Drax supports Morehouse Family Forest Initiative

By Drax | August 19, 2021

For the first time in 40 years, Miles Goggans and his brother-in-law heard the quail calling through the pines on a recent holiday at his family forest in southeastern Arkansas.

“It was exciting to hear – I hadn’t heard quail on our land since I was a kid back in the 1970s,” said Goggans, a sixth-generation landowner in the U.S. southeast – heartland of the American forestry industry.

“They all disappeared after the big drought in the 1980s when the land was in cotton. But now they’re back - hearing the quail really demonstrates the positive effect that actively managing the forests can have on an area in a relatively short period of time,” he added.

For the past three years, Goggans has participated in the Morehouse Family Forest Initiative – a conservation program set up in 2017 through a partnership with Drax Biomass and the American Forest Foundation.

The project encourages sustainable management of the forests surrounding Drax’s Morehouse Bioenergy pellet plant by connecting landowners with natural resource professionals who can help them achieve their objectives for their forest.

For family forest owners –who own around 80 percent of the forests in the U.S. south—these goals typically include improving the wildlife habitat and recreational value of their property for activities such as hunting, while also ensuring the growth of high-value sawtimber for long-term returns.

Harvesting the small, misshapen and diseased trees in a process known as thinning is important to healthy forests because it ensures there is enough space and light to help the stronger, healthier trees to grow better, as these produce the high-value sawtimber needed for construction and furniture.

Thinning also has environmental benefits—improving the habitat for many wildlife and plant species endemic to the southern U.S., such as the quail on Goggans’s land.

“Measures like thinning out the trees and prescribed burning help open up the forest, which encourages new growth of plants and wildflowers as well as the insects and birds that depend on them,” said Austin Klais, wildlife biologist from Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, which works with landowners like Goggans through the MFFI.

“Quail is one of a number of species where we’ve seen a drastic decline in recent decades - at least partially due to a lack of active forest management. Seeing the return of birds such as quail is an indicator of a forest landscape that is healthy and biodiverse,” Klais said.

For Goggans, managing the forest to enhance wildlife habitat was a primary objective. For Glen Melton, another beneficiary of MFFI’s program, it’s also about the future.

“Yes – we are cutting trees, but we are also growing more. Actively managing the forests provides economic and environmental benefits - it results in better quality trees, more wildlife and healthier forests,” he said.

Melton, who is from Louisiana, made his first foray into forestry ownership with the 20 acres he inherited from his uncle – alongside a 1965 Ford pickup truck - when he was a young student at veterinary college.

“At the time I was more excited about the truck than the land, but over time I’ve realised that the 20 acres of land was by far the most valuable gift I could ever receive. I see my role here as one of stewardship - my legacy is to be able to leave this land in better shape than it was when I first found it,” said Melton.