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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Biomass Markets and Sustainable Harvesting Guidelines

Last week, I received an interesting call from a new investor in wood pellet production. He, like the many others I've met with over the last few years, was interested in knowing how much biomass was available to his company within the regions he had chosen for his wood pellet operations. I was not surprised to find that he had some gaps in his knowledge of how current biomass markets are driven, and especially by his lack of understanding of how pulp and paper companies run their procurement operations. That is a fairly common knowledge gap for bioenergy entrepreneurs when they first get started on their projects.

Biomass availability is a tricky question to answer without developing informed assumptions on forest survey data, harvest constraints, competition now and in the future, and biomass market prices. I supplied him with the resources that could get him started on formulating his own assumptions, and offered to talk with him again after he had digested it all.

While procurement efficiency and economics are perhaps not so well understood by the budding bioenergy industry as by the veterans of the lumber and paper wars, it is interesting that they seem to be latching on to the concept of forest sustainability as a core component of their business model. Perhaps it is because there has been a relatively loud concern expressed by opponents of biomass harvesting that the bioenergy industry has focused on the sustainability issue. That's a good thing...the economic understanding will come with time and experience.

This all came to mind for me today as I viewed a new series of videos posted by The Forest Guild with the support of The Pinchot Institute.  The series is basically one story told from four perspectives; renewable energy production, forest management, conservation and environmental protection, and policy. I found it interesting to see how one basic message can be tailored to four different audiences, and I appreciate their foresight to produce the series in that manner.

The video that is most products-oriented is the first on renewable energy production, so I'll include that one here.

The Forest Guild Northeastern and Southeastern Regional Biomass Harvesting and Retention Guidelines, as well as documents of scientific support for the guidelines, are found here. The video narrator makes a point of saying that biomass energy producers can use the guidelines to help develop their procurement strategies...that is, the documents will help out folks like the fellow I mentioned at the top to flesh out some of their supply assumptions.

An interesting aside is the Statement of Principles included in the guidelines.
Our Principles
1. The well-being of human society is dependent on responsible forest management that places the highest priority on the maintenance and enhancement of the entire forest ecosystem.
2. The natural forest provides a model for sustainable resource management; therefore, responsible forest management imitates nature’s dynamic processes and minimizes impacts when harvesting trees and other products.
3. The forest has value in its own right, independent of human intentions and needs.
4. Human knowledge of forest ecosystems is limited. Responsible management that sustains the forest requires a humble approach and continuous learning.
5. The practice of forestry must be grounded in field observation and experience as well as in the biological sciences. This practical knowledge should be developed and shared with both traditional and non-traditional educational institutions and programs.
6. A forester’s or natural resource professional’s first duty is to the forest and its future. When the management directives of clients or supervisors conflict with the Mission and Principles of the Guild, and cannot be modified through dialogue and education, a forester or natural resource professional should disassociate.
One thing you might pick up on is that our industry seems to be converging on a set of principles that all who really care about forest stewardship can agree on. In this statement of principles, we see components of societal implications, forest ecosystem science, and sustainability of the forest resource for future generations and businesses. I think that the more we agree in principle, the more we mature as a forested nation, and the better off we will be in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said Chuck, and the tie-in with Forest Guild is excellent.
John Karakash