There’s no better time than National Forest Products Week to recognize our private working forests and forest products industry in Alabama as part of the American success story. More than 94 percent of the 23.0 million acres of Alabama’s timberland is privately owned. These working forests improve the quality of our lives and are the cultural and economic foundation in rural communities throughout our state, providing wood for thousands of products that make our lives comfortable, secure and beautiful. They contribute to more than 42,000 jobs and a $14.8 billion boost to our state’s economy, plus they help clean our air and drinking water, and provide fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreational opportunities, and provide the products that can lessen the environmental burdens associated with the building sector.
But our forests don’t take care of themselves. These forests are planted and replanted to produce the raw materials for products we use every day—and, increasingly, as a source of energy. Because forest owners make long-term commitments to managing their foress sustainably and are careful each year to harvest only a small portion of the trees they grow to maintain an abundance of trees, the volume of growing trees in the U.S. has grown by 50 percent since the 1950s. Today, those trees help to offset 13 percent of total CO2 emissions annually. Specifically, in the state of Alabama, the annual growth typically exceeds harvest by 5% making Alabama competitive on a global scale.
More attention is being paid than ever before to how buildings impact the environment, including the choices of materials used in construction. Wood is the perfect green building material because it is renewable, stores carbon that reduces greenhouse gases, and is energy efficient.
Wood products continue to store the carbon absorbed by the trees during their growth cycle, keeping it out of the atmosphere indefinitely. Using wood in place of fossil fuel-intensive materials also “avoids” greenhouse gases that would have been emitted during manufacturing. Now, it is possible to quantify these benefits for wood buildings through third-party verified Environmental Product Declarations, which provide critical information including product composition, life-cycle environmental impacts, water and energy usage, and more.
Our forests are thriving in Alabama and around the country because the more wood we use, the more trees we grow. But the growth of our forests is contingent on strong markets for forest products—thousands of them from the framing of our homes, paper we use in communications, packaging for our goods, and tissue products for our hygiene, along with many others such as even the screens on our cell phones. With strong markets for wood products, forest owners re-invest the money from harvesting trees to planting more trees and keeping their forests healthy while protecting them from fire, insects and disease.
Alabama makes a valuable contribution to the nation-wide forest product industry. As a whole, these companies account for approximately 4 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, and manufacture over $200 billion in products annually. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $50 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 47 states.
A healthy and vital forestry economy is essential to Alabama and the nation. We should expect federal policy to support an industry that helps our economy and our environment.
More information about Alabama’s working forests and the forestry industry, is available within the Alabama Forestry Commission 2015 Forest Resource Report, found at http://forestry.alabama.gov/PDFs/alabamaForestResourceReport.pdf