The United States is legendary for our ability to consume. Though we have the third largest population in the world far behind China and India, we consume more than any other nation in the world. This is no different when it comes to paper; we leave the rest of the world behind with the average American consuming 300 kg of paper per year. For context, the United Nations estimates that 30-40 kilos is the minimum needed to meet basic literacy and communication needs.
What most people do not know is that while we import some paper from around the world, especially Brazil, Canada and Indonesia, the Southern United States is by far the largest paper producing region in the world, producing over 15% of the world’s paper. Along with this massive scale of paper production comes all of the associated destructive forestry practices, from large-scale clearcuts in cases approaching thousands of hectares in size to logging of endangered forests to the conversion of our native and natural forests to sterile pine plantations.
There are over 32 million acres (nearly 13 million hectares) of pine plantations in the United States. In recent years a majority of these plantations have come at the expense of native forests. In addition to turning our incredibly diverse forests into a crop, we add insult to injury with a massive use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides to manage these plantations. As of 1999, the US used more chemicals to manage their plantations than the entire world combined, which poisons our rivers, drinking supply, livestock and people.
As readers of the WRM Bulletin know, the Dogwood Alliance, a coalition of over 70 organizations, is working to stop the destructive practices of the paper industry. Our current focus is on the Southern Swampland region on the Atlantic coastal plain stretching from Virginia to Georgia, where the impacts of the timber industry have been particularly severe.
The Atlantic coastal plain in the US is one of the most diverse regions in North America, from the longleaf pine savannahs to the bottomland swamp forests to unique ecosystems like the Carolina Bays, this region is home to many plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet.
One unique example of forest communities are our long leaf pine savannahs, that take 100-150 years to reach full size making it a poor timber and paper species. These fire resistant forests include over 30 endangered species that are reliant on them for survival.
A unique plant species that calls this region home is the Venus Flytrap, a carnivorous plant that catches and eats flies and arachnids. It is only found in a small swampy region in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina.
This incredibly diverse region is gravely threatened by the pulp and paper industry, especially companies like International Paper who have three paper packaging mills here. Our forests of the Southern Swampland region are being chopped down, chipped up and pulped to make paper packaging for products like fast food. It is a major tragedy.
Ditching and draining is the leading cause of freshwater forested wetland loss in the Southern US. This region has been hit particularly hard. Wetlands are critical for flood control, to prevent storm surge, to filter drinking water, and as habitat to countless species of wildlife. Instead, large canals have been dug over decades to drain water from the swamps in order to dry the soil and allow the plantation of fast growing loblolly pines that are harvested approximately every 12 years.
In recent months our region has been facing a severe drought, which has opened up even more of this swampland to logging in places that have never been touched before. We are facing an ecological crisis here with less than 10% of these forests protected, leaving the future of the wildlife, swamps and people who rely on them in doubt.
Over the next few years, Dogwood Alliance and our allies will work to protect this critically important place and stop the further invasion of pine plantations here. We will campaign to stop some of the biggest companies in the world, from McDonalds to Taco Bell to Unilever and more to stop buying paper packaging from this special place and to start using less packaging and where necessary switch to recycled paper. Our hope is that by taking on these big companies, not only will we protect the forests of our region, but also force the companies to look at the way they do business in order to protect important forests and forest dependent communities around the world.
By Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance, email@example.com