Sunday, November 14, 2010

Could Forestry Biomass Cutting Plans Revive the Wood Products Industry?

Harvard Forest cutting, Peterham, MA
By Genevieve Fraser

Today, the forest products industry is in decline in Massachusetts with increasing restrictions being placed on the industry - if not by law - by the Patrick administration's environmental policies fostered by "Zen Forestry" aficionados.  (See: DOER's Proposed Biomass Regulations Rejected by Foresters, Landowners, Forest Industry

These self-described conservation biologists favor a mature forest canopy where forest management options are extremely limited or altogether restricted.  Instead, they prefer the action of wind, ice storm, fire, and decay to take its natural course.  The concept of forests as a natural resource to be utilized by man is repugnant to them despite the fact that man has successfully evolved with forests and utilized forest products since the dawn of humanity.  Indeed, we are all dependent on wood products as varied as lumber for houses and furniture and paper and tissue paper. 

Gifford Pinchot
The founder of the USDA Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, once remarked, "The only safe forest is a useful one." This is especially true when forestlands are in danger of being developed for houselots or commercial and municipal enterprises.  There is a environmentally sound way to respect our forest and utilize them just as our Native American forerunners did for thousands of years prior to the American colonial enterprise.

Meanwhile, the debate continues regarding large-scale vs. small-scale biomass with the most extreme of the conservation biologists objecting to both.   If high-grading forestry practices that take the best and leave the rest -  the junk-wood or low market value trees - in place should be avoided, then perhaps biomass improvement cuttings are the answer. 

On November 13th, I went on a Biomass Improvement Cutting Tour which highlighted the work of forester Mike Leonard on a 97-acre, white pine/hemlock/oak forest stand in Warwick, MA.  The woodlot abuts a state forest which has been largely unmanaged for the last few decades.  The contrast was striking.  The tour brought us through a forest that was reminiscent of what was achieved by Native Americans who methodically cleaned out forest understory which in turn reduced the likelihood of forest conflagrations and enhanced browse for wildlife.

According to early colonial reports from the 1600s, the New England woods looked like English parks.  The results of the biomass cutting plan were likewise aesthetically appealing with an opened canopy that offered both shade and ample sunlight.  A foot-high covering of regenerative pine seedlings blanketed areas of earlier harvests.  This particular site was on a gentle slope with rock outcroppings jutting between the evergreens and oak.  The total effect was breathtakingly beautiful.

Small-scale CHP (combined heat and power) biomass would be a win-win for the environment as well as helping to rebuild  local economies by providing a low-cost fuel source for a new and emerging manufacturing sector.  It would reduce wood waste in landfills which produces the greenhouse gas, methane, while spurring a Yankee Renaissance with land-based industries at its core.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed. New England's forests returned from their deforested state when farmers abandoned their farms for the factories. The resulting forests have been used by tree farmers and woods' managers ever since.

    If the economic incentive to keep the forest withers, then the forest disappears too.