Growth in Virginia's forests exceeds harvests but demand for younger trees grows
Growth in Virginia’s forests exceeds harvests, which is good for carbon sequestration and forest sustainability, according to a new report from Virginia Tech assessing the state's commercial wood supply.
However, findings from the Center for Natural Resources Assessment and Decision Support revealed significant pressure on younger, small-diameter trees commonly used for manufacturing paper, wood pellets, and some wood composites.
More than 60 percent of Virginia’s land is forested. Forests provide highly-valued recreational and environmental resources, and forest-related industries account for 104,000 jobs in the state.
The center, part of the university's College of Natural Resources and Environment, focused its research on the privately-owned forest resource, which provides over 95 percent of the state’s commercial wood supply. Of Virginia’s 914 million tons of wood on private lands, about 92 percent is potentially available for commercial purposes.
“Virginia’s private forests annually grow 86 percent more wood than is harvested, leading to increasing inventories and ongoing removal of carbon from the atmosphere in excess of what is used for products and energy,” said Stephen Prisley, director of the center.
However, for smaller trees, termed pulpwood, harvest exceeded growth by 2.4 million tons in 2011. Demand for pulpwood is increasing owing to its use as a renewable energy source, such as feedstock for electricity production both in Virginia and overseas.
“Carbon storage in Virginia’s forests is increasing annually at a rate that is more than enough to compensate for wood used for bioenergy, which releases carbon,” said Prisley, professor of forest inventory and geographic information systems in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.
“Nonetheless, if demand for one portion of the forest resource continues to exceed the growth of that resource, supply shortages will lead to higher costs for buyers and impacts on other related resources,” he continued. “For example, increased competition for pulpwood means that buyers may have to seek out higher priced trees that are suitable for lumber, impacting those markets as well.”
The Coastal Plain and Southern Piedmont regions are Virginia’s “wood basket,” according to the assessment. They contain more than half of the state’s inventory yet contribute three-quarters of the harvest, with pulpwood accounting for 60 percent of that harvest.
The assessment report, which has been provided to the center’s partner organizations, including industry, state, federal, and private entities, points to opportunities that exist for active forest management, accelerated reforestation, and increased outreach and support for private forest landowners to mitigate the long-term impacts of this situation.
“The Virginia Department of Forestry has been leading the charge for natural resources sustainability for more than 100 years, and we believe this initial assessment is a good first step,” said State Forester Bettina Ring. “Virginia’s forests are healthy, abundant, and provide many environmental and economic benefits. We look forward to continuing to work with the researchers at Virginia Tech to develop better estimates of the status of the forest resource over the next few years.”
Research in the college has shown that more intensive management will dramatically increase forest productivity. “But such efforts are time critical, since there is a lag between implementation and harvest,” Prisley said.
The study provided a baseline for ongoing research in supply and demand modeling tools to project future conditions and compare the implications for resource sustainability of different assumptions about wood markets and forest policies.