Can You Save Trees by Using an Amazon Kindle in Place of Books?
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Can You Save Trees by Using an Amazon Kindle in Place of Books?

It seems simple enough, download books into an electronic device and save trees at the same time. However, is it really that easy?  For the "Kindle" it's a good marketing strategy, but maybe a little misguided or even disingenuous. (Have you noticed that Kindle is close to kindling. I'm just saying.)

In reality it's hard to "save trees". Although they seem to survive against all odds. Start with germination,  conditions have to be just so. Some seeds start out on the forest floor while others need  rotted stumps and logs to sprout.  Abundant sunlight is required for some seedlings while others need shade. Then a tree endures a gauntlet of deer, elk, bear, beaver, porcupine and others. All the while competing with other plants, fungi and trees, for available water, minerals and sunlight. Sometimes high  winds, lightning strikes, wildfires (sometimes arson), landslides and rarely the occasional volcano will bring a tree to its end. Some trees fall to the chainsaw.

Trees are felled and turned into logs. (Often we think only of trees being cut down, but millions of trees are harvested annually after being blown down in large windstorms, (Example of wind damaged forest (1) )or as a result of catastrophic wildfire (2).  At one time it was standard policy to go in and get as much merchantable wood out before replanting these areas and returning them to a living forest. An outstanding example is the Tillamook Forest in the northern Coast Range of Oregon State(3).  (Most national and some state forests are managed differently today, any catastrophic loss from fire or wind, will not see the intense rehabilitation that we saw in the past. So little if any wood is ever salvaged from these forests. Especially from those destroyed by a designated Wildland fire. However, private forests are still managed with a view to restoring the forest as soon as possible.) Logs are  made into all kinds of useful products which run into the thousands (4). So why are there still so many trees?   According to the Northwest Pennsylvania Woodland Association, Forest Facts web page  (5), four million tree seedlings are planted each day in the U.S., which means;  "If you include naturally regenerated trees the net growth exceeds harvesting by 33% due to good forest management." Without logging at a sustainable level wild fires can become catastrophic. Logging when done properly mimics the forces of nature and thus benefits the forest by improving habitat for animals and leaving the remaining trees room to grow.

Trees used for paper can include those grown on large and small tree farms for just that purpose. In some areas trees are harvested primarily for lumber, so the slabs and mill ends from sawmills are turned into wood chips and sent to paper mills and turned into pulp. Most products produced by trees can be recycled and come from a renewable resource, that is powered by the sun. (When you burn wood for heat, you are using solar energy.) You could say the forest and timber industry has led the way when it come to being "green".

So can a "Kindle" save trees by replacing books? It takes about two trees, measuring 18 inch diameter at breast height (DBH) to make a cord of wood. A cord measures 4 foot high by 4 foot depth by 8 feet long, a total of 128 Cubic feet. The North Carolina Forestry Association web site(6) answers the question: "What's in a Cord of Wood?" Among the listed facts we are told one cord of wood provides 942 one pound books.  So two pound books would amount too 471 books per cord or 2 average size trees. If you were to read 2 books per month or 24 per year, and run that out over a 60 year span, you could read 1440 books. That means about 6 average size trees over a lifetime of reading, not too bad. When you consider that 45% of the paper used in the United States is recovered for recycling, the amount of trees to print 1440 books would drop to 3.3 trees. (I'm using pretty simple math and assumptions here. There are lots of variables.) Another important consideration,  "The forest industry ranks among the top ten employers in 40 of the 50 states." (7) Many would consider this an upside when selecting paper products. Not only do forest workers benefit, but also the forest , when trees are properly harvested, forest health improves.   The  private sector forest industry  provides employment to thousands of  timber workers and at the same time sustains habitat for wildlife and makes recreational opportunities available to the public. Remember too, timber harvest is strictly regulated by most states and always require replanting within a short time after a harvest takes place. So forests are replaced at a faster pace than they are logged. (8)

In conclusion using electronic media to replace books would have very little impact on trees. Millions of trees will be blown down, burn or die of from insect and diseases, whether we utilize them or not. At the same time other trees in managed forests will benefit from sensible harvest levels, improved fire resilience and improved habitat for wildlife. It really depends on how you feel a forest is best managed.  If however your conscience still bothers you when reading a book. Why not go to a local nursery and purchase some trees to plant. If you don't have space to plant them, buy some for a friend who does. Everybody likes trees, even loggers.

(1)  Wind damage forest example: http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/images/Winter_Storm_2007/a.jpg

(2) Scott Able Fire, Cloudcroft,  New Mexico, May 18, 2000 (follow links for pictures) http://www.cloudcroft.com/day8.htm

(3) Tillamook Burn http://www.leg.state.or.us/comm/commsrvs/brief_tillamook_burn.pdf

(4) http://www.ncforestry.org/WEBPAGES/PRODUCTS/FORESTPRODUCTSINDEX.htm

(5) (http://webpub.allegheny.edu/group/nwpwa/forestfacts

(6) http://www.ncforestry.org/WEBPAGES/PRODUCTS/cord.htm

(7) Michigan Forests Facts web page: http://mff.dsisd.net/Facts.htm

(8) http://www.oregonforests.org/media/pdf/Fact_Protection_web.pdf

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