November 4, 2019|By Rachael Joiner| Forests

From Trees to Trout: A Pennsylvania Paper Mill Invests in its Local Economy and Environment

The Domtar Paper Mill in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, is proving that environmental protection and economic development can go hand in hand. The Johnsonburg Paper Mill is more than a century old, but when Domtar purchased it in 2007 the plant had recently undergone a huge modernization effort to transition to a chlorine-free bleaching process while lowering air emissions and water use. Today, the mill has transitioned from coal-fired boilers to natural gas, making the Johnsonburg Paper Mill one of the most technologically advanced and efficient paper mills in North America. Domtar is committed to ensuring our country has a healthy and sustainable supply of wood and fiber. As a producer of paper, protecting the source of their product makes not only good business sense, it makes good environmental sense, too.

11 4 Clarion Junction Forest c EcoPhotography201904100 1The Domtar Paper Mill nestled next to the Clarion River in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania. Photo by EcoPhotography. 

Trees are a renewable resource when harvested under a sustainable forest management plan. Wisely, Domtar has certified the Johnsonburg Paper Mill to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative. This means that wood processed in the plant comes from forests that are sustainably managed, protecting clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat in the process of harvesting trees. More than 177,000 acres of forest in the region surrounding the Johnsonburg Paper Mill have become or are currently in the process of becoming certified, largely due to Domtar’s requirements for certified fiber. Domtar also sources wood from a 150-mile radius around the mill, reducing emissions by decreasing the distance wood travels to the plant.

11 4 Clarion Junction Forest c EcoPhotography201904103 2Clarion Junction Forest. Photo by EcoPhotography.

The Johnsonburg Mill is located near Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest at the headwaters of the Clarion River. Once Pennsylvania’s most polluted waterway from deforestation and acid drainage from rampant coal mining in the area, Clarion River was named Pennsylvania’s 2019 River of the Year and is now nationally recognized as a Wild and Scenic River. 

11 4 USPS19STA028The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. On May 21, 2019, the U.S. Postal Service released a new series of Forever stamps spotlighting Wild and Scenic Rivers. Do you recognize the river in the bottom right corner? 

The Johnsonburg Mill is the only plant in the country to discharge water into a Wild and Scenic River, and Domtar reuses 97% of its manufacturing waste to ensure the Clarion River maintains good water quality. The plant’s biproducts from making paper are used to reclaim land and improve wildlife habitat for areas impacted by past mining activities. 

11 4 Clarion Junction Forest c EcoPhotography201904101 Clarion River. Photo by EcoPhotography.

And because the Johnsonburg Mill has such a connection to the Clarion River, it also boasts an unexpected on-site fish nursery that has raised approximately 12,000 brook and brown trout per year. Located in an old filtration building, the hatchery is cared for by Domtar Fish & Game Club members and the trout are released into the Clarion River and other local waterways. The hatchery organizes family days and fishing tournaments for kids, encouraging community members to get outside and experience nature. 

While The Conservation Fund applauds the Johnsonburg Paper Mill for its environmental leadership, we also have a vested interest in the mill’s sustainability efforts. In 2018, we acquired nearly 32,600 acres of forestland in the mill’s sourcing district, and we are currently managing this land as a sustainable working forest. Known as Clarion Junction Forest, The Conservation Fund’s land is visible from the Johnsonburg Mill. You can stand at the line of eighteen wheelers dropping off loads of wood chips and point to Clarion Junction Forest where those chips once stood as trees. 

11 4 Clarion Forest c Steve Orr201805282 3Photo by Steve Orr.

Also apparent in this viewshed is the small town of Johnsonburg, home to many who depend on the mill and the forest products industry for their livelihoods. Johnsonburg Paper Mill remains the largest industry and employer in this rural community, supportingmore than 350 local jobs with an estimated regional economic impact of $850 million. 

Clarion Junction Forest adds another layer to the local economy as well. As the temporary owner of this land, The Conservation Fund is determining and implementing permanent conservation strategies that will support the forest economy and provide public recreational access including hunting and fishing. Located within the “Pennsylvania Wilds” region—a 2.1-million-acre stretch of working forest that provides hunting, paddling, fishing and elk viewing opportunities—The Conservation Fund’s acquisition of Clarion Junction Forest will boost the region’s annual $1.7 billion tourism industry. 

Written By

Rachael Joiner

Rachael Joiner is The Conservation Fund’s Major Gifts Officer for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. She works with donors from Maine to Virginia to tap into their passion for conservation through visits and tours of the Fund’s projects. When she is not at work, Rachael enjoys hiking, paddling, and camping throughout Virginia’s park system.