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Ikea, Apple Buying up Large Forest Tracts

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As reported this past week in design and technology blog Gizmodo (Gawker Media, New York, N.Y., USA) Ikea (the Netherlands) last month bought 83,000 acres of forest. This past April, Apple (Cupertino, Calif., USA) bought 36,000 acres of forest. In the post, author Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan answers her own question about the reasoning behind these retail giants buying their own forests—"To manage them." 

Last year, Campbell-Dollaghan notes, several major technology and retail companies including Walmart, Facebook, Apple, Ikea, and Google were buying up or building wind and solar farms. Many of these companies pledged to start using fully renewable energy sources, she adds, pointing out that "now, some of them are going further down the supply chain to manage the provenance of their materials—by buying up the forests that source their paper and wood."

The Gizmodo post further points out that this past week the Wall Street Journal reported that Ikea had bought up some 100,000 acres of forest in Romania and the Baltic, after the company was accused of "brutal" logging practices in Russia and cutting "old forests that have high conservation value." According to Campbell-Dollaghan, Ikea "doesn’t log in Russia anymore, and instead will focus on farming its Romanian forests, managing its purchase to create a renewable source for its operations." After all, she emphasizes, "Ikea uses 1% of the world’s wood supply, a number it’s trying to scale back by half. It’s all part of the company’s plan to become ‘forest positive’ in the next five years, growing more wood than it uses."

Apple, the report continues, in the U.S. recently bought up 36,000 acres of forest in Maine and North Carolina, which are "working forests," or regions that act as renewable sources of wood and paper pulp for industry. "Apple and the Conservation Fund, which is collaborating on the project, say that these working forestsare increasingly being developed. That’s not only bad news for them commercially, but bad news for forests that were once outside the scope of industry," Apple’s Lisa Jackson explained in a post about the purchase.

In Jackson’s post, she pointed out that "we are in the midst of one of the greatest land transfers in history. In the last 15 years, we’ve already lost 23 million acres of forestland that provided the pulp, paper, and solid wood material for products we all use. That’s roughly an area the size of Maine. As land continues to be sold and change hands at an alarming rate, an estimated 45 million more acres are currently in the crosshairs of development."
The Gizmodo blog quotes the Apple/Conservation Fund group that "the goal of the Conservation Fund’s work is to create limits on how those working forests can be used beyond producing paper products. These are designed to "ensure sustainable harvests and restrict the subdivision or conversion of land to non-forest uses."  

According to the blog, this a relatively new idea, and one that’s been pioneered by scientists including a Harvard ecologist named David Foster, who was interviewed by The New York Times about his work on forestry management back in 2009. Foster summed up the problem with the statement that "now we tend to do it in places we don’t see. And we’re going to preserve our land, but, hell, we live in houses and we like the wood. Where’s it coming from? It’s going to come from British Columbia and Malaysia — and cutting it is going to do damage to much more pristine areas and without oversight."

The blog emphasizes that "Ikea and Apple are still corporations, and they have very different goals than ecologists and conservationists. But they seem to have found some middle ground for the moment to better manage forests that are already logged, in part, perhaps, thanks to the growing awareness of the public. "

It will be interesting, Campbell-Dollaghan concludes in her blog, "to see how this fairly new idea—that partnering with private corporations could actually leverage the strength of ‘working forests’ and protect the vulnerable old-growth forests and other fragile ecosystems that still exist in the world—will play out over the coming decades."

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