American hardwoods derive from sustainably managed forests in the United States. Regular U.S. Forest Service inventories demonstrate that between 1953 and 2007, the volume of U.S. hardwood growing stock more than doubled from 5,210 million m3 to 11,326 million m3. There was a 15% increase in growing stock between 1997 and 2007 despite strong growth in demand for hardwoods during this period.
U.S. Forest Service forecasts indicate that further increases of 15 to 20 percent are expected in the hardwood growing stock inventory through 2030. Projections of hardwood growth and removals nationwide indicate that growth will continue to exceed removals through to 2050.
All forest owners in the United States are subject to Federal legislation to protect habitats for threatened species. Tough regulations governing other aspects of forest management on private land have been implemented by individual states.
Independent studies indicate that there is a very low risk of any American hardwood being derived from illegal sources or from forests where management practices lead to deforestation or to otherwise threaten biodiversity.
What documentary evidence is there that American hardwoods’ are sustainable?
Reliable objective evidence of sustainable forestry is readily available from 3 sources:
- The 2003 and draft 2010 National Report on Sustainable Forests prepared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fulfil the United States’ commitments to the Montréal Process Working Group on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests.
- The RPA Assessment, a nationwide forest inventory mandated under U.S. federal law to be undertaken every 10 years.
- An independent peer-reviewed study commissioned by AHEC in 2008 from Seneca Creek Associates LLC entitled “An Assessment of Lawful Harvesting and Sustainability of U.S. Hardwood Exports".
Where do American hardwoods come from?
Hardwoods make up a major component of the U.S. forests and wood products industry. Hardwood species represent 43% of the growing stock of the United States (softwood represent the remaining 57%). Around 25% (60 million m3) of total annual U.S. production of lumber, plywood and veneer (250 million m3) comprises hardwood, making the U.S. the largest hardwood producer in the world. The main expanse of hardwood forests is in the Eastern States stretching from the northeast corner to the southern coast and west to beyond the Mississippi River. This area includes forests that are both of mixed conifer and deciduous type as well as forests that are primarily of deciduous trees. In the Eastern States, white and red oak species are the most prevalent hardwoods, followed by hard and soft maples, tulipwood (yellow poplar), hickory, sweetgum and ash. Another smaller expanse of hardwoods is found in the states of Oregon and Washington in the Pacific Northwest. Red alder is the principal commercial hardwood species in the Pacific Northwest.
Who owns the American hardwood forest?
Only around 20% timberland and 30% hardwood timber inventory in U.S. hardwood producing states is owned by federal, state or local governments. The balance of nearly 80% of the timberland and 70% of hardwood timber inventory is privately owned. Some 4 million individuals and other private entities own the 110 million hectares of hardwood and mixed oak-pine forest types. This private land can be categorized into two broad groupings:
- Non-corporate: mainly family forests that harvest timber irregularly or periodically. They tend to be small enterprises and average fewer than 16 hectares. Of the private hardwood timber produced in the US, 83% is supplied by non-corporate family forest owners.
- Corporate: typically relatively large areas held by timber producing organisations.
How are American hardwood forests managed?
American hardwoods derive from managed natural forests which have high bio-diversity, provide a habitat for a wide range of species, and are very resilient to fire and pests. Fertile forest soils and favourable growing conditions in the US mean that hardwood forests are most effectively renewed through natural regeneration. Selection harvesting, involving the removal of specified individuals or small groups of trees, is typical in American hardwood forests.
How are American hardwood forests regulated?
The United States operates an effective and fully enforced regulatory framework to deliver sustainable forest management. Responsibility for regulation of American hardwood forests is distributed amongst agencies at federal, state and, in some cases, local or municipal levels. The Federal Government enforces general environmental legislation on all forest lands. The Endangered Species Act (1972) conserves threatened species. The 1972 Clean Water Act required timber producing States to develop and implement "Best Management Practices" (BMPs) for forestry operations in order to minimise water pollution. The States have their own government agencies responsible for forestry administration whose role and powers vary depending upon state forest policy. Some States have introduced comprehensive Forest Practices Acts making the implementation of state forestry standards mandatory on all forest lands. Other states rely on non regulatory schemes involving tax incentives, cost sharing and the provision of advice to encourage voluntary adoption of government standards. For further discussion of US forest regulatory practices see the article “U.S. Forestry - A model for the world”.
Does harvesting of American hardwoods threaten biodiversity?
No. The USDA 2000 RPA Assessment indicates that U.S. hardwood forests are not only growing in size and timber volume, but that existing forest management practices are contributing to enhanced forest health and diversity. The 2008 Seneca Creek Study indicates that there is a very low risk of any U.S. hardwood being sourced from: a genetically modified species; a forest where high conservation values are threatened by management activities; or a forest being converted to plantations or non-forest use.
The sustainable use of American hardwoods may actually contribute to biodiversity conservation. Demand for American hardwoods has provided a strong economic incentive for U.S. land owners to manage and conserve natural hardwood forests for the long-term supply of high value decorative hardwoods and has discouraged conversion for other economic uses such as agriculture or fast-growing tree plantations.
American hardwood forests offer a greater diversity of tree species than any other temperate hardwood forest resource. Unlike the European and Asian forests, which are heavily dominated by beech and oak, American hardwood forests can supply commercial volumes of over 20 hardwood species. AHEC is contributing to the maintenance of this diversity by promoting the full range of hardwood species and by not just focusing on the most commercially valuable species.
Does harvesting of American hardwoods threaten civil or native rights?
No. The 2008 Seneca Creek study concludes that sourcing American hardwoods does not threaten to violate traditional or civil rights. The assessment notes that federal and state laws and codes prohibit child labor and are consistent with the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at work. In addition, the US has recognized and equitable processes in place to resolve conflicts of substantial magnitude pertaining to traditional rights including use rights, cultural interests or traditional cultural identity.
There are equitable processes and mechanisms in place that allow Native American tribes, as well as any private citizen, to deal with disagreement and conflict related to decisions affecting natural resources and forests. National Forests in the US have a clear and detailed process for conducting timber sales that includes consultation with all potentially affected communities, tribal nations and other civil society groups. While there may be conflict over these sales, the appeals process is transparent and available to all parties.