When people hear the word ‘sawmill’, many associate it with the destruction of forests. But sawmills come in all shapes and sizes, with ‘portable’ sawmills offering an environmentally-conscious choice for sustainable forestry practices.
Deforestation has been happening ever since mankind transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers, some 10,000 years ago. In modern times, the effects of deforestation have become more noticeable, with large-scale clearing of forests for farming, mining and urbanisation.
With a portable sawmill, the mill can be carried to the milling site by hand where logs can be felled selectively. Roads do not need to be constructed to haul a mass amount of logs out, and the undergrowth is largely left intact with no erosion created. Mature trees within set plots can be earmarked for harvesting, allowing smaller trees to continue growing sustainably. Windblown trees can be turned into lumber without damaging those still growing around them.
Smaller woodlots or mixed species of logs are not cost-effective to transport to larger sawmills. The commercialised timber industry is generally geared up for the monoculture of forestry – it’s not worth their time to process a diversity of species.
With a mobile sawmill however, smaller woodlots can be converted into valuable lumber and marketable wood products very profitably. Small portable sawmills such as the Peterson All Terrain Sawmill are being used by eco forestry groups and non-profit organisations to help indigenous peoples worldwide, with minimal impact on the environment.
Portable sawmills also benefit sustainable rural forestry. In many places, trees grow so close together their growth is stunted, and they need to be thinned out on a regular basis. Often the thinnings are left to rot, and in dryer times, can create a serious fire hazard. A portable sawmill can make use of these poorer quality trees where they are felled, with minimal disruption to wildlife habitat.
Portable sawmills generally function as the basis for small and medium-sized businesses, processing local timber for local end users and employing local workers. This is a perfect example of sustainable development at a local level, which has a positive impact on the larger regional or national economy. Experts often refer to this as a ‘circular economy’ where raw materials are reduced and waste becomes near-zero.
As a “green” way to produce lumber for shelter, furniture and other needs, a portable sawmill’s potential to recycle wasted resources makes them a highly valuable recycling system.
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Solomon Islands: A sustainable alternative to unsustainable logging