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ESF Faculty Member Contributes to Biogenic Carbon Report

Dr. Robert W. Malmsheimer, an ESF professor, was part of the Society of American Foresters (SAF) team that provided policy makers with a summary of the existing science regarding forest bioenergy and "carbon debts."

The SAF published "Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in US Bioenergy Policy" in the Journal of Forestry. The article, written by an SAF-sponsored team comprising some of the leading forest carbon experts in the United States, identifies and examines science-based insights essential to understanding forest bioenergy and "carbon debts."

"Every week there's a new study that the authors' state is critical to understanding forest biomass energy. This research provides a long-term view of the science," said Malmsheimer, a professor in the college's Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management.

The article's insights, which are built on a comprehensive review of the most current literature, illustrate why quantifying the full spectrum of forest-based activities is critical when accounting for biogenic carbon and carbon dioxide, and why policymakers should consider that:

  • While the greenhouse gas benefits of sustainable forest biomass energy are sometimes delayed, it is well established that these benefits are substantial over the long term.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that peak global temperature is likely to be determined by long-term cumulative CO2 emissions, and that forest-based energy and products help limit cumulative CO2 emissions.
  • An accurate comparison of the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy with those of other energy sources requires the use of consistent timeframes in the comparison.
  • Landowner responses to increased wood demand can have a significant influence on the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy.

"When we look at all this information, it's clear that using wood from sustainably managed forests to produce energy provides significant climate change and environmental benefits," said Malmsheimer.

By providing policy makers with a single report, the SAF team provides them an opportunity to understand the important insights when deciding on policies regarding the use of forest biomass for energy, he said.

This is the third time the SAF has provided such a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between forests and climate change to policy makers. Malmsheimer chaired the committees during the 2007 and 2010 reviews. "The greatest part of this," he said, "is the knowledge that you gain during the process. I learned so much from the conversations and debates."

The team has since made presentations to the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Embassy officials in Europe, members of the Dutch government and members of the U.K. Parliament.