Science-Based Forestry in Uruguay Shows Weyerhaeuser’s Commitment to International Sustainability

Science-Based Forestry in Uruguay Shows Weyerhaeuser’s Commitment to International Sustainability

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 4:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Environmental Sustainability in Action

CONTENT: Article

Forestry is a long-term endeavor. What “long-term” really means, day in and day out, is typified by Weyerhaeuser’s operations in north-central Uruguay aided, in part, by North Carolina State University. The long-term activities in Uruguay include daily research and monitoring in the La Corona watershed.

Every day for more than a decade, researchers like Juliana Ivanchenko have taken water samples as part of an investigation focused on the effects of forests planted on land previously used as pasture. The work, which involves seven different collaborators and has expanded to four watersheds, showcases Weyerhaeuser’s commitment to science-based forestry. It’s earned international attention — from a visit by members of the World Forestry Congress to a Weyerhaeuser President’s Award.

“This research,” explains Christine Dean, vice president of technology for Weyerhaeuser timberlands, “was installed as part of Weyerhaeuser’s entry into Uruguay. The objective — as in any Weyerhaeuser forest — was to understand the impact of forestry practices on the environment and be able to self-correct as needed.”

In Uruguay, there were concerns about potential changes to water supplies once trees were planted. To address those concerns, Weyerhaeuser leaders, including Alvaro Molinari, who was the site’s first employee and now serves as managing director of South American operations, opened dialogues with government agencies and other landowners.

The project team also enlisted a variety of research partners, including four universities. Juan Pedro Posse, technology manager, and Ivanchenko are the key internal research staff executing the project on the ground. “At the beginning,” says Molinari, “it was a bit of a challenge because Uruguay didn’t have any experience at all with forestry.”

The Weyerhaeuser team built relationships both inside and outside the country, not least with Wayne Skaggs, an eminent professor and hydrologist from North Carolina State University. Team members also forged ties with Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agropecuria, which is Uruguay’s national agricultural research institution, and the Universidad de le Republica.

“We took very seriously not only the right partners but also the time to do the right baseline study,” says Molinari. “We spent almost three years capturing solid baseline data before we did anything else. There are other studies, but I’m not aware of one so thorough right from the start.”

Bob Bilby, Weyerhaeuser Timberlands’ senior scientific advisor, says the study is more integrated than is typical. “It’s an efficient way to do research — establish a platform where we can do intense studies, bring in additional expertise and credibility, and greatly leverage the funding. It’s been a very effective model.”

Over time, the collaborators have created a strong body of credible, third-party research that continues to grow every day. It’s been complemented by studies on biodiversity, soil and carbon dynamics, wildlife — and the benefits to the cattle still grazing the land of newly planted forests. Molinari says ranchers have demonstrated how the shade and shelter of trees increase the rate at which the cattle gain weight.

Another surprise from the studies: trees haven’t reduced water flow as much as expected for a Southern Hemisphere location. Bilby says that’s probably partly because the area is wetter than areas previously studied and partly a result of Weyerhaeuser’s management practices.

“We knew trees would use more water,” he says. “But we plant trees less densely, with wider spacing than in other studies, and we prune aggressively. What’s important is that we recognize that planting trees represents a change in the landscape, so we’d better understand the environmental response. We’ve been very aggressive about putting the science on the ground to answer that question.”

“On the ground,” of course, means people such as Ivanchenko, Posse and their colleagues doing everything from collecting runoff samples to sharing results with citizens and the scientific community.

“This is how we do business wherever we operate,” Dean says. “The Uruguay team has been out there in the field making this happen, with no safety incidents, every day for years.”

“It’s a long-term commitment,” says Molinari, who credits the company.

And since the research will continue through full rotations of the pine and eucalyptus trees growing there, the work’s only half done — if that.

“As with safety,” says Dean, “that long-term approach is a core value for us.”

Learn more about Weyerhaeuser’s commitment to science-based forestry and its timberlands in Uruguay in its online sustainability report.


Anthony Chavez
+1 (253) 924-7148
CATEGORY: Environment