Gazette photos by CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE
Nature's Furniture owner Jon Watkins measures an end table for customer Sherry Sims at his company's store on Charleston's East End.
By Ken Ward Jr.
West Virginians love walking in the woods to hunt, fish or just look at the trees, wildflowers and animals.
But we also love our nice oak chairs and pine dining tables.
We hate to see trees fall to the chain saws of loggers. We'd rather save our forests as wild, wonderful places to hike and camp.
But we also like wooden cabins and state parks filled with wooden picnic tables for weekend family excursions.
West Virginians think tree stumps are ugly. Clearcuts are even uglier - maybe worse than strip mines. But we love the look and feel of well-made wooden furniture, the warmth and smell of a wood fire in our homes or at a campfire circle.
Many people in the state don't want a huge new pulp and paper mill to be built along the Ohio River in Mason County.
But you probably couldn't find a West Virginian who doesn't use paper at home, work or school. And despite an ambitious state recycling law, paper and cardboard are still some of the more difficult items to recycle in many communities.
Like most Americans, we want to have our trees and cut them, too.
Foresters say most people forget that the reason trees are cut down is because people need and want the products that are made from them.
"We've become an urban society and people have gotten so far from the land they forget that somebody has to kill a cow for you to have a hamburger," said Harry Wiant, a longtime West Virginia University forestry professor.
Now, some national and international environmental groups have started to try to remind people of this connection.
They want people to understand how decisions to buy forest products affect how much forest we have. If people understand that, these groups say, maybe they'll use less wood and less paper and in the process save some trees.
Roger Hayes checks the registration of a Sunrise Museum purchase order form at the S.O.S. printing plant on Charleston's West Side. The company prints an average of 25,000 sheets of paper a day.
Maybe a couple of extra sheets of copier paper used by a secretary in Charleston doesn't seem like much. But if hundreds of secretaries in Charleston, and tens of thousands of them in other cities, use a couple of extra sheets, it all adds up.
Or maybe a little bit of oak used to make a chair for your kitchen doesn't seem like a big deal. But think about all the chairs in all the kitchens all across the country.
And what about all of those paper coffee cups you toss in the trash can every day?
The Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco reports that the world economy consumes more than 15 billion cubic feet of wood a year, 2.5 times the amount that was used in 1950.
"U.S. consumption of wood is causing problems at each step of its cycle - from destroying forests and watersheds, to fouling the air and clogging landfills," the group says. "The pace of industrial logging is accelerating, despite its devastating and well-documented effects on wildlife, indigenous peoples, and the global environment."
Dana Harmon, a spokeswoman for the group, said, "Wood is a valuable and useful material and we're not saying no one should ever use any more wood.
"But we should use it consciously and efficiently and effectively," she said. "And where we can reduce consumption, we should do that as well."
More than our share
Half of the world's wood is burned as fuel, mostly in the developing world. The other half is used to make things, like furniture and paper, in industrial countries.
But people in the United States consume 17 percent of the world's industrial wood. Americans, on average, use three times as much wood each as people in developing countries and twice that of other industrialized nations.
Environmental groups blame industrial economies for most forest destruction.
"Though population pressures amplify the pressures on global forests and hasten their destruction, a far greater amplifier is the degree of wasteful consumption in the industrialized world, and the United States in particular," says the Indiana-based regional environmental group Heartwood.
Once trees are cut down, they follow two major paths into the industrial economy.
One passes through sawmills, plywood mills, veneer or other wood panel mills, and then into building construction, shipping, manufacturing or furniture. The other path flows through pulp mills into paper, paperboard or fiberboard production.
Together, these two paths account for more than 80 percent of industrial wood use in the United States. The other 20 percent includes fuelwood, wood chips and raw logs for exports. About 50 percent of wood harvests end up flowing into sawmills and about 30 percent to pulp mills. But closer to 50 percent of wood really ends up in paper production, 30 percent directly and the rest in the form of mill waste from inefficient U.S. lumber mills.
Heartwood focuses on trying to get people to use less of a couple of different kinds of forest products.
They say, for example, that too many trees are being chewed up to make paper and chipboard at plants like the ones sprouting up in West Virginia and other Appalachian states.
"We see a shift away from objects made directly from wood and lumber, such as furniture, cabinetry and flooring, to more intensively processed products manufactured from wood chips," Heartwood leader Andy Mahler writes in the group newsletter, Bloodroot.
"Among these are different kinds and grades of paper, and a growing variety of composite materials, including laminated strand lumber, particle board, and manufactured lumber replacements made from wood chips and chemical adhesives."
Average annual per capita paper consumption in the U.S. has increased more than 200 pounds per person since 1991.
Each American now uses an average of 886 pounds per person per year, more than double the consumption rates in such industrial countries as Germany and Canada. In China, by comparison, people use less than 3 pounds of paper per person each year.
"By far the greatest threat to forests, globally, is the export of U.S. consumer/waste habits to the rest of the world," Mahler says. "The world's forests could not begin to sustain U.S.-style wasteful paper consumption by the world's most populous nation - with a population now estimated at 1.2 billion people, nearly five times the U.S. population."
Heartwood also wonders why people use so many wooden pallets for transportation and storage of goods.
The group reports that more than half a billion pallets are manufactured each year, of which about 57 percent are used just once before disposal, consuming an average of 5.8 cubic feet of landfill space each. Pallets discarded in the U.S. each year contain about as much lumber as is used in framing 300,000 average-sized homes.
"Using available production and inventory data, we were able to calculate that the potential savings to hardwood forests that could be obtained by simply using disposable hardwood pallets a second time is equal to more than twice the total volume cut from all hardwood region public forests combined, each year," Mahler said.
The Rainforest Action Network wants Americans to reduce the amount of wood and paper they use by 75 percent over the next decade. But how?
For starters, the group thinks sawmills should be more efficient. Currently, the group says, American sawmills turn only one tree into lumber for every two they cut down. Though some sawdust and chips are made into chipboard or burned for fuel, too much is still wasted, the group says.
Some wood could also be saved if homes and other buildings were constructed with more recycled wood products or if less wood was wasted in construction projects.
Or maybe a standard packaging system using durable, reusable containers could cut down on the amount of trees used for paperboard packaging.
Paper can also be made out of alternative fibers, such as hemp or kenaf. But no matter what kind of fiber is used, people could just try to use less paper, environmentalists say.
"Our strategy is to link various movements from farmers to recyclers, and from toxic pollutant opponents to forest activists," the Rainforest Action Network says.
"We need to integrate policies that save forests with those that save energy, create jobs, reduce waste, and cut pollution," the group says. "These diverse movements can all benefit from a collaborative effort. Creating dialogue and opportunities for exchanging ideas and information will go a long way toward fueling a wood use reduction movement."
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