The Society of American Foresters (SAF) recently released "Managing Forests Because Carbon Matters: Integrating Energy, Products and Land Management Policy," a report published in the Journal of Forestry that summarizes and analyses the most recent science regarding forests and carbon accounting, biomass use and forest carbon offsets.
The report was compiled by the SAF's task force on forest climate change offsets and use of forest biomass for energy, which also coordinated more than 25 external reviews of the report. Bob Izlar, director of the University of Georgia Center for Forest Business, was a key participant in the yearlong study, acting as a lead chapter author and editor.
The report's findings "support the notion that sound carbon policy should be based on sound science," said Izlar, who is based in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. "Healthy, productive forests can be a carbon solution rather than a carbon problem for carbon accounting, biomass use and forest carbon offsets."
"This work will help policymakers reconsider the critical impact forests have on our daily lives and the potential they have to solve problems that confront our nation," said Robert Malmsheimer, the task force's chair, as he emphasised the policy implications of the report. "We believe our science-based findings should lead toward positive reforms that encourage investment in this vital renewable resource."
Four-pronged approach needed
According to the task force, US environmental and energy policies need to be linked and based on four science-informed premises:
Sustainably managed forests can provide carbon storage and substitution benefits while delivering a range of environmental and social benefits, such as timber and biomass resources, clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation.
Energy produced from forest biomass returns carbon to the atmosphere that plants absorb; it essentially results in no net release of carbon as long as overall forest inventories are stable or increasing, as is the case with US forests.
Forest products used in place of energy-intensive materials-such as metals, concrete and plastic-reduce carbon emissions (because forest products require less fossil fuel-based energy to produce); store carbon (for a length of time based on products' use and disposal); and provide biomass residuals (such as waste wood) that can be substituted for fossil fuels to produce energy.
Forest biomass-based energy uses far less carbon than fossil fuel-produced energy, thereby reducing the flow of fossil fuel-based carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
The report, said SAF Executive Vice President Michael Goergen, "demonstrates why the United States must invest in its forest resources and how their management can have important positive impacts on carbon in the atmosphere while producing renewable energy and other benefits, including energy independence."
Scientists involved include Izlar; Malmsheimer of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y.; James Bowyer of Dovetail Partners and professor emeritus, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.; Jeremy Fried of the Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Portland, Ore.; Edmund Gee, Interagency Woody Biomass Utilization Group, USDA Forest Service, Washington, D.C.; Reid Miner, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Ian Munn, Mississippi State University, Miss.; Elaine Oneil, Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.; and William Stewart, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.
The task force's report was released as a special issue of the October/November 2011 Journal of Forestry.