The theme for this years International Day of Forests is ‘Forest restoration: A Path to Recovery and Well-being.” Timber plantations in South Africa were originally established to provide an alternative timber supply in order to protect the country’s few natural forests from further deforestation.
Misconceptions abound that wood and paper products are somehow less environmentally friendly and that timber plantations destroy natural ecosystems. However in other countries, wood and its by-products, such as paper and wood pulp, are rapidly gaining a reputation for being the ultimate renewable. While trees are growing, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This carbon stays locked up in the wood even when it is turned into construction materials, furniture or paper. If these products are recycled and re-used, the carbon stays locked up even longer. Older trees become less efficient at absorbing carbon and by harvesting them and replacing them with new ones, a more efficient rate of carbon storage is ensured.
With this in mind, there is a massive focus in the commercial forestry sector on responsible cultivation of trees for timber. This means the sector uses sustainable, efficient and effective practices that have the lowest environmental impact, but which also produce the best possible social and economic benefits, all while producing a wide range of renewable and versatile wood and paper products.
In commercial forestry, specific trees are planted, harvested and replanted in sustainable rotation so that there are always trees at various stages of growth and maturity.
Natural forests under the care of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa are protected by law, and are carefully managed so that alien invasive species are controlled. In addition, only 70% of forestry-owned land is managed for production and a large proportion is left in its natural state. This helps to form ecological networks of wetlands, grasslands and indigenous flora throughout the forestry landscape, providing habitat for animal, bird and fish species.
There is also careful consideration of good water stewardship, and the forestry sector is the only one in the country that pays for the rain that falls on its plantations, in the form of a streamflow reduction levy. Forestry plantations are never irrigated, which is why they are always located in high rainfall areas.
Knowing how vital wetlands are to the water cycle, the forestry industry works alongside scientists and conservation organisations to actively rehabilitate wetlands on forestry-owned land. This involves removing alien and invasive plant species.
By purchasing local wood and paper products that carry certification marks, consumers can be assured they are purchasing responsibly sourced materials. More than 80% of the country’s timber plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.