Forest fuel reduction and biomass supply: perspectives from southern private landowners
Removing excess biomass from fire-hazardous forests can serve dual purposes: enhancing the health and sustainability of forest ecosystems and supplying feedstock for energy production. The physical availability of this biomass is fairly well-known, yet availability does not necessarily translate into actual supply. We assess the perception and behavior of private forestland owners in the southern United States with respect to thinning overstocked forests for bioenergy production. Landowner perception is then integrated with the USDA Forest Service’s Fuel Treatment Evaluator to estimate the biomass supply from fuel treatments on non-industrial private timberlands in the region. Due to competing uses for lumber and pulp/paper products, only about one-third of this biomass could be used as bioenergy feedstock. Between 6 and 66% of landowners would consider thinning overstocked forests for bioenergy purposes depending upon whether financial incentives and technical assistance are provided. Accounting for competing uses, landowner willingness, accessibility, and recovery loss, annual feedstock supply from Southern private treatable timberlands is estimated between 0.9- and 11-million dry tonnes (dt). The average production cost is proximately $48/dt. Government cost shares, biomass market development, and technical assistance could significantly stimulate private landowners to procure biomass from fire-hazardous forests while mitigating wildfire risk.