Does EU destroy forests in Southeast U.S?

The European Commission proposal is to maintain the EU’s position as a world leader in renewable energy and the EU has declared it would use wood from sustainable sources only. Fast growing conditions, abundant forest resources, and low-cost transatlantic freight make the Southeast U.S. an attractive source of biomass imports for the EU. The following questions arise: What are the impacts of the EU on Southeast U.S? Can these impacts affect sustainable forestry in that region? Read more what researchers from USA, Sweden and Poland found.

Intense biomass mobilization in the EU

Energy supply and greenhouse gas emissions are global concerns. The EU has set an ambitious target of 20% of the energy consumption to come from renewable sources by 2020. Meeting national targets for renewable energy will require intense mobilization of domestic sources as well as increased imports. In consequence, the wood-pellet trade between the U.S. and the EU has increased substantially recently.

At present, there is a lack of knowledge as to how forest inventories, forest-product markets and forest carbon in the Southeastern U.S. could be affected by the EU energy sector. Hence, sustainable forest management and wood market in the Southeastern U.S. may face constraints in terms of satisfying domestic and EU bioenergy demand. Southeastern U.S. are presented on map below.

Southeastern United States. Map’s author: Rafal Chudy

Forest sector modelling

Researchers from North Carolina State University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and USDA Forest Service, used the SRTS (sub-regional timber supply model) in order to simulate market responses to changes in woody biomass consumption in the U.S. and the EU between 2008 and 2038. SRTS is a partial equilibrium market simulation model, which uses detailed forest resource information on stand ages, forest types and growth rates to model changes in inventory by product.

Main results

Recently, scientists found that the price of imported wood pellets in the EU is very sensitive to future U.S. renewable energy policies. The analysis indicated that with bioenergy demands, prices could increase for U.S. softwood roundwood. This increase can be between 25% to 125% by 2038 depending largely on U.S. domestic policy. Demand increases led to supply responses and increased carbon storage in Southeastern U.S. over time. 

Softwood pulpwood price in the Southeastern U.S. under different demand scenarios.

Last week, I have found the most recent pulpwood stumpage prices in that region. It looks that the recession was not as strong as assumed by researchers. Nevertheless, prices of softwood pulpwood almost doubled between 2Q 2006 and 2Q 2016.


Pulpwood stumpage prices. Source: TimberMart-South
Pulpwood stumpage prices. Source: The TimberMart-South News Quarterly 2Q 2016

What is the situation there right now?

Researchers published three years ago and probably many changes have occurred in that particular region of the United States. The latest update about the situation there, I found in the Biomas magazine, where a report commissioned by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, National Alliance of Forest Owners and U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, found that the U.S. export of industrial wood pellets to Europe does not pose a threat to the sustainability of southern U.S. forests.

Let’s observe what future will bring in the SE USA, especially in coming years where bioeconomy is starting to speed up all over the world.

Source: Chudy R., R. C. Abt, R. Jonsson, J. P. Prestemon, F.W. Cubbage. 2013. Modeling the Impacts of EU Bioenergy Demand on the Forest Sector of the Southeast U.S. Journal of Energy and Power Engineering 7 (2013) 1073-1081. 

3 thoughts on “Does EU destroy forests in Southeast U.S?

  1. Hi, sustainable forest management for tangible goods means that the annual yield/cut from the forests should be less or equal to the annual growth of the forests. In other words, the mean annual increment of the forests (M.A.I) , i. e., what can be cut as yield from the forest should be less than or equal to the current annual increment (C. A.I). In terms of the Production theory of Economics , for sustainable forest management we should be operating at the stages where the Marginal Product (M.P) is less than or equal to the Average Product (A.P.) or M.P. < or = A.P.
    For dynamic climatic, biotic factors like fire, grazing, illicit cutting, and several other unpredictable parameters, the M.A.I. and C.A.I. of the forests change every year. So real sustainable forest management is just an academic exercise; difficult to achieve in natural and high forests.
    However, in case of farm/plantation forestry, where the crop is uniform and the yield is controlled by area, it is possible to have equal annual cuts yielding more or less the same quantum of wood. But then, farm/plantation forestry is not the forestry we are discussing here. Space doesn't permit any further discussion.

    1. Neither MAI nor CAI are good parameters to assess sustainable wood production in a forest area. Often the currently growing forest does not use the full production potential of the forest land. The forest can for instance be understocked, suffer from damages or have a tree species composition that is not optimal for production.

      Instead cuttings should be related to the production potential of the forest land. Then assuming forest regeneration is taken care of properly. The new forest will often have a higher wood production than the currently growing and limiting cuttings based on growth of the current forest will in the long run lead to a loss in form of unutilezed potential. If the forest is deteriorated it would be wise to have cuttings that exceed CAI/MAI of the currently growing forest.

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