Southern U.S. forests are uniquely positioned to be a part of the solution to the world's ever-increasing need for renewable energy, and international policymakers are beginning to recognize it. It's precisely that reason why I traveled to Montpelier, France, last month to represent the Southern Group of State Foresters at an international discussion around the opportunities and challenges associated with the sustainable use of woody biomass for energy.It comes as no surprise that the U.S. South is of particular interest in these discussions. In the last decade alone, more than a dozen wood pellet mills have come on-line in our region, producing over 4 million tons of wood pellets annually for industrial use in Europe. This has, however, led to questions from environmental NGOs on the sustainability of this supply chain and of southern forest management in general.
Last month's discussion was hosted by The Forest Dialogue (out of Yale University), which provides forest stakeholders a platform to address difficult and contentious policy issues. When it comes to current forestry-related issues, there are few more contentious than the use of woody biomass, despite the overwhelming amount of publicly available, fact-based research and information on the subject.
In presenting at the Dialogue, I had the opportunity to share the realities about the sustainability of the South's privately owned and managed forests—an essential difference from the state-owned forests prevalent across Europe and the rest of the world. For those who haven't spent time in our region, the ties we take for granted between strong markets and incentives to reforest amid the pressures of urban development are surprisingly novel concepts.On the heels of participating in the dialogue, I also traveled to Brussels, home of the European Union governmental offices. The European Union plans to craft a biomass sustainability policy over the coming years in an effort to address concerns over renewable energy procurement, and has been eager to meet with SGSF and other stakeholders and learn about forest management in the U.S. South. To this end, SGSF will be hosting some of these European policymakers on a southern forestry field tour in November so they can see firsthand the forests and mills and meet the landowners who would be affected by a potential EU sustainability policy.
It's only though these investments in fact-based, open dialogue and information-sharing that policymakers worldwide will be able to cut through rhetoric and craft policy that is both environmentally and economically practical. As the regional leaders in promoting southern forest sustainability, state foresters will be crucial in those discussions.