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Andrew Burger headshot

Apple Forges Historic Partnership on Forests

By Andrew Burger

Marking a precedent-setting conservation partnership, Apple and the Conservation Fund will purchase two large areas of working forest, the organizations announced on Thursday. The move is expected to conserve "more than 36,000 acres of working forestland in Maine and North Carolina, ensuring these forests stay forests and any timber on the land is harvested sustainably,” the partners said in a joint announcement.

This initial purchase of U.S. working forestland marks “the beginning of a worldwide effort, one that represents a new approach as it reassesses its impact on the world's paper supply chain,” Lisa P. Jackson, Apple's vice president of environmental initiatives, and Larry Selzer, president and CEO of the Conservation Fund, wrote in a Medium op-ed. Prior to joining Apple, Jackson led the U.S. EPA as President Barack Obama's EPA Administrator from 2009 to 2013.

Apple will provide the financial resources for the partnership, and the Conservation Fund (TCF) will build out the legal and financial mechanism. The effort will conserve working forest land -- encompassing an area larger than the city of San Francisco -- in Maine's Mattawamkeag Forest and North Carolina's Reed Forest. Threatened with destruction, these working forest lands are of practically priceless and irreplaceable ecological and socioeconomic value, the partners said.

On a mission to conserve America's working forests

With the working forest conservation partnership, “Apple is clearly leading by example – one that we hope others will follow,” Selzer of the Conservation Fund stated in a joint press release. “By all accounts, the loss of America’s working forests is one of our nation’s greatest environmental challenges. The initiative announced today is precedent-setting.”

In total, Apple and TCF's initial effort will protect over 32,400 acres of working forest land along the Mattawamkeag River in Aroostook County, Maine, and over 3,600 acres in Reed Forest in Brunswick County, along North Carolina's southern coast. Both areas are extremely valuable socioeconomically as well as ecologically in that they are adjacent to large, contiguous areas of publicly owned and managed natural forests, as well as for other reasons, Selzer said in an interview with 3p.

A host of benefits will flow from Apple's funding of the purchase, which will be made by TCF's Working Forest Fund, the partners said. For one, the anticipated placement of conservation easements on the forests -- a legal mechanism pioneered by TCF -- “will ensure a steady supply of sustainably harvested timber to paper and pulp mills” in perpetuity, they pointed out.

Elaborating further, Selzer noted the serious threats and high costs of losing America's rapidly diminishing working forest lands. Of some 750 million acres of remaining U.S. forestlands, around 420 million acres are held by private owners, “mostly small, family-owned lands.” Another 70 million acres are large, intact forests of the highest ecological value owned by corporations and private investor groups. These are at high risk given their potential to be sold, broken up and lost.

Though the partners aren't disclosing the purchase price of the working forest lands, “I can tell you that 36,000 acres is a large enough tract of forest,” both ecologically and in terms of supporting employment, Selzer said. “And that's on top of these properties' value in terms of protecting threatened wildlife, water and soil resources, and as carbon sinks.
“They represent the best of conservation as they have all this ecological and socioeconomic value intact.”

Selzer also pointed out that working forest lands provide secure, sustainable employment for some 2.8 million Americans: “Jobs that cannot be exported.”

Responding to a tidal wave of forestland sales and potential working forest loss

Conservation groups were unprepared for a “tidal wave” of forest property sales on the part of large U.S. pulp and paper companies that occurred in the 1990s, Selzer told us. That led TCF to create the Working Forest Fund and pioneer the use of conservation easements that assure forest lands remain forested in perpetuity.

Seeing value and cross-cutting benefits in supporting forest conservation, Apple approached TCF about providing the financial wherewithal and other resources that could help permanently conserve such lands, Selzer recounted:

“I can tell you that Apple shares our passion for protecting some of these great American lands. They understand the grave threat their loss poses, and they're willing and able to help chart a new path and develop a model that others can follow.”

After linking up, the partners began “scouring” records of U.S. forestland holdings for properties that offered the highest overall value -- social, economic and ecologic, Selzer recalled. Three criteria formed the main basis for their decision.

“We began looking for highly productive forestland of high conservation value that had a public agency or non-profit local partner,” Selzer explained. “Ultimately, we want to donate the conservation easements to these types of owners, so they can serve as permanent 'watchdogs,' if you will.”

In addition to assuring that the forestlands the fund purchases will remain forestlands, this approach will enable TCF to reinvest the proceeds from any eventual property, which in effect creates a “revolving fund for working forest conservation."

A commitment on the scale of Apple's, Selzer continued, “can really move the needle in terms of protecting these last great forests in America.”

The tech giant's partnership with TCF to preserve U.S. working forests adds momentum to Apple's growing “green” drive. Apple recently announced that all of its U.S. operations are powered by renewable energy and that it intends to increase the amount of clean energy it contributes to U.S. electricity grids.

“Apple,” Jackson wrote in the Medium op-ed, “believes that paper, like energy, can be a renewable resource. So Apple is striving to supply 100 percent of the virgin fibers used in its paper and packaging from sustainably managed forests or controlled wood sources.”

Image credits: 1) Apple; 2) TCF; 3) North Carolina State University 

Andrew Burger headshot

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

Read more stories by Andrew Burger