The followup articles in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted that something more than productivity-obsessed clear-cutting was at work.
Wending Huang, Asia Pulp & Paper Co.'s chief forester in China, calls them his "Yao Mings" - after the towering Chinese basketball star. The tiny green tissue samples, methodically implanted in Petri jars, will become hardwood eucalyptus trees that need only four to six years to reach full height, up to 90 feet or more.It's difficult for naturally-grown pulpwood trees that require four to six decades to reach harvestable size to keep up. It's in the growing of trees by that method, however, that the paper business and the friends of nature find common cause.
"And then we harvest," said Huang.
As Wisconsin showed decades ago, the environmental and economic benefits of trees intersect.What intrigues about the combined stories, though, is that the Chinese eucalyptus farms also appear to be taking advantage of what would otherwise be scrub land.
Trees, of course, provide a refuge for wildlife and serve as giant carbon sponges. Replacing trees that are thinned by logging can keep a forest young and healthy, less susceptible to forest fires. The logging, in turn, gives the owner an incentive to keep the land undeveloped.
"If you lose that economic value, there's less incentive to keep those lands forested," said Paul Delong, chief forester for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Suddenly, the incentive to keep that habitat healthy goes down."
The plantations are at least two hours from the nearest city, by way of dusty roads populated with water buffalo, wild pigs, goats and clattering motorbikes. The labs, in the shadow of a faded water tower, are not fancy. Women from nearby villages have been trained to clone the trees and prune and tend to the precious cutlings, wearing straw hats to guard against the hot sun.Trees growing that fast have to capture a lot of carbon to produce the wood. The mathematics of replanting are the same whether a tree reaches full height in four years, or forty.
Wisconsin's mills long competed with those in other states and Europe that had a similar northern climate. In time, countries such as Brazil and Australia turned to eucalyptus plantations, but not with the assembly-line intensity of China.
The APP plantation land was once considered "degraded" - all sandy soil with scrub vegetation.
Now eucalyptus trees stand straight as matchsticks, with no branches apart from a tuft of leaves at the top, meaning less waste and more pulp.