Wood-to-Energy Roadmap Emphasizes Sustainable Forest Management
The smell of smoke still lingers from wildfires that recently ravaged more than 1,000 square miles in Arizona. The conflagrations have underscored the importance of good forest management. Unchecked growth over decades in the western United States, for example, has left at risk nearly half a million square miles of Ponderosa and conifer forests that grew from 50 trees per acre to hundreds and sometimes thousands, and left much of the forest floor overgrown with dry, highly flammable brush.
A readily available prescription for much of the overgrowth that ails our forests is the sustainable management and cultivation of woody biomass from those forests for the generation of energy. The focused use of wood to help meet America’s energy needs would not only increase the extent of the nation’s 755-million-acre forestland base, but would improve forest health and help prevent or reduce wildfires.
The build-up of biomass in our nation’s forests is exacerbated on public lands, where forest health continues to deteriorate as epidemic insect and disease infestations and wildfires take an ever increasing toll. Providing a sustainable supply of biomass from our nation’s forests to meet the needs of existing and new wood-using industries would not only curb the escalating costs of fire suppression and management, but would also improve the environmental services that land provides, such as biodiversity, wildlife habitat, soil retention, water quality and quantity, carbon storage and recreation.
With sustainability as an overarching principle, the use of wood for renewable energy can be a key driver in boosting rural community economic development; lower the carbon footprint of America’s energy supply; restore the health, vitality and proper functioning of many of the nation’s public lands; insure the future of America’s private timberlands by “keeping forests as forests”; and provide the raw materials needed by America’s forest products industry, all while supplying a growing bio-economy.
Recommendations that could unlock the nation’s potential to sustainably produce woody biomass for energy and traditional uses, while providing balanced multiple benefits from public and private forests for the American public, have been compiled in a National Wood to Energy Roadmap developed by a work group composed of dozens of forestry, conservation, scientific and academic experts brought together by the 25x’25 Alliance.
Published with the help of funding from the Energy Foundation and the Better World Fund, the Roadmap recognizes that U.S. energy and carbon policy and national security concerns demand that the nation create a path towards the sustainable domestic production of our own energy. As such, the nation’s forests need to be viewed as a strategic national resource, just as important as coal, oil, and natural gas, in helping to meet the nation’s need for heat, electric power, transportation fuel, and bio-based products.
The Roadmap also notes that biomass has been defined in various recent policies and legislation in conflicting ways, and calls for a simple scientific biomass definition. We should, as a nation, assure ourselves that our resource use is sustainable, and that we are fully accounting scientifically for the carbon footprint of wood energy. That should allow for a simplified definition of what wood qualifies to be counted in various programs.
Policymakers are urged to develop a comprehensive woody biomass energy policy. The Roadmap will help “keep forests as forests” by offering proper legislative and policy incentives that will lead to that outcome. The recommendations provided by the Roadmap are designed to make a major contribution to America’s energy future while protecting and enhancing our private and public forests, ensuring the continuation of the supply of raw material for our forest products industry and help the nation reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
This cycle of dependence on domestic and foreign fossil fuels must be broken. It is in the best interest of America’s people, the economy, and our environment to replace a substantial portion of our fossil fuel consumption with home-grown renewable feedstocks, like woody biomass.