By Royce Armstrong
Clear cutting forests is seen as damaging logging practice, according to the latest investigation offered by the Dogwood Alliance. The report, available on the Dogwood Alliance website as “Investigation Booklet 2019” claims Enviva is clear-cutting environmentally critical wetlands to supply its pellet mills.
On its website Dogwood Alliance claims the pellet mill planned for George County will require 130,000 acres of forest to be cut down each year.
The Dogwood Alliance is committed to conserving the nation’s forests and using wind and solar as primary energy sources.
In this report, the Dogwood Alliance claims, “Not only is this devastating for these irreplaceable forests, but it’s worsening our Earth’s climate crisis. Multiple independent, peer-reviewed studies have determined that burning biomass from forests for electricity creates more carbon dioxide emissions than burning coal and that increased carbon dioxide concentrations persist in the atmosphere for decades or more.”
Specifically, the Dogwood Alliance cites two recent investigations add new evidence about what it claims are destructive logging practices being used to provide biomass to Enviva.
“In March 2019, investigators in North Carolina again tracked logging trucks from a mature hardwood forest to Enviva’s Northampton wood pellet mill. In January 2018, reporters from the UK Channel 4 News program Dispatches traveled to North Carolina to examine what is happening on the ground in the forests that have become ground zero for feeding Drax Power Station’s voracious demand for wood. The images from the Dispatches investigation tell a story of ecological devastation in the name of clean energy: a once majestic wetland forest clear-cut to supply wood to Enviva, and ultimately to Drax.”
Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, a vice-president and Chief Sustainability Officer at Enviva responded.
“This week (June 18), our usual critics published an updated version of their annual investigation, where they follow trucks from Enviva mills back to harvest sites in an attempt to prove that the biomass industry generally – and Enviva specifically – is singlehandedly responsible for devastation in the forests of the U.S. Southeast,” she said.
“Let’s be clear: as the Executive Director of the Dogwood Alliance outlined in a recent op-ed in ‘The Hill,’ this is part of a much broader campaign to end commercial logging altogether – and the roughly 2 million jobs supported by the industry – no matter whether the forest products are used for construction, sustainable packaging or renewable energy.
“But where’s the devastation?
“It’s a serious question: I am an environmentalist, and I care deeply about the future of this planet, as does each and every one of my colleagues. We are facing a climate crisis and it’s up to every one of us to do everything we can to stop it. Forests play a critical role – they are important stores of carbon, and if we’re going to mitigate the climate crisis, we’ve got to keep them that way. So, if this devastation were truly happening, I’d work as hard as I could to stop it. But it’s not.
“What these groups won’t tell you is that the rate of regrowth in the U.S. South actually exceeds the rate of harvest in these working forests,” she continued. “Forests in the Southeastern U.S. are adding carbon year over year – even while they provide 1/6 of the forest products that are used globally every year. And if you zoom in to Enviva’s sourcing regions, you see that the same thing holds true in the specific regions where Enviva operates – every year from 2011, when Enviva established its first U.S. mill, there has been more carbon in the forest than there was the year before.
“From our Track & Trace dataset (which is available publicly on our website for anyone to access), we know that the new tract noted this year in the updated report is a 70-acre tract in a privately-owned mixed pine, hardwood upland forest. Enviva took wood comprising about 30 percent of the volume from the tract. The remaining 70 percent of the wood went to sawmills and pulp and paper mills locally in the region as part of the integrated forest products industry. The wood we took couldn’t have gone anywhere else—sawmills won’t take trees that are too small, rotted or crooked because that wood won’t build strong houses or make good furniture. Even pulp mills have restrictions on what they can source because of how characteristics of the log will affect paper quality. We’re the only industry in the bunch that can take almost anything, which is why we take what’s left over on a tract. Sometimes this takes the form of whole trees or round wood, and sometimes it’s tops and branches.
“There is absolutely nothing sensitive about the site described in this latest investigation. It’s the best kind of forestry, where the trees are harvested by a trained logger, using state Best Management Practices for water quality protection and where a variety of grades of forest products are generated, all going to their most appropriate local markets, and it will remain a working forest for years to come. But for some reason, it’s the kind of forestry that our critics want to end,” Jenkins said.
The Enviva facility to be built over the next couple of years in the George County Industrial Park will produce, when it reaches full capacity about 750,000 to 780,000 metric tons of wood pellets, or about 825,000 to 850,000 avoirdupois (2000 pound) tons.
While a number of factors, such as natural growth vs. planted trees, wood type, soil conditions and so forth go into the number of tons produced per acre, the Forest2Market website estimates a southeastern pine forest yields roughly 600 trees per acre, or 80 to 90 tons of wood per acre.
Using these numbers, clear-cutting 130,000 acres would yield roughly 1.1 million tons of wood.
According to the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the state is 65 percent forest with roughly 20 million acres of trees. Forty-five percent of the state is covered in hardwoods and 30 percent in pine. While the percent of forest in George and the surrounding counties that will supply the Enviva plant was not readily available, it is at least that high and likely much greater. The Forestry Commission website also states Mississippi plants more trees each year than it harvests. The ratio for pine is 3:1 and for hardwoods is 6:1.
Enviva appears to be very clear on the issue of replanting and sustainability. The company has repeatedly claimed it will only source wood from active forests. Clear-cutting is a practice that has long been used in George County. For Enviva, that land must be replanted in more trees.