Forest Biomass Sustainability

Forest sustainability has been defined as growing and utilizing forest resources in a way that meets the demands of the present without compromising the ability of our forests to meet the demands of the future. Maintaining a balance of forest growth and utilization in the long term is an important part of sustainability. In addition, other forestry benefits and attributes should be recognized when growing and harvesting forests for any product.

Biomass Supply

The Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) cooperates with the U.S. Forest Service in conducting forest inventories through the Forest Inventory and Analysis program (FIA). The Commission also conducts industry surveys, which quantify forest resource use and residue production. Data from these and other sources are used to provide statewide and local assessments of forest biomass. The Commission has calculated that over 9 million tons (oven dry basis) of unutilized forestry biomass could be captured by the bioenergy industry each year as shown in the table below and the Forestry Biomass Estimates for Georgia, General Statewide Assessments.

In addition, Georgia's timberlands are growing over 9 million tons (oven dry basis) more wood each year than is being removed. The Forest Inventory and Analysis program provides additional information on timber and biomass supply estimates.

These data sources and analyses indicate that expansion of the bioenergy industry can be accomplished without threatening sustainability of the forest resources.

Forestry Biomass Estimates for Georgia, General Statewide Assessments, 2009

Inventory Amount Recovery Rate Amount to Recover
(oven dry ton basis)
"Non-merchantable" biomass inventory in forests Recovery during regeneration harvests 163,300,000 1.4% 2,286,200
Recovery during thinnings 163,300,000 1.0% 1,633,000
Biomass from "pre-commercial thinning of natural forest stands of pine and pine/hardwood
46,388,654 1.0% 463,887
Logging residues produced annually in forest management operations (excluding stumps) From growing stock 1,940,250 100.0% 1,940,250
From non-growing stock (included in non-merchantable biomass) 1,726,920 0.0% 0
Other annual timber removals resulting from land-use change Estimate 75% recovery 1,834,625 75.0% 1,375,969
Mill residues produced annually
7,305,000 0.0% 0
Recoverable urban wood waste annually
1,436,823 100.0% 1,436,823

Total 9,136,128

View this table as an image

Forest Management Certification

Many Georgia landowners participate in either the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or the American Tree Farm (ATF)  forest certification program. The SFI system was developed for larger corporate landowners and the ATF program provides a certification system for non-industrial landowners who have smaller holdings. Currently there are 2,560,677 acres certified under SFI and 2,313,785 acres in the ATF program. Both of these programs have a 3rd party certification procedure and have been approved and  endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). There are 31,757 acres certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The percentage of certified forestland in Georgia is 20.2%, approximately one-fifth of Georgia's timberland.

Biomass Harvesting

Forestry Best Management Practices for water quality should be followed during biomass harvests. In addition, landowners should be aware that any intensive forest biomass harvest may affect other management objectives including: maintaining soil productivity, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity. The GFC manages a forest water quality program and performs compliance surveys on Best Management Practices implementation.

Sustaining Forest Health

When feasible, insect and disease-infested trees should be promptly removed from forests; thereby preventing further damage to forest resources and ecosystems. Biomass markets will provide new sources of markets and funding for these beneficial practices. Similar actions should be taken with trees damaged by storms and other devastating events. Use biomass harvests to thin overly-dense forest stands and remove excessive buildup of understory vegetation, thereby improving tree vigor and reducing wildfire hazard.

Biomass and Climate Change

Energy production from forest biomass residues and from harvested trees in managed forests result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over coal and crude oil derived energy products. Argonne National Lab has shown that reductions are near 100% for many woody feedstocks when converting to cellulosic ethanol (Wu, 2008). Energy in cellulosic ethanol is also shown to be 3 times the level of energy inputs in the feedstock and processing system (Cohen, 2008). The National Renewable Energy Lab studies indicate that direct-fired biomass-to-electricity systems achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions of 94% - 148% over coal-fired plants (Mann, 2004). The use of wood pellets also reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly over fossil fuels. Please refer to Energy Balance of Wood Pellets for more details.