaknevicius

Urban Forests and Tree Cities

Photo by Cassie Gallegos on Unsplash

City planners around the world increasingly recognize the importance of trees and are working to increase canopy cover. Urban tree research tells us that green canopy can play an important role in the liveability of cities. Increased tree coverage contributes to lower city temperatures by blocking shortwave radiation and increasing water evaporation. Trees also help reduce air pollution, while absorptive root systems can help reduce the threat of flood during severe rains and storms.

No surprise, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities have listed green canopy cover in its ranking of top ten urban initiatives.To support cities in their efforts to implement green canopy, MIT’s Treepedia, in collaboration with WEF, has developed a metric —the Green View Index—by which to evaluate and compare canopy cover. It relies on calculations based on input from Google Street View. By using street view panoramas rather than satellite imagery, the GVI represents human perception.

The GVI Index is presented on a scale of 0-100, showing the percentage of canopy coverage of a particular location. The group cautions that its calculation is imprecise. It includes only street trees in its calculation due to the limitations of Google Street View. While forested parks are important, for example, they are not considered, aside from street visibility.

Treepedia developers stress that its rankings should not be construed as a competition. “Treepedia is not about rating cities to compete in a green Olympics,” it notes. “Treepedia aims to raise a proactive awareness of urban vegetation.”

Another important constraint that the study is not comprehensive. It includes only 30 cities, globally. It noteworthy that four of the top ten cities with the most tree cover are in North America, including Tampa (#1), Vancouver BC (#4), Montreal (#6) and Sacramento (#9).

A ranking of select North American cities, followed by the estimated proportion of urban canopy, are as follows:

Tampa, Florida — 36.1%

Vancouver, Canada — 25.9%

Montreal, Canada — 25.5%

Sacramento, California — 23.6%

Seattle, Washington — 20%

Toronto, Canada — 19.5%

Miami, Florida — 19.4%

Boston, Massachusetts — 18.2%

Los Angeles, California — 15.2%

Treepedia underscores that only selected cities have been included in its Green View Index. The group encourages other cities to calculate their GVI. More information can be found at this link: (https://github.com/mittrees/Treepedia_Public)

Tree Cities of the World

Leading North American tree cities are also recognized in the Tree Cities of the World program, sponsored by the FAO (The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) and the Arbor Day Foundation. Their intention is to promote more resilient and sustainable cities.

Rather than a ranking of overall canopy or green cover, these cities are recognized for “demonstrating leadership in the management of their urban trees and are serving as part of the solution to many of the global issues we face today.” Of the 68 “Tree Cities of the World” recognized, nine of them are Canadian, and 27 from the United States.

Another useful source of information is the U.S. Forest Service. Its urban forest data are being collected from across the United States based on top-down aerial approaches and bottom-up field data collection. This site links to various data sets and reports for urban forest data at the state level, county level, county subdivision level and local community or place level. Users are encouraged to explore states or communities of interest to see what data are available.

Resources mentioned in this article:

Treepedia: https://senseable.mit.edu/treepedia

Tree Cities of the World: https://treecitiesoftheworld.org/directory.cfm

U.S. Forest Service Urban Forest Data: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/data/urban/

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