Healthy Forests Create Wildlife Habitats

Thriving Forests

Sustainable forestry is about stewardship and care—care for trees, naturally, but also for smaller plants, soil, wildlife and water. It’s a practice that creates a mutually supportive relationship between nature and people, through which we help sustain and renew the resources we depend on.

Sustainability has been the backbone of the U.S. paper industry for decades, and we couldn’t do what we do without it. Which is why the industry works with all kinds landowners to develop and maintain healthy forests.

Today, U.S. forests grow nearly twice the tree volume that’s harvested every year. About one-third of the U.S. is forested, totaling nearly 766 million acres.

Sustainable forestry requires long-term planning, with an eye toward building a forest of trees at different stages of growth—some measured in months, some in decades. Working forests, those that are managed to support businesses like producing paper, typically have areas of trees that are young, middle-aged and mature.


Quick facts about sustainable forestry and paper makers:

Planting a tree sapling

Nearly 3 million trees are planted in the U.S. per day.

Overhead of forest

Paper makers grow and maintain forests at a rate that's nearly double the volume needed to make the products you rely on every day.

Deer in the woods

Responsible forestry provides cleaner air, cleaner water and diverse habitats for wildlife.

What Makes a Healthy, Sustainable Forest?

Foresters work with nature, modifying, refining, enhancing and shaping the species composition and forest-stand structure already present, with an eye toward an improved future state. Young forests are created through active management and harvesting activities. These young forests are changing rapidly as they grow and mature.

Uneven-aged forests don’t just help mitigate climate change by capturing and storing different amounts of carbon at different speeds. They also offer habitats to a variety of wildlife species.

Young forests are habitats for songbirds like warblers as well as small reptiles
Young forests are habitats for songbirds like warblers as well as small reptiles


Traits of Young Forests

  • Low, open and grassy, they can be more affected by winds, floods and other disturbances.
  • Their saplings, shrubs, brush and mast (the fruits, nuts and seeds of woody plants) offer cover and habitat for small animals and songbirds to roost, feed and nest.
  • Of the 60 mammal species commonly found in the Northeast, 56 thrive in young forests.




Stands of woods with fungi and moss species
The woody debris from thinning can create microhabitats for fungi and moss species 


Once trees in a wooded area reach a certain age and height, which varies by species, foresters might remove slow-growing, diseased or poorly formed trees in a process called thinning to decrease competition for sunlight, water and nutrients.

In certain forest types, thinning is environmentally beneficial, promoting the health of an entire stand of trees and enhancing food production and quality for wildlife. The woody debris left on the forest floor from thinning also recycles nutrients and creates habitats for small animals and microhabitats for fungi and moss species. And thinned trees, of course, don’t go to waste—most are used to make wood pulp and fuel in the form of wood chips.



Trees at this stage experience rapid growth and are home to wildlife from wild turkeys to foxes and band-tailed pigeons

Traits of Mid-Growth Forests

  • Just like people their age, trees at this stage experience rapid growth. They may reach a 40-foot height and a foot-wide diameter.
  • Mid-size animals such as wild turkeys, foxes, raccoons and skunks thrive in these woodlands, whose middle-aged trees have outgrown weaker ones.
  • Birds like band-tailed pigeons and Cooper’s hawks make homes in their canopies.

Depending on the region, risks, data and local regulations, foresters might do a controlled burn on the floor of a middle-aged forest. This intervention reduces competing vegetation, fire hazards and the likelihood that diseases will spread quickly and have catastrophic effects.

It’s also good for wildlife, creating an open forest structure that increases the sunlight reaching the forest floor that certain animals—grouses, quails, salamanders, tree frogs and rabbits—prefer.

Depending on the species, forests enter the late-successional stage anywhere from 40-80 years of growth.

A mature forest with a deer and owl
Mature forests are home to large trees and abundant understories


Traits of Mature Forests

  • These woodlands are home to large trees, shrubs and saplings that thrive in the shade of the forest canopy and some dead trees that are still standing.
  • Birds like Vaux’s swifts and purple martins live in the snags, while nesting birds like wood ducks and western screech owls take advantage of the mature trees’ knotty cavities.
  • Beneath these trees lives a vibrant array of megafauna, from white-tailed deer to bears.



Healthy Forest Ecosystems

Continued forest health requires a symbiotic relationship between people and all the living things that make up a forest, from the smallest rodents to the tallest trees. By practicing sustainable forestry, our industry can ensure that different generations of trees provide habitats for diverse wildlife and simultaneously benefit people—landowners, foresters, recreation seekers and more—for generations to come.