It’s Time to Have the Right Conversations

Ginther says it’s time to have fact-based and fair conversations about this industry, commending the article “Sustainability guidelines and forest market response: an assessment of European Union pellet demand in the southeastern United States."
By SETH GINTHER | November 16, 2015

As children, we were all no doubt introduced to the philosophical thought experiment, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” While we have probably resolved this one, a query I still struggle with involves professional, peer-reviewed publications that, for one reason or another, do not get the exposure that they deserve. They fall in the forest and don’t make a sound. Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University, authors Christopher S. Galik’s and Robert C. Abt’s article, “Sustainability guidelines and forest market response: an assessment of European Union pellet demand in the southeastern United States,” is one such piece.

Having recently concluded our 5th Annual Exporting Pellets Conference, I found that Galik and Abt spoke effectively in this piece to some of the issues of concern to our membership in the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association. I’d like to briefly discuss this article here with the hope that a more thorough reading and reference of it will take place in the future.

Galik and Abt recognized that a thorough understanding of the interaction between policy targets and forest biomass markets is required when developing guidelines for bioenergy development and in shaping investment decisions as these will effect both the environment and business outcomes. Galik and Abt believed that a breakdown here had the very real potential to hinder the development of a sustainable bioenergy market or frustrate the accomplishment of environmental objectives.

This was a common theme that emerged from our most recent conference in Miami as our members expressed concern with policies that take time, energy and investment of capital to satisfy, that seem to change on a political whim and, often without any explanation or reason, that prompted the change being supplied. Standardization of terminology and an accepted lexicon for this industry for use by policy makers was also noted as a requirement as some terms seem to evolve over time. These methods have the potential to thwart investment capital or devalue markets, and both techniques seem to be a strategy used by those who oppose this industry.

Galik and Abt continue to evaluate the influence of EU recommended sustainability guidelines on the inventory of forest situated to supply these markets. They then consider changes in forest composition and scope in response to expected increases in pellet demand. They assess how sustainability guidelines can influence the evolution of forest markets. Galik and Abt found that regardless of the presence of sustainability guidelines, the net result was an increase in removals, an increase in forest area and little change in forest inventory. They also found a trend of annual gains in forest carbon.

This discussion closely mirrored a recurring topic in Miami among USIPA Members. U.S. forests are growing. The U.S. has some 750 million acres of forest, approximately 37.6 percent of its landmass. The total acreage devoted to U.S. forests has barely changed over the past century. Despite rapid population growth and increased demand for timber, the number of trees in U.S. forests has increased every year for more than 50 years.

Clearly, this is not the impression of forests in the U.S. that opponents of the industrial wood pellet industry want anyone to have. It’s easy to display an undated photo of a clear-cut forest somewhere, devoid of context. But, the indisputable fact is that our forests are thriving. Unlike Europe, private landowners control 56 percent of all U.S. forests, and 86 percent of those in the southeast, which accounts for most of the U.S. pellets produced for export to Europe. The net volume of trees per acre in this region has increased 94 percent since 1953.

Our members are guided by a culture that values sound forest management practices that produce forestry products while safeguarding environmental values and maintaining healthy growing stands that capture carbon from the atmosphere. A robust industrial wood pellet market helps ensure the removal of more greenhouse gases by providing landowners with incentives to plant more trees, and they are. It’s simply troubling when an article that supports much of what the industry is saying gets buried. It literally falls in the forest without a sound. It’s time to have fact-based and fair conversations about this industry. “Sustainability guidelines and forest market response: an assessment of European Union pellet demand in the southeastern United States,” by Galik and Abt, is one such conversation, and I commend it to you.

Author: Seth Ginther
Executive Director
U.S. Industrial Pellet Association
804-771-9540
sginther@hf-law.com