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Forest Sustainability in the Development of Wood Bioenergy in the U.S.
Jun 22, 2010

Contact Information:
Dr. V. Alaric Sample, President, Pinchot Institute:
Deb Callahan, President, Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment:

Study Examines Sustainability Questions in Wood Energy Development

June 22, 2010
   WASHINGTON D.C. — Policy goals for renewable biofuels and bioenergy could be achieved, but U.S. policymakers must take steps to protect the sustainability of the nation’s forests in the face of these increased demands, according to a joint report released today by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

Two major national priorities— achieving greater energy security through increased domestic energy production and mitigating climate change —have converged to create rapidly expanding demands on U.S. forests for wood-based bioenergy.  To protect our forests, careful consideration and forethought is needed, however, to ensure that the increases in wood harvesting do not lead to unintended consequences for biological diversity, water quality, and other forest ecosystem values.

The report, "Forest Sustainability in the Development of Wood Bioenergy in the U.S.," summarizes the results of a two-year study of the challenges and opportunities for sustainable wood bioenergy.  The study included one national and four regional workshops involving more than 280 experts and stakeholders across the U.S. and Canada.

"In conducting this study, one message we heard consistently from region to region is that new uses of wood for energy can be a positive force for improved conservation and sustainable management of forests, but rigorous attention to sustainability issues will be crucial to ensure that renewable energy goals are met in ways that are environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible," said Dr. Al Sample, President of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.

"Given the fact that this report reflects the views of a diversity of experts in science, the forest products and energy industries, conservation organizations and government at all levels, we believe it is a uniquely valuable resource for decision makers working to establish policy on forest bioenergy," according to Deb Callahan, President of The Heinz Center.  The report, she added, "was not intended to reach any conclusions about biomass but rather to better define the more technical issues biomass raises."

The report contains several key findings, conclusions, and recommendations:

  • Improved biomass supply estimates.  There is a need for more reliable and accurate methods for assessing how much biomass is available and sustainable over the long-term.  This is needed at the national scale for policy makers, but also at the regional and local scales to serve as a basis for informed decisions by energy companies and local communities to site appropriately scaled new or expanded wood bioenergy or biofuels facilities.
  • Demands on forests are many and growing.  Ambitious renewable energy goals and timetables in federal and state policy, in combination with powerful financial incentives, can result in many simultaneous decisions to increase the capacity for both wood bioenergy and biofuels production. There is concern over the potential effects on forests from meeting existing and proposed mandates for bioenergy and biofuels.
  • Sustainability standards.  Adequate environmental safeguards are needed to address the more intensive type of wood harvesting that is often conducted for energy purposes, through state forest practices policies, through state and/or regional biomass harvesting guidelines, through nongovernmental sustainability certification programs, and through responsible sourcing policies by energy companies.
  • Public forest lands. Policies to define the role of federal forests in biomass supply are inconsistent. Clear policy direction is essential in developing guidelines to ensure continued conservation and sustainable use of these lands.
  • Range of biomass energy options.  Decision makers and stakeholders need to consider the full range of wood bioenergy and biofuel technology options before making facility siting decisions, including factors such as scale and type of facility proposed, and how it relates to local environmental and economic circumstances.  High-efficiency technologies can triple the amount of energy produced from wood biomass, allowing renewable energy goals to be met with less impact on local forests.
  • Federal and state policy alignment.  There is a need to better align federal and state policies for financial incentives, tax credits, and targets for renewable energy production with existing policies aimed at ensuring the sustainable management of both public and private forests.  There are opportunities in federal policy to reinforce support for bioenergy technologies that minimize new demands on forests, while meeting public policy goals for renewable energy production and climate change mitigation.  Federal policy needs to be flexible enough to accommodate sustainable wood bioenergy strategies that may differ significantly from one major forest region of the country to another.

The report concludes that with planning and foresight, the U.S. can meet both important policy goals of expanding the use of renewable energy and ensuring the sustainable use of the nation’s sustainable forest resources.  The full report, and additional information about sustainable wood bioenergy can be downloaded at www.pinchot.org/bioenergy and www.heinzctr.org/forestbioenergy/index.shtml.


The mission of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation (http://www.pinchot.org) is to advance conservation and sustainable natural resource management by developing innovative, practical, and broadly-supported solutions to conservation challenges and opportunities. The Pinchot Institute accomplishes this through nonpartisan research, education and technical assistance on key issues influencing the future of conservation and sustainable natural resource development.
The Pinchot Institute for Conservation,1616 P Street NW Suite 100, Washington DC 20036, 202.797.6580

The mission of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment (http://www.heinzcenter.org) is to help foster a healthy environment while encouraging a robust economy. The Heinz Center engages leaders in government, business, academia and  non-governmental sectors to advance the understanding of major environmental challenges that lead to improving the scientific and economic foundation for environmental policy.  The Heinz Center was established in 1995 in memory of Senator H. John Heinz III (1938-1991).   
The Heinz Center, 900 17th Street NW Suite 700, Washington D.C. 20006, 202.737.6307  
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