Forest biomass from Austria to Atlanta

In September, Guild Executive Director Zander Evans, joined researchers from Canada, Finland, Denmark, and Austria at the Austrian Academy of Sciences for a forum on guidelines for forest biomass harvesting. Wood pellets from North America have become an important part of the European Union’s efforts to de-carbonize. Nearly five million tons of pellets were shipped from the forests of the southeastern US to Europe in 2016 to help in the transition away from coal. There are significant and substantive debates about the carbon and climate impacts of using wood for energy (see for example, Guild member John Gunn’s recent article in the Forestry Source “Woody Biomass Energy Emissions: We Still Need to Do the Math”). While climate impacts of using wood for energy were discussed at the Austrian meeting, the focus was on how to ensure forest health and long-term sustainability. The Guild was invited because of our history of science-based forest biomass harvesting guidelines. The conference will result in a report in the International Energy Agency bulletin called “Biobased Future” as well as an academic article on the status of biomass harvesting guidelines worldwide.

One surprise from the workshop was that Austrian forest managers face challenges that are familiar to Guild members across the US. For example, there is a growing shortage of skilled loggers. Many in the new generation of woods workers come from other countries, creating a language barrier. Austrian foresters are debating what sort of biomass harvesting guidelines to create and how to share them with forest landowners. Just as in the US, Austrians are struggling with the need to keep guidelines straight forward enough for landowners to easily implement, while still maintaining enough specificity to reflect the ecological complexity. 

Guild members who contributed to our guidelines should be encouraged. Even internationally, our guidelines are recognized as both scientifically sound and useful for forest managers. This work is now feeding into efforts to bring harmonization between state practices, national regulation, third-party certification, and international climate goals. 

The Guild remains actively engaged in conversations with partners as biomass markets expand. Zander represented the Guild at a conversation with the National Wildlife Federation in Atlanta, Georgia, on how to navigate the opportunities and dangers of forest biomass harvesting in the southeastern U.S. Amanda Mahaffey, the Guild’s Northeast Region Director, is participating in the Wetland Forest Initiative and the Sustainable Biomass Program’s standards development process. In all these efforts, the Guild’s work focuses on ensuring new markets are used to maintain or enhance forests and do not degrade them.

Photo caption: Zander and colleagues discussing the finer points of biomass sustainability in the historic Café Central, Vienna. Left to right: Dr. Brian Titus (Nat. Res. Canada), Dr. Inge Stupak (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Zander Evans (Forest Stewards Guild, New Mexico U.S.), Dr. Heljä-Sisko Helmisaari (University of Helsinki, Finland),  Dr. Viktor Bruckman (OEAW, Austria).