Will family forest owners sell wood or will they sell real estate?
August 15, 2011 | 2:06 pm CDT
ATLANTA -- The Forest Landowners Association, the nation's pre-eminent advocacy organization for family forest owners, has expressed praise for the Manomet Center's mission regarding the budding woody-biomass energy industry in Massachusetts. But today, FLA voiced concern about a state agency's misinterpretation of a new Manomet Center report. FLA believes such misinterpretations of practical forestry could ultimately set the stage for policies that accelerate forest loss in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Produced by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences of Plymouth, Massachusetts at the request of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the agency concludes from the report that burning wood is more harmful than burning coal or fossil fuels to our environment. Furthermore, in interpreting the report, the DOER has opined that the emergence of a vibrant biomass energy market might result in the state's forests being harvested at accelerated rates. In response, the agency is suggesting that additional regulatory frameworks may be needed to protect public values. However, the Forest Landowners Association questions the agency's findings and cautions against public policy decisions being made on the basis the agency's view.

Scott Jones, FLA's CEO, praised the Manomet Center's mission, expressing admiration for the organization's work on issues of environmental sustainability. "We hold the Manomet Center in very high regard and we are most supportive of the goals they set for this study and of its recognition of the long-term carbon neutrality of biomass," he said. "However, we disagree with the State of Massachusetts' position that burning wood is less climate friendly than burning fossil fuels - and that promoting renewable electricity generation will result in unsustainable forest management - because we see no logic or compelling evidence to support either view."

"Furthermore," he continued, "the idea that private landowners would clear their forests and sell high-value whole trees at a discount so they can be used to produce woody-biomass fuels is nonsensical, because it flies in the face of basic resource economics. Contrary to the state's concern in that regard, to our knowledge there is absolutely no precedent of this happening in any part of the country."

Jones concluded, "America's 10 million private forest owners manage 60 percent of the nation's forested land base and it is expensive for them to maintain these lands, which not only provide renewable wood products, but also clean water, clean air, aesthetic values and recreational opportunities. As a result, private forest owners need vertical markets into which they can sell high-value sawtimber, mid-value pulpwood and low-value logging residuals like bark, limbs, chips and sawdust, which are the primary sources of woody-biomass fuels. Without these varied outlets for their wood products, the economics of land ownership often do not work and many forest landowners will have difficulties maintaining their forestlands as forests, which is not in the interest of society as a whole."

Source: Forest Landowners Association

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