PFI conference keynote calls for forest industry collaboration

By Sue Retka Schill | July 30, 2013

Collaboration was the key word heard by more than 250 attendees of the Pellet Fuels Institute annual conference held July 29-30 in Asheville, N.C.  Keynote speaker Carlton Owen, president and CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, urged all participants in the forest products industries to support each other's causes, be they working in pellets, pulp and paper or other sectors.

The industry is being challenged on several fronts with misinformation. The public does not understand, for instance, that healthy forests require management, which won't be done unless there are markets to incentivize the large number of small private land owners to care for the resource. And, while lumber and wood products sector is expected to recover from the recession, the 40 percent loss in the pulp and paper industry won't, he said. The pellet industry is going to be needed to provide the markets for the low value wood. "We have the same amount of forests as we had in 1900," he added, but in another theme echoed by several speakers in the day's sessions, asked how those forests are going to be maintained without markets?

Owen called for a more unified voice to counter misinformation and to help the industry develop. "The biggest threat to keeping forests is markets," he stressed. There also needs to be research to address the threats to forests from the growing risk of insect damage and the impacts of climate change. The industry also needs to raise its profile, and help the country understand forestry's importance. "It's a relatively large segment of the U.S. economy," Owen said. "It's the number one product in 35 states." He suggested the industry look to U.S. agriculture for the job it's done in promoting how important the sector is to U.S. consumers, and to one of the tools used for those promotions -- commodity checkoffs.

Owen went on to make case for why the different sectors within the forestry products industry should consider checkoffs as a way of equitably assessing all members to raise funds for promotion and research. As the ag commodity checkoffs have shown, the programs are flexible and durable, he said, and the forest sector can build upon agriculture's experience.

The softwood lumber industry has voted to create a checkoff, which is expected to raise $15 million annually for promotional efforts. The pulp and paper industry is likely to do so as well. He urged the pellet industry to do the same. All of those sectors that depend upon the forests should work to explain the benefits of active forest management to the public, he urged.

A panel session that followed echoed the theme of greater collaboration in consumer promotion. "How do we build a better market?" asked Bob Robinson, Even Temp Distributing. "We need an awareness campaign." Rob Davis, Forest Energy Corp., added that a key message consumers need to hear is that burning wood is a good thing, while John Shimek, Hearth and Home Technologies, said that the “Made in America” and “Green is Good” messages are known to resonate with consumers.