Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I wasn’t really angry about the protesters who briefly interrupted our keynote speaker at the Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show, extremely annoyed yes, but not exactly seeing red. Then I found their blog and I got mad.
By Rona Johnson | January 21, 2011

I wasn’t really angry about the protesters who briefly interrupted our keynote speaker at the Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show, extremely annoyed yes, but not exactly seeing red. Then I found their blog, which for some odd reason was picked up by Google, and I got mad.

The first thing that irritated me was that the writer didn’t sign the blog, instead it was “Contributed by Anonymous” and signed “Some anarchists.” I would think that anyone with such a lofty, great-hearted goal of saving the Earth would not be ashamed to sign his or her name. It makes me wonder just how serious these people are about climate change. Or are they just looking for attention?

If they had bothered to ask us or to even attend our conference, they would have found that we in the biomass industry are concerned about the sustainability of woody biomass and other biomass feedstocks, and we spend a lot of our time and money (which according to them we have plenty of) trying to solve these issues. If, as the self-proclaimed anarchists fear, we clear-cut every forest in the world our industry wouldn’t survive, that’s just simple economics. Also, forest landowners are more apt to spend money keeping their forests healthy and productive if they are making a profit.

I’m not even going to address their claims about air quality, because our agenda speaks for itself if you look at the number of sessions we held that were devoted to emissions.

Their time and energy might have been better spent lobbying Congress to spend more money with the USDA Forest Service so they can better manage our national forests and public lands. As with most government agencies the Forest Service will be susceptible to cutbacks as Congress attempts to control spending. Or, better yet, they could help the people who work every day to improve feedstock sustainability and air quality.

Being against everything doesn’t solve anything.  

That’s my last word on this because I’ve already wasted too much precious time on these protestors.

4 Responses

  1. Claudia Hurley



    With the hope of addressing threats to the treasured forests of Massachusetts, the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation sponsored a year-long Forest Futures Visioning Process in 2009: Please see: A technical steering committee (TSC) made final recommendations that included these points (page 59) "The TSC recognizes that the expansion of biomass energy facilities in the state poses a potentially significant risk to many ecosystem services that are critical to maintain on DCR forests. Our woodland zone recommendations reflect a conservative approach for avoiding adverse impacts of biomass removals through a general prohibition on removal of tops and branches, a technique that could diminish nutrient levels and organic matter or degrade wildlife light of the many uncertainties about the potential ecosystem impacts of biomass harvesting...a cautious approach... is called for to ensure the sustainable delivery of ecosystem services from DCR's woodlands." In Massachusetts there has been a proliferation of proposals for biomass as developers rush to benefit from lucrative financial incentives. In the process, the availability of fuel sources has been widely overestimated and the TSC clearly expresses its concern that competition for fuel could have negative ramifications on our public forests. In addition, the TSC evaluated carbon sequestration and cites Nunery and Keeton (2010) when it states that (page 36) "...unmanaged northern hardwood forests will sequester 39 to 118 percent more C than any of the active management options evaluated. This finding suggests that reserve-based approaches will have significant C storage value". Recommendations of the FFVP are to prohibit commercial timber extraction in proposed reserves and parklands.

  2. Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester



    Joe Zorzin - You are mistaken once again. The Manomet Study was never peer reviewed while this study from the University of Idaho was peer reviewed - "Accounting for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Wood Bioenergy" which totally demolished the Manomet Study -''L_to-EPA_9-13-2010_PAG_31.pdf?pid=119711&doc=1 Even when all the proposed biomass plants are built in Massachusetts, they will barely use 1/4 of the available supply of biomass. It is a scare tactic to say that clearcutting will increase with more markets for biomass. A lot of people thought that the dramatic increase in chip mills in North Carolina would lead to a big increase in clearcutting. Well it did not - Finally, I am quite familiar with the dark side of the forestry sector. Increasing markets for forest biomass helps to eliminate bad stuff like liquidation cuttings - The biggest dark shadow over the forestry sector are the anti-forestry protesters that you associate with. But I'm very confident that common sense will prevail in the end. For those who are interested in all of the great scientifically proven benefits of biomass, see my blog at -

  3. Scott Miller



    Weather01089 - I beg to differ with those who decry the biomass industry as indifferent to sustainability. The attitude I see displayed at BBI and other biomass conferences is that we are no longer in the biomass, biofuels, or biopower businesses except as they provide sustainable solutions. That is a sea-change in perception that has been precipitated by the success of the environmental movement to influence discussion - and we listened. But there are three components to sustainability - environmental, economic, and social - that hold for all renewable energy solutions. Biorefineries and biomass power plants provide unique and very clean sustainable options appropriate to most regions of the world. Businesses working with other stakeholders are the only way that these three factors can be balanced. We are actively engaged in defining biomass, determining what biomass is the most sustainable, stakeholder engagement, developing long-term policies, and researching the cleanest practices that assure sustainability. Obstructive environmentalism has only one net effect - more of the status quo dependence on fossil that is clearly not sustainable and is getting dirtier all the time.

  4. Joseph Zorzin



    You can deny it- but clearcutting will be come ever more common with the boom in the biomass industry. The reality is that high grading is common everywhere. Instead of high grading, many operators will first high grade then cut the rest for biomass- so denying what will really happen isn't wise. Not all biomass will come from clearcuts but much will. Many if not most NIPF owners don't really make the decisions on what happens in their forest- they are exploited by loggers and foresters. Tring to deny the dark side of the forestry world is not helping your cause. Small scale CHP biomass is fine by me in place like southern New England where there really isn't that much forestry going on. Why try building too many large scale electric power plants when the wood may not be there? All because it's going to be profitable to BUILT the plants thanks to mountains of tax money- otherwise known as subsidies- or if the money went to poor people it would be called welfare. A great deal of energy can be saved through conservation- a lot more than biomass can produce- and yes, the Manomet Report showed that burning wood emmits more carbon than coal for half a century. I don't see anyone seriously challenging Manomet. And no, those oppossed to biomass electric power don't like coal either- but they do like conservation and this nation wastes a vast amount of energy- just look at the highways and all the lights on in the cities late at night. Not all people who don't love biomass are anarchists so don't pretend that's the case. I've been a forester for 37 years so don't think I'm a tree hugger but that doesn't mean I'm going to swallow the "big biomass" party line.

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