Cinda Jones: Argues biomass energy is a benefit to forests

Published: 8/10/2017 4:11:45 PM

Massachusetts environmental leaders have set an impossible goal of maintaining 50 percent of the Commonwealth’s land area as forests. The environmental and public benefits of sustaining actively growing managed forests are indisputable and overarching. But conservation objectives cannot be met by state and land trust acquisitions alone. In order to keep Massachusetts green, we must assure the economic sustainability of private forests.

Unlike more forested states, Massachusetts doesn’t have sufficient local forest products markets like sawmills or other secondary wood manufacturing operations such as glu-lam, biomass and pellet plants. As a result, most Massachusetts logs are being shipped to Maine and Canada and then back again to Massachusetts as lumber — with economic value realized elsewhere and with huge environmental transportation costs.

Without sufficient markets for low-grade wood and woody debris, too many limbs and excessive amounts of rotting, carbon-emitting slash are being left on the forest floor, frustrating recreationists who use privately owned woods roads for hiking, biking and other pursuits. Private forests are becoming less economically viable, because without sufficient local wood markets, sustainable forest management and harvesting costs are often higher than income realized. As a result, private forests are being sold off at rates that jeopardize environmental organizations’ conservation objectives.

By providing clean-energy subsidies for wood fuel, which is used by the health-aware Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Massachusetts policy leaders are taking critical steps toward sustaining landscape-scale environmentally-beneficial private forests.

Wood is an available, sustainable, renewable and local energy source that can economically justify maintaining private forests. Emissions impacts of biomass are undefined yet controllable, and far less environmentally impactful than losing Massachusetts forests. Considering the environmental benefits of wood and forests, it’s clear why big-picture-thinking conservation leaders support granting clean-energy subsidies for biomass power generation.

Cinda Jones

North Amherst

The author is a ninth-generation tree farmer, the president of W.D. Cowls Inc. Land Company, and a developer of The Mill District in North Amherst.

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