From the cypress swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin to “America’s Amazon” in Alabama, the forests and wetlands of the Gulf South states are home to incredible populations of wildlife, provide recreational opportunities from hunting and fishing to kayaking and camping, filter our water and prevent floods, and generally grace us with the beauty of nature.
Unfortunately, these special places throughout the region are under threat from the expanding biomass industry that is currently targeting Southern forests at a rate that is impossible for these forests to sustain. Our beautiful forests, including many wetland forests and bottomland hardwoods, are being clear-cut, processed into pellets, and then shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity under the guise of “clean energy”.
This may sound eerily familiar to long-time followers of Gulf Restoration Network. In the years following Hurricane Katrina, GRN worked with partners throughout the Gulf to save cypress swamps from getting clearcut to be ground up into mulch.
Just like GRN knew that our swamps aren’t mulch, GRN knows that our forests aren’t fuel. Dogwood Alliance is proud to have GRN, along with over 75 other organizations, as part of the collective call to demand sustainability from the woody biomass energy industry and to convince European decision makers to change their faulty policies.
Back when Louisiana’s cypress forests were being decimated for mulch, there were many claims of “sustainability” and “only using scraps” and “well-managed” from the industry, which were repeatedly proven wrong.
Despite similar industry claims, the devastation from biomass in places along the Eastern seaboard is already well-documented. Near a pellet mill run by Enviva, one of the country’s largest pellet producers and a main supplier to Europe, in Ahoskie, North Carolina, forested wetlands have been devastated to supply hardwoods. In numerous locations, large whole trees, not just the limbs and residuals, are being used in pellet production.
With 15 pellet mills proposed across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida, the Gulf is now squarely in the crosshairs of this destructive industry. Two mills will be coming online next month, and the new port facility in Baton Rouge will be whirring soon. These companies must prove their operations are actually sustainable - meaning there are no adverse impact to native forests, carbon sinks, soil, wildlife habitat, biodiversity and water resources; no near-term carbon emission increases that fuel climate change; and no adverse air quality impacts - before any further expansion!
Adding insult to injury, the EU policies driving this new market are based on well-intentioned but misguided attempts to combat climate change. Power companies and pellet manufacturers, such as Drax and Enviva , promote biomass energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, but at the industrial scale that it’s occurring, they’re just wrong.
Mounting scientific evidence shows that in many cases, burning wood pellets manufactured from trees and other large-diameter woody biomass actually increases carbon emissions compared to coal for anywhere from 35 to 100 years or more, accelerating climate change at a time when we need to be rapidly cutting emissions.
Our forests are too valuable to be destroyed for fuel. Our standing forests gather and store carbon, which makes them a key solution for carbon pollution. Additionally, forests filter water, are a place to hunt, fish, and camp, and provide habitat for various wildlife. If big power plants turn increasingly to trees for their fuel, it will intensify pressure to overharvest our forests, threatening our climate, wildlife, and local communities.
In response to this growing threat, organizations, like GRN, supporting Our Forests Aren’t Fuel are campaigning to educate and activate citizens, while putting pressure on the policymakers and corporate leaders who are driving this industry.
You can support these efforts today by sending a message demanding sustainability to the CEO’s of Drax and Enviva, the two biggest purveyors of pellets, and by urging decision makers in England, the biggest consumer of pellets in Europe, to save our southern forests!
Dan Favre currently works with the Dogwood Alliance in the Gulf South. The name may seem familiar from his former days as GRN’s Communications Director and, going even further back, GRN’s point person on the Save Our Cypress Campaign that saved 10,000’s of acres of cypress swamp.