WASHINGTON, June 10, 2015 – Some critics say that harvesting biomass from forests reduces carbon stocks and that the best way to increase carbon storage is to reduce demand for renewable products. But Acting USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson says those arguments fail to account for “market dynamics and incentives” and do not recognize that forest assets are indeed renewable.
“Forests with little or no economic value are at greater risk for conversion to non-forest other uses,” he writes in a new USDA blog post.
That conclusion is supported by a recent study that specifically focused on European pellet demand conducted by researchers at Duke and North Carolina State universities. Those researchers found that increasing demand for wood pellets resulted in more forest area, more forest investment, large greenhouse gas reductions, and little change in forest carbon inventories.
In another study, USDA Forest Service researchers analyzed the potential effects of greatly expanding biomass electricity markets in the U.S. They found meeting 8 percent of U.S. electricity production from wood energy would require a 42 percent increase in harvesting; but they also found that a substantial portion of that increase would be offset over 50 years largely because of regrowth and market responses in land use and management strategies. They estimated that substituting biomass for fossil fuels to generate electricity could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 40 and 70 percent.
Johansson says one key to accelerating forest growth and regeneration is to create strong markets for biomass that will stimulate investments. “Farmers and forestland owners, as with all business owners, respond to markets and invest in strategies to produce more and earn more when facing increasing demand,” he adds.
The United States has committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent over the next 10 years. One component of that strategy could be to expand renewable energy generation from forest and agricultural biomass, says Johansson.
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