Tree farm

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A tree farm is a privately owned forest managed for timber production. The term tree farm is also used to refer to plantations and to tree nurseries.

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American tree farm system

The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) is the oldest third party forest certification in the world. The ATFS [1] was established in 1941 in response to the need to protect forest resources on private lands, provide advice and assistance to forest owners and ensure the continued supply of wood and other forest products. ATFS has certified 24 million acres (97,000 km2) of privately owned forestland and over 90,000 family forest owners in 46 states.

ATFS has been successful in helping forest owners protect water resources, enhance wildlife habitat and create recreational opportunities all while harvesting wood in sustainable ways. Some ATFS certified forests are now in their third or fourth generation [2] of sustainable harvests on the same land.

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) endorsed ATFS in August 2008 [3] after an extensive assessment, meaning that ATFS wood meets an accepted international standard for “certified wood,” [4] which may help sales in world markets. Only around 10% of the wood sold globally is from certified forests, but this is growing rapidly. PEFC is by far the largest certification network, currently comprising thirty-five independent national forest certification programs with 510 million certified acres in the various programs. Among the countries with PEFC certified forests are such places as Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Spain Brazil and Malaysia.

Tree farming and climate change

Because tree farms are managed to enhance rapid growth, and since rapid growth more or less equals carbon sequestration, tree farms tend to sequester more carbon dioxide than unmanaged forests.

Carbon dioxide is believed to be the leading greenhouse gas, but is necessary to life. Growing plants convert carbon dioxide to biomass and release it when they decompose or respire. The processes have been roughly in balance. An established old growth forest doesn’t remove much carbon from the atmosphere, while a rapidly growing new forest soaks up a lot of carbon. The USDA has an online calculator [5] for how much carbon is sequestered in various types of forests.

CO2 & Forest Health

Carbon dioxide is primary building material for plant tissue and is required to makes plants grow fast and strong, so presumably higher levels of CO2 in the air as a result of burning fossil fuels would make forests grow faster. Duke University did a study where they dosed a loblolly pine plantation with elevated levels of CO2. [6] The studies showed that the pines did indeed grow faster and stronger. They were also less prone to damage during ice storms, which is a factor that limits loblolly growth farther north. The forest did relatively better during dry years. The hypothesis is that the limiting factors in the growth of the pines are nutrients such as nitrogen, which is in deficit on much of the pine land in the Southeast. In dry years, however, the trees don’t bump up against those factors since they are growing more slowly because water is the limiting factor. When rain is plentiful trees reach the limits of the site's nutrients and the extra CO2 isn’t beneficial. Most forest soils in Southeastern region are deficient in N and P as well as trace minerals. Pine forests often sit on land that was used for cotton, corn or tobacco. Since these crops depleted originally shallow and infertile soils, tree farmers must work to improve soils.

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