Rhetoric is not science

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It’s important we keep this mantra in mind when examining a recent op-ed in The Hill by Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, and Danna Smith, the executive director of Dogwood Alliance, attacking the forest products community, most notably biomass, with false allegations.

At some level, Hitt and Smith no doubt want to protect the planet and stop climate change, but their true goal of attacking the forest products industry stems from their need to fundraise for their organizations. It blinds them to the reality that biomass is a useful tool in the climate change challenge.

Here are the facts: wood biomass, produced by drying low-grade fiber into pellets, is used to replace high-polluting coal plants with a net-zero carbon form of energy. Replacing coal is the most important thing we can do to address climate change, and substituting wood pellets for coal reduces carbon emissions by up to 85 percent on a life cycle basis, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.

That’s why the U.K. Committee on Climate Change called biomass among the “key components of strategies for mitigating climate change” just last year.

That’s also why the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cites bioenergy as a key part of the solution to climate change.

Wood biomass is a carbon neutral source of energy for two reasons. First, wood is already part of the natural carbon cycle, since it releases carbon dioxide when it decomposes. Second, the forest products community encourages forestland owners to invest in the forestry cycle, which ensures the sequestration of carbon out of the atmosphere.

The Dogwood Alliance rejects the clear science of the issue. Instead, they send amateur videographers to professionally managed forests, and claim that pictures of harvested trees are proof that companies like Enviva are “destroying” the environment.

Never mind the fact that forest inventory has grown by 108 percent from 1953 to 2012, thanks in large part to the market created by the biomass and forest products industries, which strongly encourage landowners to plant more trees. They also never bother to revisit the same forest site in a year’s time to see the restart of the forestry cycle. If activists really want to photograph permanent devastation, I would welcome them to film any paved parking lot that was once home to an agricultural field or forest. Pavement is permanent!

Yes, forest management includes the harvesting of trees. It also involves planting trees, creating wildlife habitat with special plantings, protecting streams and rivers with buffers, and a myriad of other practices to ensure the health and productivity of the next forest. This productivity ensures private forestland owners, who own the overwhelming majority of forestland in the Southeastern United States, can generate enough income to continue to own their forests. Trees get tax bills too.

Earlier this year, Dogwood’s Danna Smith penned an op-ed where she condemns all uses of forest products. She also believes that forestry undermines the strength of local economies.

Smith should ask the over 900,000 Americans who are employed in the forest products community how they feel about such claims. She should reach out to the generations of loggers who put their lives on the line every day, foresters and landowners on this matter. They’ll tell her that the forest community creates good-paying jobs that are highly valued in these rural communities.

When activists are so zealously opposed to logging trees for any purpose whatsoever, it’s no surprise they’d spread misleading arguments about wood biomass. But here’s the thing: the truth does matter, and groups like the Dogwood Alliance owe the public more than spreading fear at the expense of the facts.

Ewell Smith is the Executive Director of the Carolina Loggers Association, which represents North Carolina’s professional loggers.


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