Pennsylvania releases woody biomass guidelines

By Anna Austin
Web exclusive posted July 25, 2008 at 9:55 a.m. CST

Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has released a 50-page document containing guidelines for harvesting woody biomass for alternative energy sources.

According to Pennsylvania's DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, Pennsylvania currently has 17 million acres of forestland, which has spiked interest from policymakers, energy analysts and industry representatives looking for new energy sources. The DCNR said the goal of the project was to review the state's public and private forest resources and develop guidance on biomass harvesting that would balance the need for alternative energy sources with the need to protect forest resources.

The review concluded that:

  • Current estimates of 6 million tons of available low-grade wood for biomass harvest in Pennsylvania are overly optimistic and don't adequately consider the many ecological, social and practical concerns associated with procuring biomass.

  • Biomass acquisition for energy production will have to compete with existing markets for pulpwood as well as overcome access, transportation, distribution and other challenges.

  • Responsible biomass harvesting may be best implemented opportunistically to take advantage of natural disturbances like wind damage, ice damage, pest invasions, and invasive plants.
  • Carefully planned and implemented biomass harvesting can emulate beneficial silvicultural practices like removal of competing vegetation, thinning, and reforestation of abandoned mined lands.

  • Forest biomass use in Pennsylvania may be most appropriate on a small scale as feedstock for single-facility thermal combustion rather than for large-scale ethanol production operations that require huge volumes of feedstock.

  • Private forestlands will fare best under biomass harvesting scenarios if landowners carefully follow existing best management practices and get professional resource assistance.

The Pennsylvania DCNR recommended that further study be done at a state level in order to develop an accurate estimate of available biomass and the effects harvesting it would have on various ecological processes. "Harvesting woody biomass from Pennsylvania could help meet the demand for alternative sources of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," the DCNR said. "But it should not compromise other important forest functions and values including protecting water quality, critical natural areas and communities, biodiversity, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat."

To view the document containing Pennsylvania's guidelines for harvesting woody biomass, visit